Sunday, October 16, 2011

Global Poverty: Can Mobile Phones Come to the Rescue?

Probably not just on their own. But mobile phones are one tool among many which when used together can help us confront global poverty.

CNN reported this week on the immense transformative potential of mobile phones. Jeffrey Sachs, director of the United Nations Millennium Villages Project, in fact hailed mobile phones as "the single most transformative technology for development," not least because poverty, in many respects and in many regions, is essentially a phenomenon of isolation. As Mr. Sachs explains in the video attached below as well, lack of access to markets, education, government services and so on results in economic isolation, impeding chances for upward mobility. For people living in rural areas in many developing countries, that lack of accessibility is especially pronounced. Mobile phones and information technology, notes Mr. Sachs, are thus instrumental to overcoming the economic isolation which engenders poverty. Farmers, for example, can use their cell phones to learn about commodity prices, people can call others at a time of an emergency, and community health-care providers can carry cell phones interconnected to computers. Thanks to mobile phones and wireless technology, people are no longer as isolated as they were until just a few years ago.

Mobile phone use grew by a whopping 400% in Africa between 2005 and 2010, according to the CNN report, buoyed by declining mobile phones prices as well as the low cost of installing mobile towers. This is heartening because as the report mentions a 2006 University of Michigan study found that every 10% increase in cell phone penetration stimulates the local economy by 0.6%. That bodes well not just for people living in the margins of impoverished developing countries but for the overall economic growth of these countries. What is more? The "global village" might truly become a global village if access to mobile technology, which helps us transcend boundaries, continues to increase.