I'm sure I'm not the only one who uses my mobile phone for almost everything but to make a call. Thanks to technological advances and the explosion of social media, we text, tweet or do Facebook posts on our devices. But beyond mere communications tools, mobile phones are also crucial for fostering economic activity and development. And I don't mean just in the U.S. and rich countries, but in developing countries.
|Noel Aspras in the Philippines says that "even the lowliest of farmers owns a cellphone now" because it has become a necessity. Watch the video below.|
When I lost my mobile phone two years ago, I felt dismembered. After all, my cellphone was constantly by my side, serving as alarm clock, calendar, and default camera for those ‘Kodak’ moments you couldn’t let pass. It was also a nifty calculator that I turned to when splitting restaurant bills with friends.
After grieving the loss of my “finger” for two days, I pulled myself together and got a new, smarter phone that allowed for faster surfing on the web, audio recording and a host of other functions that, well, made me quickly forget the lost unit. A blessing in disguise, I told myself.
So when no less than a farmer from Pagsanjan in the Philippines’ Laguna province told me that mobile phones were “no longer a luxury, but a necessity,” and added that “even the lowliest of farmers riding on a carabao (water buffalo) owns one,” I couldn’t agree more.
An article in yesterday’s New York Times observes that, with the number of mobile subscriptions exceeding five billion, more people today have access to a cell phone than to a clean toilet. Leaving aside the relative value of these two appliances, the surge in cell phones in Africa—some 94 percent of urban Africans are near a GSM signal—is transforming the continent. Farmers in Niger use cell phones to find out which market is giving the best price; people in Kenya pay their bills and send money home using M-Pesa.
|"The only way to really speak to someone is to go over to where they are", Primo told me about the state of telecommunications in the country.|
|Better materials and student participation characterize the READ schools project. (photo by Prateek Tandon)|
One morning two weeks ago I learned that, three floors above me, World Bank President Bob Zoellick was in animated teleconference with superstar Shakira on education issues (Shakira heads her own foundation called Pies Descalzos --Barefoot).