Your cell phone is a more powerful tool than you may realize

By John Hamerlinck

There are more cell phone users in Africa than there are in North America. India has more than 470 million mobile phone users. China has more than 700 million!

Some people refer to mobile phones as a “leapfrog technology,” allowing developing nations to move their communications from 19th century technology to 21st century technology without having to invest in massive infrastructure projects. This is significant for high-poverty nations. Jennifer Openshaw writes in the Huffington Post, about how one application, Obopay, a phone-based money transfer system, can impact the lives of low income people. “In India, where many people don’t have access to an address or a bank account, cell phones are the new means for government or an employer to send payments. Once the money is deposited into the recipient’s ‘account,’ he/she can then remit money internationally, send funds to his family, or pay bills — all right from the phone. Obopay’s system also eliminates the risk of theft in cash-based economies.” phones are also serving as critical tools in promoting significant social change worldwide. I’m not just talking about text message fundraising. The site MobileActive tracks social impact through mobile phone use. The site has dozens of stories  where phones are a key component in AIDS, literacy, economic development, health and other initiatives. For example, in South Africa, the organization Cell-Life is using phones in multiple projects to address the growing AIDS epidemic.

At colleges and universities in this country where nearly every student has a phone, how might we leverage this simple reality to the benefit of the community? How might we look to the developing world for clues on addressing issues like homelessness and poverty?

On February 12, we’ll be hosting a webinar titled, Civic Engagement: Engaging Students and Communities through Technology. We’ll discuss not only phones, but Twitter (did you know that in Myanmar, thousands of monks took to the streets in pro-democracy demonstrations by communicating through twitter via their cell phones?), Google Maps mash-ups, and many other promising tools for campus-community partnerships. Please join us.


One response to “Your cell phone is a more powerful tool than you may realize

  1. Good stuff, John. Thanks for sharing this.

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