"Whenever a communications medium lowers the cost of solving 'collective action dilemmas', it becomes more possible for more people to pool resources. And 'more people pooling resources in new ways' is the history of civilization in...seven words"
- Marc Smith, in Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs, p.31
If you were wondering when mobile would get big, you missed it. While the worldwide PC market is projected to hit 1 Billion by 2010, there are already 3 Billion mobile subscribers globally (600 Million of them in China, according to textually.org, via China View), projected to grow to 5 Billion by 2015. Much of the growth in both PC's and mobile devices is expected to come from emerging markets, where Nokia's Jan Chipchase has been doing interesting research chronicled on his 'future perfect' blog - In Uganda, for instance, in an area where streets aren't officially recognized, he found residents using their mobile numbers to identify their homes (click the photo for a closeup):
In W+K's explorations of the impact of mobility on developing nations culture, communication, and socio-economic growth, we kept coming across Ken Banks and his organization, Kiwanja.net, most recently in the context of African mobility infrastructural investments. Here's what Ken has to say for himself and Kiwanja:
"Since 2003, kiwanja.net has been helping local, national and international non-profit organisations make better use of information and communications technology in their work."
And why is that important? Because mobility in developing countries isn't about 3G, fashion or multimedia capabilities - it's about basic phones sparking fundamental economic growth and positively changing lives. And when the nearest doctor is 90 miles away, saving them. Here's a quote from Business Week's 9/13/07 article "Upwardly Mobile in Africa":
"Only a few years ago, places like [the Kenyan village of] Muruguru didn't even register in the plans of handset makers and service providers. What would a Kenyan farmer want with a mobile phone? Plenty, as it turns out. To the astonishment of the industry, people living on a few dollars a day have proven avid phone users, and in many parts of the world cellular airtime has become a de facto currency. The reason is simple: A mobile phone can dramatically improve living standards by saving wasted trips, providing information about crop prices, summoning medical help, and even serving as a conduit to banking services. "The cell phone is the single most transformative technology for development," says Columbia University economist and emerging markets expert Jeffrey Sachs." [my bold]
Mobility is money. Opportunity. Hope. London Business School research shows that a 10% increase in mobile penetration in developing countries yields a .6% growth in GDP (Gross Domestic Product). That is real.
Mobility is more than a hot topic in emerging markets - it could be the key to the future.
And that's where we come in. Ken's letting us go public, now that the official press release has dropped, and (ouroboros favorite) textually.org has covered it: Kiwanja, along with companies and folks from W+K, Hewlett Packard, Nokia, mBlox, Perkins Coie, From Good To Gold, Wildlife At Risk, ActiveXperts, (and my favorite SMS blog 160 Characters!!) will be inaugurating the first annual "nGOmobile" contest. To paraphrase Ken and Kiwanja:
"nGOmobile is a text message-based competition aimed exclusively and unashamedly at grassroots non-profit organizations working for positive social and environmental change throughout the developing world. These people don’t lack passion and commitment. They lack tools and resources. We’re here to change all that. Every year, nGOmobile will enable four worthy winners to leapfrog the mobile technology barrier. What we are looking for is impact - a clear indication that winning an amazing prize, and gaining access to mobile technology, would revolutionize your work.
Judges for the contest are Ken Banks, founder of Kiwanja.net, Neerja Raman of Good to Gold, Mike Grenville, founder of 160 characters, Micheline Ntiru, Nokia's Head of Corporate Social Investment for the Middle East and Africa, Bill Thompson, BBC journalist/commentator, and myself. I am proud to be a part of such an interesting project and panel. We look forward to sharing some of the entries, the winners and the stories.