web 2.0 for development

Who is using mobile phones for development


Before the summer, I was looking for examples on the use of cellphones for development and I got plenty of them in a moment!

Here is just a short list of the first examples I found:


The first way cellphones were used to sustain development is to deliver news about market prices. It is happening for agriculture and fishery, in Africa and Asia. The mechanism is simple: the users are usually farmers or fishermen interested in selling their products. Via SMS they receive information about prices on different markets in their area. In this way they can easily decide where to go to sell their products to maximize the earnings.

  • ifad-presentationIFAD is running a service of this kind in Tanzania: market spies called “shu shu shu” are scattered around the country to collect information about markets and share them via cellphones with the other members of the same organization.
  • As the mission statement says, the Ugandan Brosdi wants “to empower the civil society through knowledge sharing using ICT as a medium sothat they can improve their livelihoods.” The idea is the following: information and common knowledge is collected during Knowledge Sharing Forums, written, repackaged and sent once a week to the subscribers’ cellphone numbers using both a mobile phone and Gmail services. The farmers record the SMS in a book, saving it for future reference. Other farmers without mobile phones at their will can access this knowledge and further freely disseminate it within the village.
  • Information market can a source of revenues everywhere and Reuters got the point: so, last year the company launched in India a specific mobile information service for farmers in the State of Maharashtra. Reuters Market Light, RML, a short messaging service costing 60 rupees ($1.50) a month, offers Indian farmers up-to-date, local and customized commodity pricing information, news and weather updates. In addition, after an agreement with Maharashtra’s Postal Circle, the service is accessible at the nearest post office for farmers without cellphone.
  • The CGIAR ICT-KM has a pilot project focused on recognizing the value of farmer knowledge, to get farmers to value their own knowledge and ideas and find ways to share this knowledge between farmers. The main activity of the project revolved around the organizing of an International Farmers’ Conference with over 50 farmers attending. The farmers, instead of being passive participants, were asked to present their situations, knowledge, experiences, ideas and skills using storytelling. Their stories were recorded in video, audio and text forms to be disseminated in various ways and will be made available on the web. Additionally, the organizers uploaded small story clips onto mobile phones and showed the farmers how to send these to other farmers via cellphones. This to stimulate knowledge sharing and a farmer-to-farmer extension system to facilitate the spread of useful ideas, techniques and knowledge around agricultural activities.


  • Health is heavily targeted by many initiatives. ZMQ, an Indian software company, is launching a new service for women: once registered with the date of pregnancy, the person will receive weekly tips on what to eat, what vaccines to get, and when to get check-ups.


  • On the other hand, GrameenPhone, in cooperation with Telemedicine Reference Centre Limited, offers an electronic health information and service called Healthline. The service, open to all GrameenPhone subscribers, is an interactive telephone consultation with licensed physicians. Subscribers can also find information on various drugs and pharmacies, on medical facilities and the doctors attached to them, and results from laboratory tests and recommendations, together with the standard form of medical consultation and advice.
  • Cell-life is a South African company providing mobile services to fight HIV-AIDS. Cell-life uses mobile phone technologies in many innovative ways, to provide a free information service via SMS, and to address logistical challenges in developing countries such as booking clinic appointments. When someone is diagnosed HIV-positive, there is an interview for acceptance into an Anti-Retroviral Treatments program. Then the assignment to a therapeutic counselor, who liaise with 15-20 patients, collecting essential information on the basis of which a doctor will make a prescription and a care manager will direct a program of care. The forms were translated onto the cellphone: forms about adherence to treatment, about symptoms, about appointments and these generated SMS messages.


  • GSMAMobiles can also used to connect refugees to vital services. GSMA offers the possibility to connect refugee camps in northern Uganda to mobile networks to support family reunification, education, health care, economic activity and other needs. Refugees are provided with shared access to voice and data services. Under this approach, one of the villagers has the opportunity to establish a small business providing use of mobile phones, or computer terminals with mobile Internet access, to their community.
  • The Bihar region and the recent floods offered a chance to local authorities and rescue teams to collect and distribute information on local condition and rescue interventions, as fixed communication lines have been hardly affected by the floods.



  • Based on the M-Pesa experience, Concern organized with local partners in Kenya a targeted response to the food security problems that affected rural communities as a result of the post election violence in the early months of 2008. More than 500 households, whose livelihoods had been badly compromised by the violence, with the loss of livestock or homesteads, were selected to receive assistance through a community-based targeting process. Concern decided to provide assistance in the form of cash rather than food: using the M-Pesa system, the project aimed to provide each household with cash sufficient to purchase 50% of one month’s minimum calorific requirements through two transfers.


  • Finally, an example of mobile application in the public sector: the eSeva project in Andhra Pradesh State of India is a one-stop-shop for many services government-to-consumer (G2C) and business-to-consumer (B2C) services including payment of utility bills; reservations of train tickets; getting birth and death certificates, vehicle permits, driving licenses; transport department services; sale and receipt of passport applications; telephone connections; collection of small savings; ATM (cash withdrawal and deposits and issue of statement of accounts); mutual funds (collection of applications and transfer of shares); receipt of complaints or requests in connection with citizen services; cell phone bill payments, etc.

Author: Luca Servo @ talksharelearn

Passionate about social media, development projects and the world. Currently, I’m supporting the Emergency Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in managing its online communication through the website, the social media and the mobile apps.

9 thoughts on “Who is using mobile phones for development

  1. see this website too: for the work of Simon Batchelor and Gamos. There’s also a a well stocked portal dedicated to this topic:

  2. Thanks Simon for your contribution. I hope we can enlarge the list with other cases. Everybody is welcome to contribute and post other examples of use of mobile phones in development projects.

  3. I am particularly interested in Audio forms because I package agricultural information in popular song tunes for farmers. This worked very well with school children when we disseminated Climatic Change information to children. Children developed a PPT presentation to accompany the song.

    I also came across a news item about the use of mobile phones for agricultural knowledge sharing. The news clipping is posted (Aug. 28th) on my blog

  4. Take a look at and our mobile reporting project on !

  5. Pingback: Global HRIS Strengthening : blog

  6. Pingback: IntraHealth Informatics » Blog Archive » The mobile phone becoming a powerful tool for development

  7. One of IntraHealth International’s projects, the Last Mile Initiative, is designing an Open Source application for data collection and reporting via cell phones and other mobile devices to create a telecommunications-enabled Community Health Services Information System for the health sector in Rwanda. For more information, see our Informatics blog.

  8. M-Pesa, among other things is also one of the winners of the Stockholm Challenge prize 2008.

  9. I am working in mobile applications for development. For those who are interested in learning of various applications where using software information and pre programmed data is transferred please contact me~

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