MSVU Social Media Course Blog

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I Bless the Cell Phone Coverage Down in Africa…

What do we rely on our cell phones for today? To text friends, to talk to family, to take pictures, to listen to music or to play games on when we’re bored. What if we relied on our cell phones for something more? What if cell phones were our only way of being supplied with money? What if without a cell phone, our family couldn’t afford to put food on the table or aquire clean water?

Unfortunately, this is a reality in many third world countries. Living in Western Society we don’t even think twice about how lucky we are to be able to walk down any street and go into a bank. We don’t think about how lucky we are to be able to use online banking, or to take $20 out of an ATM.  The use of mobile banking to people in third world countries is almosty a crucial part of their survival and well being.

Think about the husbands who have to travel miles away from their wives and children in order to find work. How will they get the money they earn back to their families? Certainly not by walking back home.

A recent podcast on SXSW spoke on this issue, which is something that I truly had never even thought about, but is obviously a huge problem for developping third world countries.

There are 2 billion unbanked people in the world today, and about 1 billion of those unbanked people have access to mobile. Third world countries have taken this information, and have become the most innovated countries in regards to expanding on mobile banking and mobile payments, Africa being the largest contributor.

With mobile payments, working spouses are able to make transfer payments to their spouse’s cell phones back home. A great example the podcast uses is if a husband is working in a mine far from home, he is able to transfer his received funds to his wife and kids.

This technology doesn’t stop there. Mobile phones in these countries are actually starting to take the place of currency. It’s safer to be carrying around a cell phone than a bunch of cash. Consumers are using these mobile transfers to pay merchants, and entrepreneurs are able to transfer funds to laborers who are, for example, building homes. Airtime is also taking the place of currency in these countries. People are trading cell phone minutes for goods and services, which shows how precious airtime over there really is.

A panelist from the podcast states that the GSM coverage in Africa outdoes the electricity coverage by a significant amount. This means that yes, maybe these third world countries aren’t as “up on the times” with social media tools a we are, but it’s because they simply don’t have the type of coverage that we do. They are however, doing the best they can with what they have.

I certainly wouldn’t know how to make a mobile payment or transfer. Maybe the folks in Africa can teach ME a thing or two?

I think Toto sums it up… “It’s gonna take some time to do the things we never have, oooh”



June 2, 2009 - Posted by | Really Relevant Interesting Stuff, Review of Monitored Site | ,

1 Comment »

  1. Hilary,

    I just knew from the title that this would be something of interest. Thanks so much for this post it has really opened my eyes to what technology is allowing people to do and I’m actually blown away buy the ingenuity and innovation these countries are using. I think that it is important for us to look at how people outside of the western world are able to harness these ideas and make them work for their situation.

    As we discussed earlier on in class, the social aspect of facebook or twitter probably wouldn’t provide anything that necessary for these people, but using cell phones as a form of currency is something that might not be that useful in the western world, but is invaluable in Africa.

    As small as the world may be, stories like these always make me realize that there is so much outside of our western bubble.


    Comment by beewilly | June 2, 2009 | Reply

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