September 22, 2009

Workshop Focuses on Mobile Innovations in Developing World

Via webcast, I attended a workshop, "Mobile Innovations for Social and Economic Transformation," organized by the World Bank e-Development Thematic Group (e-TG), whose mission is to "promote the efficient use of ICT in development and World Bank operations by facilitating knowledge sharing on good practices in e-development, and an ongoing dialogue amongst a large and diverse community of practitioners." e-TG said the aim of this event was "to raise awareness of the transformational role mobile technologies can play in improving service delivery, efficiency and transparency by show-casing mobile-enabled innovations in a number of sectors and identifying emerging lessons learned and ways to scale up for achieving operational efficiencies and development impact." (Photo courtesy of Mobiles for Malawi)

This workshop addressed essential topics such as the mobile innovations in financial services, health, education, and governance, and mobile applications in agriculture and rural development. A detailed summary of the presentations may be found on's blog. (I understand that Florian Sturm of was providing the summary remotely from an Internet cafe in Ghana. Thank you, Florian.)

While the workshop covered a variety of topics, there were a few common conclusions. Although the capacity to utilize mobile broadband may be cost prohibitive in certain markets, mobile technology is a sustainable solution to educating people, providing medical diagnosis and increasing access to medical treatments, and developing an e-commerce solution to access financial capital and facilitate private sector development. Many of the presentations suggested increased investments to teach people the skills necessary to use and capitalize on the benefits of mobile technology and build the technological capacity required for a vastly expanding marketplace. As human and system capacity grows, the cost of mobile content delivery and devices required to utilize the content will continue to drop. In my opinion, developing nations must continue to deregulate the telecom sector and encourage private sector development including fair and equitable private-public partnerships.

The presenters agreed that the technology currently exists for mobile solutions, but there must be a focus on developing applications and refining business models. Although several successful projects were presented, there were general complaints that often such projects do not bypass the "pilot" stage and accordingly, do not achieve sustainability. Project scalability is another challenge people are encountering in implementing mobile solutions. According to the presentations and subsequent audience questions, impact evaluations and information sharing on project failures can help overcome these problems. Lastly, there is a need to further develop private-public partnerships and identifying viable and committed partners for implementing mobile solutions.

As the Internet has become a regular component to the daily lives of people living in developed countries, a digital divide has grown wide for those living in developing nations. However, over the past few years, I have seen innovative solutions to bridging the digital divide in the world’s most undeveloped nations. While there continues to be challenges in scalability, mobile technologies have and will continue to provide sustainable solutions. I commend the World Bank e-Development Thematic Group for organizing this relevant and informative workshop.

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