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Mobile Influence: The Value of Connecting the Disconnected

October 19, 2012 - 2 Comments

Even though we all know the statistics showing the tremendous growth of mobile and smartphone usage, I continue to be amazed by the impact this technology is making for the most disconnected societies.

I am particularly interested in the use of mobile applications for social entrepreneurship. By using basic SMS communications communities have been able to educate and reach many more people than traditional tactics.

Investments in text based mobile applications are typically quicker to develop. Training end-users who may have limited literacy skills is easier with text messaging. These are the people who need to be connected the most, but are usually beyond the reach of technology.

  • What mobile applications have enabled broad community outreach?
  • How has access to mobile technology supported social change?
  • Are mobile applications an efficient method to reach remote populations?

According to the VNI Service Adoption Forecast (VNI-SA) , consumer SMS usage will continue to be the  most highly penetrated mobile service in Middle East and Africa. The compound average growth (CAGR) will exceed 12% by 2016 with over 630 million users. That’s over 81% of consumer mobile users.

Exploring the Full Potential of SMS Applications

One of the people I met recently was Rachel Zedek of Backback Farm. Rachel has an amazing background in social entrepreneurship, international business, and IT management. She’s worked across the Middle East, Eastern Europe and now in Africa.

Her experience is in blending grassroots marketing, fundraising, social media, corporate sponsorships, and microfinance. Her goal now is to promote improved human security through socially responsible investment. Just one example of what Rachel has accomplished is demonstrated through a text-based mobile application called Kuza Doctor (Kuza means ‘growing’ in Swahili).

The photo is a farm before and after the family started using techniques learned through Kuza Doctor. The farm yields a higher volume of quality crops with less loss due to pest damage or poor irrigation. The family has some excess crops which they can sell, thus allowing them to help others in their community.

During her recent trip back to the U.S. I was fortunate to get a quick video interview with Rachel. Listen to Rachel as she talks about how and why Kuza Doctor was created, and the impact it has had on the local sub-Saharan farming community.  Technology on its own isn’t a game changer, it’s what it enables and its ability to empower a broad audience that is absolutely fascinating.

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Do you have an interesting story of how technology has changed your community, your work, or your business? Is technology providing opportunities that impact the socio-economics of the world around you? Contact us at if you’d like to contribute to this blog series.

What is VNI-SA? This is the Service Adoption forecast portion of our popular VNI research. It focuses on the worldwide end user adoption rates for a wide variety of services (e.g., SMS, mobile banking, online gaming, video conferencing, location-based services). Read more at

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  1. Thank you Stewart for your feedback. As I continue my efforts to document the many creative uses for various telecom services (not just SMS) I am amazed by the creativity of so many people. It's the end-user benefits in terms of improving the economic and educational opportunities that is of most interest. I plan on continuing my outreach efforts to gather as many stories as I can. If you know of some great examples for services such as mobile banking, video conferencing, online gaming, etc. please let me know. // Deborah

  2. Very interesting article, I think that it is excellent that mobile technology is able to penetrate much deeper than other forms of messaging into these societies. The speed that comes with these technologies will also continue to benefit the ability to influence positive change in these societies and as more infrastructure is available this ability will only be enhanced. I am interested to see the positive impact that this new-found availability of technology will have on these areas.