November 28, 2016

10 mThings Changing Lives in Developing Countries

Mobile applications are transforming the livelihoods of millions of people around the world, including in low-income settings and rural areas. These apps, SMS- and voice-based services are improving health, financial inclusion, education, governance, energy delivery and other fields of global development. Mobile technology has become so ubiquitous in global development that it is often the first and last thing that people think about when they think about ICT4D. The sector is much broader, of course, and includes technologies like eHealth, eGovernance, pay-as-you-go systems for energy, big data, remote sensing, and much more. But the mobile apps feature prominently, denoted as mHealth, mFinance, mEducation, mGovernance, mWater, etc. In short: mThings.

Here we list 10 mThings that provide a glimpse of what is being done in low-income settings. Each is included in our Solutions Library, where our standardized information makes it easy to make side-by-side comparisons to similar products.

Mobile data collection

Voto Mobile

This mobile phone notification and survey platform offers voice-based services in local languages. Voto Mobile can make it easier for global development organizations and hardware startups to reach their stakeholders and customers with interactive voice calls, SMS messages and USSD conversations.

The platform has been rolled out in Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and India, and the user list includes the World Bank, UNICEF, McKinsey&Co, Innovations for Poverty Action and Farm Radio, among others.

See it in action.


Open Data Kit

Folks at Google and the University of Washington (in Seattle) collaborated to bring us the Open Data Kit (ODK), a free, open-source tool kit for mobile data collection. ODK can help create, field and manage mobile data solutions. ODK Build creates surveys, ODK Collect gathers mobile data, and ODK Aggregate collects and extracts data into useful formats.

See ODK in action.


This platform can create SMS text and voice call blasts to hundreds or thousands of customers, stakeholders or other recipients. EngageSPARK handlessurveys and polls, IVR, reminders and SMS auto-reply campaigns with an easy-to-navigate online form. Even without technical training, a new user could use the platform to create a campaign quickly.

EngageSPARK operates in more than 200 countries. For a look at how it has been used in the Philippines see our report:

Soap operas by phone teach the power of savings in crisis zones




Livestock farmers in Kenya use iCow to learn best practices for rearing their cows and chickens, and to track the animals’ gestational periods and find the nearest veterinarian. Created by Green Dreams and distributed through Safaricom, Kenya’s largest mobile service provider, iCow sends weekly SMS messages with tips on breeding, diet, nutrition, health, illness, milk production and other information.

To track gestational periods, farmers register their cows and their insemination date by SMS short code, and then receive periodic SMS prompts on when to take action during the gestation period.



Esoko allows its users to push information to small-holder farmers with the goal of improving their income. Updates include market prices, weather forecasts, advisory services and others. The system can also survey farmers to understand their needs and gives them the option of setting up a Web site.

The system operates in multiple currencies, targets multiple commodities and markets and has developed projects in 16 sub-Saharan African countries and Mexico.


This free-of-charge, peer-to-peer platform allows smallholder farmers to share information among themselves. WeFarm users can ask and answer questions and share tips about farming and business through SMS messages or online, meaning that it works with or without Internet access.

WeFarm is built around the principle that rural farming communities in developing countries have generations worth of knowledge to share, but lack the tools to do so.





This mobile banking service has transformed the financial landscape where it operates in Kenya, Tanzania, DRC, Mozambique and India. It has also begun operations in Romania and Albania.

With M-PESA, people make small monetary transactions through SMS messages, circumventing the need for a formal bank account and making cash unnecessary. The result is the financial inclusion of people who were once unable to do things like save money or send it.

Fun fact: the “M” stands for mobile and PESA is a Swahili word for money.

Tigo money

Like M-PESA, Tigo Money is a microfinance service offered in countries where people lack access to formal banking institutions.

Tigo’s services include money transfers, mobile money accounts that earn interest, credit, payments and billing.

Note that the service is called Tigo Money in Latin America, Tigo Cash in Africa and Tigo Pesa in Tanzania.

Tigo Money is operated by Milicom, an international telecommunications and media company.




Programmers and people with no programming training alike can use CommCare to build mobile apps for data collection, campaigns for awareness and behavior change and other activities. Commcare is a customizable, open-source mobile platform that is used in more than 50 countries.

Software plans range from free to $1000+ USD per month.





mWater Explorer

Map water sources and sanitation facilities, report on their quality and state of repair and issue sanitary inspection reports using standard forms with mWater Explorer. The mobile app allows the user to test a water source, take a picture and upload the data to an online database for other users to see. The app uses GPS to show the location of the uploaded information, and broadcasts it onto a global map available within the app itself.

The mWater app is integrated with the mWater test kit – a single-use water quality test kit.

The mWater Explorer App is available to the public for free, without a relationship with mWater. It was created for the mWater platform as an investment in data aid by and the Millennium Water Alliance.

More from our Solutions Library

We have standardized information from these and other organizations that offer mobile tools for global development (plus many other kinds of technology) in our Solutions Library. The layout makes for easy side-by-side comparisons with similar products. Please browse and, if you’re inspired, contribute to the quality of the library with your comments.

Comments from the Community


  1. Mohamed says:

    Great magazine I was introduced to it by a colleague and I find it very useful

  2. mukeshrathodpalsud says:



    We are happy that you find it useful! ThANKS SO MUCH!

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