Archive for Latin America / LAC
Late last month I had the pleasure of attending a conference hosted by the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute of the Open University of Cataluña in Barcelona. The conference, Mobile Phones and the Internet in Latin America and Africa: What Benefits for the Most Disadvantaged? was a great opportunity to exchange insights between researchers working across disciplines and geographies. There were a number of good papers on migration and the condition of human mobility (not just wirelessness). Other highlights for me included meeting Judith Mariscal and Roxana Barrantes of DIRSI. Roxana has been gathering some excellent data in Peru on changes in household agricultural earnings pre-and post- mobile acquisition. It was also great to see Mirjam de Bruijn and Inge Brinkman, editors (w/ Francis Nyamnjoh) of Mobile phones: the new talking drums of everyday Africa. Their work, and that volume, explores mobile adoption in regions which do not appear often in the literature on ICT use, including Southeast Angola, Northern Cameroon, Chad, and Sudan.
I gave a talk based on a new paper reviewing mobile livelihood services in Africa (crop prices, virtual marketplaces, agricultural extension, etc). The paper is in draft form right now – I will be doing revisions in a few weeks before resubmitting for the conference publication. So, any comments, additions, or questions are most welcome.
Donner, J. (2009, 23-24 October). Mobile-based livelihood services in Africa: pilots and early deployments. Paper presented at the Conference on Development and Information Technologies. Mobile Phones and Internet in Latin America and Africa: What benefits for the most disadvantaged? Castelldefels, Barcelona.
The paper describes a collection of initiatives delivering various forms of support functions via mobile phones to small enterprises, small farms, and the self-employed. Using a review of 24 examples of such services currently operational in Africa, the analysis identifies five functions of mobile livelihood services: Mediated Agricultural Extension, Market Information, Virtual Marketplaces, Financial Services, and Direct Livelihood Support. It discusses the current reliance of such systems on the SMS channel, and considers their role in supporting vs. transforming existing market structures.
So this news is a month old, but it is still interesting.
The program, piloted in Nicaragua, encourages daily compliance with the (very strict, very lengthy, very important) anti-TB medication regimen in a cost-effective and very innovative way. Patients must urinate on a reactive strip every day. If the patient has taken the TB medication, the strip will change to reveal a code. By sending that code via SMS to their health care providers, he or she can prove that they have taken the medication, without requiring a daily visit from a health care worker.
That’s cool enough already. But then, to get at the behavioral part of the puzzle, the X out TB program offers cell phone minutes as rewards for patients who have successfully communicated with the health care center on say, 25 of 30 days in a month.
I tagged this post as m-health and m-banking because this is an example of a situation in which the easy and cost-free transfer of minutes/airtime/load is actually a better solution than m-banking funds delimited in actual currencies. This is a good cause and a specialized case, so operators can be approached to provide the minutes at a reduced rate, or even for free. I’m sure a whole host of regulatory and accounting issues would prevent them from doing this with m-banking funds.
Also interesting – the MobileActive piece points to the ubiquity of cell phone minutes as something of value to participants.
The team also changed the incentives for the project. Initially, they had intended to give people who stuck with their treatment a microfinance loans. “The whole goal with microfinance is you get a peer system from your family,” said Gomez-Marquez. “But when we went to Nicaragua they really insisted on cell phone minutes.” The minutes can either be uploaded to the user’s phone or the team can pass out pre-paid phone cards.
Over the years, I’ve been keeping an eye on the research literature about mobile use in the developing world. I first presented a version of this review at a conference in Hong Kong in 2005. Now, thanks to Leopoldina Fortunati’s efforts to pull together a special issue of The Information Society, the review has finally been published. Thanks also to the editors at the Information Society, and to the reviewers who provided such valuable feedback at various stages.
There’s a lot more of the literature to cover than there was when I started this back in 2005. And, since it is an interdisciplinary review, I’m sure to have missed some citations. Nevertheless, it has been a great exercise for me to get a sense of what’s out there, and to become familiar with the diverse work of an amazing set of researchers along the way.
I hope some of you find this review a useful input to your own work.
Donner, Jonathan. (2008). Research Approaches to Mobile Use in the Developing World: A Review of the Literature. The Information Society 24(3), 140-159.
This paper reviews roughly 200 recent studies of mobile (cellular) phone use in the developing world, and identifies major concentrations of research. It categorizes studies along two dimensions. One dimension distinguishes studies of the determinants of mobile adoption from those that assess the impacts of mobile use, and from those focused on the interrelationships between mobile technologies and users. A secondary dimension identifies a subset of studies with a strong economic development perspective. The discussion considers the implications of the resulting review and typology for future research.
DIRSI–Diálogo Regional sobre Sociedad de la Infomación–posted what looks like the entire set of presentations and comments from a July 4 discussion in Lima on “Understanding the Contribution of Mobile Telephony to Development in LAC” (Latin America and the Carribean).