Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty? (Readers' Digest Version)

April 12, 2008

So I went to this Street Hacks talk 2 nights ago is here: (it was awesome, you missed it. Clam Pizza.) And then it turns out Chipchase just got all famous this week, seriously: First a rad video in the Economist.

And then in the New York Times.

Here's my Reader's Digest version, since I know you are graphing how much time you spend on blogs.

About Chipchase, who really is a super-nice guy:

"To an outsider, the job can seem decidedly oblique. His mission, broadly defined, is to peer into the lives of other people, accumulating as much knowledge as possible about human behavior so that he can feed helpful bits of information back to the company, to the squads of designers and technologists and marketing people who may never have set foot in a Vietnamese barbershop but who would appreciate it greatly if that barber someday were to buy a Nokia. ...

About getting over your hatred of your cellphone (cursed device efficiency-obsession). This bit hit a nerve for me:

Understanding [stuff] requires forgetting for a moment about your own love-hate relationship with your cellphone, or iPhone, or BlackBerry. Something that's mostly a convenience booster for those of us with a full complement of technology at our disposal — land-lines, Internet connections, TVs, cars can be a life-saver to someone with fewer ways to access information. ... Jan Chipchase and his user-research colleagues at Nokia can rattle off example upon example of the cellphone's ability to increase people's productivity and well-being, mostly because of the simple fact that they can be reached. There's the live-in housekeeper in China who was more or less an indentured servant until she got a cellphone so that new customers could call and book her services. Or the porter who spent his days hanging around outside of department stores and construction sites hoping to be hired to carry other people's loads but now, with a cellphone, can go only where the jobs are. Having a call-back number, Chipchase likes to say, is having a fixed identity point, which, inside of populations that are constantly on the move displaced by war, floods, drought or faltering economies can be immensely valuable both as a means of keeping in touch with home communities and as a business tool.

On the incredible value that can be provided by something so simple, like SMS:

"... public health workers in South Africa now send text messages to tuberculosis patients with reminders to take their medication. In Kenya, people can use S.M.S. to ask anonymous questions about culturally taboo subjects like AIDS, breast cancer and sexually transmitted diseases, receiving prompt answers from health experts for no charge.

On Microfinance and the bottom of the Pyramid:

... A cellphone in the hands of an Indian fisherman who uses it to grow his business which presumably gives him more resources to feed, clothe, educate and safeguard his family represents a textbook case of bottom-up economic development, a way of empowering individuals by encouraging entrepreneurship as opposed to more traditional top-down approaches in which aid money must filter through a bureaucratic chain before reaching its beneficiaries, who by virtue of the process are rendered passive recipients.

Now you have to read the whole thing.