With the majority of people living in the developing world and the majority of cellphones residing there, the role cellphones will take in the developing world is becoming a hard to ignore topic. This is for a good reason as well. In developing countries, cellphones are being used to eliminate many unnecessary inefficiencies and barriers. My research deals with how people in the developing world are becoming empowered and are creating innovative solutions to their own problems through the equalizing power of the cellphone.
There are a lot of grassroots examples of people taking cellphones and expanding the its capabilities in ways that haven’t been thought of before. One such innovation is occurring in Uganda where people are using cellphone minutes as a form of currency. In Uganda, cellphones are being used to transfer minutes instead of money. Many Ugandans don’t have bank accounts which creates a problem when trying to transfer money. Many Ugandans also can’t afford a monthly cellphone plan but this, however, is actually creating an opportunity. Instead of monthly plans, people rely on prepaid cards. In Uganda, these prepaid cards are as good as money. When a person needs to send money to someone in another village, they buy a prepaid card, call the local cellphone kiosk operator of the person’s village and read the card’s number to them. The kiosk operator will then hand money to the desired person, take a small commission, and use the minutes from the card to offer cellphone services to others in the village. Without cellphones, these people would have otherwise had to undergo a long and possibly risky journey to make the delivery. What makes this so interesting is that innovation like this is not being motivated by big corporations or nongovernment organizations but by the people themselves. People are molding the cellphone to fit their culture, their society, and their needs.
Charles Naut, Stanford University