Designing Technologies for Emerging Markets

Today, at the Changing Lives Through Mobile Conference we heard from researchers, entrepreneurs and leaders working to increase access to mobile technology in emerging markets. While rates of cell phone ownership have grown exponentially over the last decade, in developing countries there is still a significant gap in ownership for vulnerable group such as women, rural farmers and the urban poor.

The speakers today called for more resources targeted toward developing inclusive mobile technologies and showcased initiatives that have been working on these goals. We’ve distilled a few themes from today’s talks to apply to our own work:

  • Efficiency: Ran Makavy, Growth Manager at Facebook, spoke about business’ responsibility to streamline their applications. Ran cited an example from one of Facebook’s application updates, which increased global internet usage by 5%. When considering resource-poor contexts, whether on a rural farm or in a poor inner-city, efficient design allows easier access to content and tools. Ran spoke about a new Facebook testing lab that allows developers to connect to networks in other countries. The developers can see in real-time and address any connectivity issues end users’ might experience.
  • Experience: More attention should be directed toward the experience of accessing mobile services in emerging markets. From prepaid billing for utilities to mobile banking, user-centered design ensures that tools are actually helpful. Bolaji Akinboro of Cellulant, a Nigerian mobile commerce network, described a mobile system by which people are able to pay day to day for utilities according to their capabilities and needs.
  • Aggregate demand: Similar to the concept of collective impact, Chris Burns of USAID’s Mobile Access Team described a system through which service providers and public institutions invest in infrastructure and education. If these systems are robust, demand for and accessibility of services can grow sustainably.
  • Teach others: The final theme highlighted throughout the conference was the need for technologies to be open source. If innovations are shared, they can be replicated. Similar to the work we’ve seen from the Cities of Service Blueprints, OpenPlans’ platform and even NYC’s Open Data initiative, sharing technology and resources allows for rapid response to local problems.

While the conference was focused on mobile technology in emerging countries, we believe that these principles can be applied to most public systems and social impact work. Building programs that run well, designed with end users’ in mind, and leveraged by robust infrastructure is an excellent combination for any GAIN initiative. We’ll be keeping these takeaways in mind as we work on our own projects to build effective GAINtechnologies, no matter where our users might be.

Photo by CGIAR Climate.

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