“Affordable mobile phones and the opportunities they usher in for the poor will be one of the most dramatic game-changing technologies the world has ever seen.”
When the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), the leading association of global mobile operators and related companies, made this point in a 2013 report, it raised a question: How do we take this very personal device, and turn it into a tool for creating social impact and building global empathy?
The possibilities of leveraging telecommunication carriers and their networks to help solve pervasive social issues are endless; we can use them to help improve access to education and health care, end violence against women, bolster entrepreneurship, stem the homeless epidemic, and empower those with disabilities. There are some great examples of this: M-Pesa, the mobile phone-based money-transfer and microfinancing service, is now serving tens of millions throughout Africa (60 percent of Kenya’s GDP is now transacted on M-Pesa). mHealth is improving health care by placing best practices in the hands of frontline health workers. Grameenphone started as a pioneering initiative to empower rural women of Bangladesh and has grown into the leading and largest telecommunications service provider in Bangladesh, with more than 48.68 million subscribers as of March 2014.
But while there are already many mobile technologies, applications, and programs aimed at improving people’s lives, as a whole they represent a mere fraction of the potential for impact that lies within the $2 trillion global telecom industry—an industry that has more month-to-month recurring customers than any other industry in the world. How can we unlock more potential?
From our perspective at BetterWorld Wireless, part of the answer lies in alliances between companies, nonprofits, and foundations to create change—in our case, to provide pathways out of poverty.
We are one of the first high-impact mobile initiatives started from inside the mobile telecoms industry itself, and build on the shoulders of companies such as Sprint, TOMS, and Warby Parker as we seek to activate consumers who desire to do more with their dollars. Through our Phone4Phone program, we donate phones and tablets via a global network of partners using a buy-one give-one model. In the hands of women, girls, and other people in underserved communities, these mobile devices can provide much-needed opportunities for economic empowerment like the mobile banking and health care examples above.
We also collaborate with the NGO technology provider TechSoup Global to gather feedback and craft mobile services specifically for nonprofits and libraries, as well as for their employees, volunteers, donors, and communities. This has resulted in innovative service plans that help nonprofits and conscious consumers save money by charging them only for what they use, and offering special discounts and donated smartphones. All of this comes with quality service on a nationwide 4G LTE network, and educational resources such as our Mobile Impact Webinar Series. Our overarching goal is to help nonprofits focus on what is most important: their mission.
For us, it’s about Kindles for schoolchildren loaded with books in their native language, thanks to the good work of Worldreader, or giving Black Girls Code Android phones so that it can promote careers in STEM education and train the next generation of mobile designers and developers.
Building on our collective thirst for community, learning, and empathy, let us look now to our relatively newfound and omnipresent mobile network as a stronger point of leverage for solving some of the world’s—and humanity’s—biggest challenges. By seeking innovative avenues and partnerships, we now have a model for activating the nervous system of humanity for positive change and impact.