There has not been one day that I have not been amazed and excited about technology innovations. The world as we know is changing faster than we can manage. When I say the world, I mean the whole world.  Beyond smartphones, tablets, cloud computing, etc; emerging and creating new markets in developed countries, technology innovation is acting as a catalyst for social change.  In other words the private sector is contributing to development through technological innovations, giving market access to those who never had it before.  Developing countries are dramatically changing thanks to ingenious ways of leveraging not only the latest technologies, but also technologies that are almost obsolete for parts of the developed world. In this matter, the telecommunication industry is greatly contributing to social change and allowing populations to move up the development ladder. Either because of a country policy or because of private profit motives, people are getting access to communication like never before. What is interesting about it is how this is creating opportunities for social change. This will be my first blog post of a series where I will share some of the most fascinating aspects of implementing technology for social change.

Kenya and mobile money

In August of last year The Economist published a very interesting article on the emergence of Kenya’s tech business. The African country has increased the exports of technology-related services from $16 million in 2002 to $360 million by 2010. Nairobi is considered the “Silicon Savannah.”

It is undeniable that this surprising growth was nurtured by government policies that made the introduction of Internet services possible at affordable prices. People in Kenya are experiencing the Internet in a different way than most of us have, leapfrogging directly to mobile phone access. Very few people have access to computers, therefore 99% of Internet subscriptions are on mobile phones. The opportunities for mobile applications are almost endless.

As in the rest of the world, the trend is going toward smart phone technologies and high-speed wireless Internet access. Nevertheless, the opportunities to provide Mobile Value Added Services (MVAS) to the new markets are huge. A great example in The Economist article is M-PESA and how Kenya is leading mobile money use. M-PESA, a mobile payment system based on SMS technology has revolutionized the internal economy in Kenya where more people have cellphones than access to financial services. M-PESA provides customers with the fastest and easiest way to exchange money around the country and is now a linchpin for new business ideas. Two years ago, the BBC posted an article about Kenya’s mobile wallet revolution. Many developing countries are looking to replicate this model. Ideas like M-PESA are possible because of clever uses of technologies that are available to everybody. M-commerce is just one area, developing countries present opportunities from information dissemination services like: epidemic information, disaster alerts, wheatear forecast, to more utilitarian MVAS services like: skills training, government participation, health assistance, etc.

It is undeniable that new technologies have always disrupted the status quo. The Internet and mobile technologies are certainty the disrupters of this era. Underdeveloped nations can take advantage of the private sector investment in these technologies to thrive and achieve some of their developmental goals. Technology is indeed the great equalizer.  It is worth noting that applications like M-PESA are driven by a successful combination of profit interests, technology innovation, and social change motives. This is the combination that I will champion in future blog posts.

What other technology applications do you know that have a tangible impact on social change in developing countries?