The uptake of mobile phones on the African continent continues with growth rates in excess of 100% over the past twelve months (Source MTN 'Yello corporate publication, 2008). This is happening while technologies that link people across space and time are becoming ubiquitous and mobile telephony is the preferred means of telecommunication. The result is a narrowing of the technological gap between the developed and developing world. Rates of ownership, even among the poorest, is surprisingly high and while estimates vary, there were already more than 100 million connected handsets in Africa in 2005.
All that is needed are bright, entrepreneurial minds to seize the space, to make the connection in what is potentially one of the biggest knowledge markets in the world. What is needed is to marry technology with great ideas. These ideas can come from looking at actual situations in which knowledge and technology have been applied to create successful, impactful change, work opportunities and sustainable systems. Could you use these ideas to stimulate new possibilities for yourself and your community?
- Farmers are using mobile phones to ensure the best prices for their crops and use the information to decide which market to sell at, small-scale entrepreneurs are contacting potential clients, and grandparents are talking to their children and grandchildren hundreds of kilometres away. IDRC (2003a) and NGO Mobile
- There are case studies from around the world that demonstrate the potential gains of ICT use for biodiversity and conservation at a practical, hands-on level in basic data collection, information, education and research; community-led conservation initiatives; conservation project management; tracking and monitoring. (Banks & Burge, 2004). In addition, National parks communicate details about dangerous animals, provide an early warning system to mitigate against human-wildlife conflict.
- Mobile technology is being used in rural phone networks for telemedicine, small business development, market trading and farming, humanitarian aid and community services NGO Mobile
- An Insurance company in the UK has stolen a lead over its competitors by offering same day claim evaluation and payment by using mobile wireless technology.
- Some patients in Africa on antiretrovirals now receive text message (SMS) reminders to take their medicine, so they no longer waste time and money traveling to their nearest clinic to ensure compliance. NGO Mobile
- eThekwini municipality in South Africa have developed a model to stimulate community participation by using library infrastructure and Opensource social networking software to record indigenous knowledge. Because indigenous knowledge is mostly stored in people’s minds and passed on through generations by word of mouth rather than in written form, it is vulnerable to rapid change (Sithole, 2006). Development processes like rural/urban migration and changes to population structure as a result of famine, epidemics, displacement or war may all contribute to loss of indigenous knowledge. Even in remote areas the powers that push global or just non-local content such as television and radio advertising are much stronger than those pushing local content (Nyumba, 2006). The result is a form of 'cultural imperialism' where the monolithic culture threatens to wipe out Indigenous knowledge unless it is properly documented and disseminated (World Bank, 1998)
- Unemployed youths in Nairobi’s shanty towns receive texts alerting them to job opportunities in the city NGO Mobile
- Fauna & Flora International have created a web-based portal which provides a wide variety of conservation news stories, discussion boards, field diaries, competitions, downloadable resources and image galleries using a shared database which also feeds directly into a micro-site on Vodafone’s live! platform. Users can access a wide range of these services, in addition to downloadable animal-sound ring tones, wildlife images and conservation-themed games. This is the first time that conservation based materials have been made available to mobile subscribers, giving them the opportunity to engage in conservation in a completely new way. (Banks & Burge, 2004)
- The World Health Organisation in Kenya have implemented a shared Wiki which allows field workers to share area level knowledge with each other at electronic speed. Established to share learning and experiences, both positive and negative, a major benefit of the system is said to be a greater spirit of community among field workers who have been enabled and empowered to make the connections as they see fit on the ground. (KMAfrica2007, Nairobi)
- The Lesotho Ministry of Health and Social Welfare have implemented a shared wiki to focus on organisational culture, values, branding and identity - the approach allows members of this diverse organisation to communicate about key issues. MOHSW website
- Wet-Africa.org - a specialist water knowledge site that runs on the KMAfrica.com SIG platform includes a system that monitors and allows system members to report pollution incidents in waters and wetlands via twitter and SMS. wet-africa.org website
Further information on some of the projects mentioned here can be found on:
ICT as an enabler
It is important to understand that mobile phones and other ICTs are tools, and not a solution to problems. However, ICTs have an important role to play as a part of wider strategies and programmes. Areas in which ICTS have been successfully employed by a variety of organisations include disaster relief, poverty alleviation, healthcare, conservation, development, and job creation – all representing fertile ground for KM innovation and entrepreneurship.
research: Steve Banhegyi