March 28, 2011

IEEE humanitarian technology webinars now on YouTube


This is a typical phone in sub-Saharan Africa: SMS capable, no browser, lots of potential for a small business. Photo credit: kiwanja/Flickr

We posted two IEEE webinars on humanitarian technology for the developing world to our YouTube channel. The first, Mobile Web Technologies for the Developing World, is an overview of mobile services and how entrepreneurs in Africa are learning to turn them into businesses. Max Froumentin, program manager at the World Wide Web Foundation, presents his program, Mobile Entrepreneurs in Africa.

The second, Innovation and Entrepreneurship within the Tech Community in Nairobi, is a look at iHub, Nairobi’s technological hub. Jessica Colaço, iHub’s manager, talks about the ideas and the new business collaborations coming out of that space. Here, we offer a quick overview of what to expect.

Mobile Technology for the Developing World

More than half of the world has a mobile phone, but very few of those phones can gain access to the internet. Froumentin explains what that means to mobile service providers in Africa, and how his organization is training entrepreneurs in Ghana to make sustainable mobile tech businesses.

Mobile Entrepreneurs in Africa trains people in the development of SMS and smartphone applications that serve the community. It also teaches how to turn the services into a financially solvent business. A successful mobile tech service operator will choose the correct platform for the service and learn to avoid business pitfalls, Froumentin says.

Choose the correct platform

Nearly all of the phones in sub-Saharan Africa are based on technology made in 2004 or earlier. They are SMS capable and that text-message platform can reach a wide market. For example, fishermen can make use of a service that allows them to text the kind of fish they caught to a service that replies with the day’s prices and names of markets where they can sell.

Smartphone apps are fancy and versatile, and someone with an idea and some programming skills can make one at little cost. The problem is that in Africa, there are few smartphones, so the market is tiny.

Avoiding business pitfalls

Offering a killer SMS service isn’t enough to keep a business afloat. There must be a way to charge people to use it, Froumentin says. There are also technical problems inherent in developing countries, such as unreliable power sources. A business may fail if it relies on a server or a computer that must be on at all times in an area that only has intermittent power.

Those are the kinds of issues that businesses must address before they become successful, Froumentin says. Watch the presentation here:

Innovation in Nairobi’s Tech Community

Jessica Colaço gives an overview of the ideas and software that iHub is churning out. We reported recently on iHub, a center where dozens of programmers work on software designs, collaborating with thousands of freelancers and business owners around the region.

Their clients are local and foreign. They develop SMS and smartphone applications that range from market information for farmers to coupons for meals and entertainment in Nairobi to video games with African wildlife themes. Hear more about their work here:

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