Global attention has been caught in recent months by the success in humanitarian projects driven by some of the world’s richest individuals; the most high-profile of these cases is perhaps Bill Gates’ fight against malaria. Microsoft’s founder, Gates, is seen as the poster boy for a new breed of so-called ‘technophilanthropists’: ultra-wealthy individuals who, having made their fortune in technology, are now empowered by the exponential growth in new technologies to take on humanities’ ills.
While Bill Gates’ never-ending millions may grab the headlines, many people believe the best weapon we have against some of the planet’s most pressing issues, including pulling the so-called ‘bottom billion’ (a term used to describe the poorest billion people on Earth) out of poverty, is the mobile phone.
The mobile phone in your pocket is as powerful today as supercomputer built in the mid-70’s; and can be purchased for a fraction of the price. It is this exponential growth in information-based technologies which is helping some of the poorest communities on Earth to pull themselves out of poverty and become a powerful and important consuming segment of humanity.
One of the UK’s leading mobile phone recycling companies, CMR, operates at the very edge of this growth in mobile technology. Every year, CMR will redistribute hundreds of thousands of Britain’s used mobile phones in to some of the poorest communities on Earth and witness first-hand the benefits of introducing mobile technology to this so called ‘bottom billion’.
CMR director, Jim Fowler, puts the improvements in mobile technology into perspective: ‘’If you give an African school child a smartphone, he will have better telecom capabilities than the American President did 25 years ago’’.
For the majority of western consumers, the flourishing smartphone market is encapsulated by the multi-billion dollar scrap for market supremacy between Apple and Samsung – currently the two biggest mobile phone manufactures on the planet. But the billions of dollars which is being poured into the industry by both of these technology giants; in terms of research, development and distribution, is ultimately lowering the cost of the smartphone across the whole genre. This filtering down of technological advances is now opening digital doors to some of the world’s poorest people.
‘’By the end of 2013, it is estimated over 70% of humanity will have instant access to low-cost communication and information.’’ Explained Fowler, adding: ‘The so called ‘bottom billion’ would perhaps be better described as the ‘rising billion’; because in the next few years these billion voices, thus far unheard, will suddenly be joining the global conversation, thanks to smartphone technology’’.
Many of the African communities in which CMR operate are perfect examples of how vast swathes of the continent essentially skipped a technological generation: Having been left disconnected from traditional landline technology, mobile technology is now many Africans’ first and only means of telecommunication.
So how has our second-hand mobile technology become such a potent weapon in the fight against poverty?
CMR will supply communities in Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda with over 10 thousand of the UK’s used mobile phones each month providing much-needed connectivity between individuals and businesses.
‘The benefits of introducing mobile technology into a disconnected community is difficult to measure as the improvements brought to people’s lives are not always tangible’, noted Fowler, ‘parental peace of mind that their children are contactable, for example, cannot be plotted on a graph. But services such as money transfer – now possible through smartphone technology – is a terrific example of how mobile technology can help energise and economy’’
According to research carried out at the London School of Business, adding ten mobile phones per hundred people raises GDP by 0.6 per cent. If these figures were to be applied to the global poverty problem, then of the 4 billion people currently living in poverty across the globe, the introduction of 10 new mobile phones per 100 people would propel 48 million out of poverty.
Bridging the gap between the global financial divide of the wealthy and the poorer nations seems to be moving from the exclusive realm of governments, major corporations and NGO’s into the hands of fast-moving and flexible initiatives such as the mobile phone recycling industry.