Mobile technology is opening up access to opportunities and services, from better health information to education and digital payment systems. Here are a few of the most important mobile initiatives today:
mHealth initiatives are growing. Mobile technology is an effective tool to deliver health promotion messages, survey an epidemic and persuade users to change unhealthy behaviors. Using mobile phones to tackle communicative and non-communicative health issues is growing in popularity. mHealth provides new ways to improve the delivery of health services and new ways to empower patients to advocate for their own healthcare.
TTC Mobile (formerly Text To Change) is working to harness the potential of mobile technology for social change in emerging markets by improving accountability and transparency, increasing awareness and strengthening advocacy. A program in Uganda sends SMS texts to improve awareness of HIV/AIDS treatment & prevention while another program uses text messages and social media to educate people on the harmful effects of tobacco in a smoking cessation campaign. In Tanzania, TTC Mobile uses their mobile services to reach pregnant women and mothers with tips on healthy pregnancy and safe motherhood. TTC Mobile provides social marketing, data collection, and impact measurement services for NGOs and development agencies using SMS, IVR, social media, and online surveys.
Samsung Look at Me App
Samsung preloaded all of its Samsung Galaxy Tab S phones with the Look at Me App, used to encourage children with autism to make and keep eye contact. The goal of the Look at Me Project is to foster connections between parents and caregivers and children with autism. The app keeps children engaged by appealing to their natural fascination with the camera, as well as a point system, themed missions, various rewards, and visual or sound effects.
Mobile payment programs are relatively inexpensive and don’t require sophisticated technical knowledge to implement. Mobile payments are faster and safer than cash payments and create greater transparency, thereby reducing corruption and promoting security for governments, merchants and consumers alike.
Square Cash and Venmo
Square is a person-to-person payment system that allows people to email money to other individuals without knowing their own bank account number, or the other person’s. There is no need to set up a username and password with Square Cash. Instead, it relies on information that most people carry around constantly — their debit card number. Square cash is similar to the Internet and mobile device-linked service Venmo. Owned by PayPal, Venmo connects to your bank account or debit card. It is designed to take the place of any instance where you would normally use cash or a check to give someone money and is free for person to person transactions.
Kenya’s mobile payment system, M-Pesa leads the world with over 17 million users. Originally designed for microfinance-loan repayments, it broadened its scope to become a general money-transfer platform , allowing cash to be sent more quickly, safely and easily than transporting bundles of money in person, or asking others to carry it for you This is especially important in an economy where people are often sending money back to family members in rural villages.
Mobile learning allows teaching and learning to extend beyond the traditional classroom, giving increased flexibility and access to materials, fellow students and teachers. The iTunes App store currently has over 80,000 education apps available, up from 46,340 in Sept 2011. Online education is a growing trend in colleges and universities worldwide.
Blackboard apps allow educational institutions to extend their learning platform to mobile devices. Educators can post class materials, syllabi, lectures and feedback online, promote discussions across web conferences and blogs, and collaborate with peers worldwide. Some universities are using Blackboard apps to impart relevant campus information such as campus maps, event listings and student resources. Blackboard Learn is an open platform, allowing users to bring in other applications specific to their needs, thereby continually expanding the learning environment. The Blackboard Mobile Software Development Kit (SDK) allows users to create customized apps to fit any university’s need.
In order for mobile initiatives to be effective, they must focus on the people they’re trying to reach and not just the technology. In the developing world, mobile initiatives for social change run into a variety of problems; access to a consistent source of electricity can make it difficult to simply keep a phone charged. Lack of personal identification or literacy can make it hard to reach large amounts of a population. Simple distrust of new technology can be a barrier to implementation as well. All of these factors must be considered when thinking of the efficacy of a mobile program.
“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” – Hermann Simon
Here at home, our challenge is the constant onslaught of information and distraction makes it hard to get messages across. Those joining these mobile initiatives need to ask themselves “How can I deliver a positive distraction”?