FrontlineSMS on a Mac?

Bobby, a friend of mine from the Philippines (who I met at a recent Fahamu workshop in Nairobi), has been doing some great work with FrontlineSMS lately and has become a real supporter of the software. Over the next few weeks development of the next version will begin – thanks to funding from the MacArthur Foundation – and hopefully Bobby will be a central player in that. In the meantime, he holds the honour of being the first person – that I’m aware of, anyway – to get FrontlineSMS running ‘on’ a Mac (within an XP ‘virtual machine’, anyway). And here’s his photo to prove it.

The new version will be platform independent, so hopefully we’ll see a lot more Macs running FrontlineSMS in the coming months and years…

Where motives dare

I once caused a stir during a regular Friday night pub outing in Cambridge when I dared suggest that some people only worked in international conservation because it meant they got to visit cool places and work with exotic animals. Although some were a little shocked at my suggestion and strongly disagreed (I was, after all, out with a dozen or so conservationists) the very fact that they responded in such a manner proves that I may have just hit a nerve.

There can be little dispute that entire industries are built around the act of ‘international conservation and development’. And few are headquartered in developing countries, an irony in itself. I’m not sure if there are any official figures – please get in touch if you know of any – but the international conservation and development communities must be a considerable source of employment in the ‘developed’ world. Large percentages of allotted funding seem to have the habit of staying in-country and covering items such as head office salaries, rents, vehicles, meetings and other overheads. Why, entire conferences are built around, and funded, on single conservation or development themes. I’ve even been to a few.

There is much talk of local empowerment, local context and local ownership, but such an approach rarely suits a machine which needs considerable amounts of funding just to keep itself alive. Gerald Durrell (pictured), the late pioneering conservationist based in my home island of Jersey, always maintained that his ultimate aim was to secure the future of endangered species and their habits, and then close down his zoo. Job done.

The global conservation and development movement could have learnt a thing or two from this guy.

And the winner is…

Few would dispute that we’re living in an age of tremendous innovation. It’s hard to believe that the PC has only been around for 20-odd years, and the mobile phone half-of-that. The personal computer may have blazed the original consumer IT trail, but what is happening today with the mobile phone is potentially hugely more significant. Let me explain.

Successful companies understand their customers better than unsuccessful ones, at least that’s what we’re led to believe. Back in the early days of the personal computer, customers were medium- to higher-wage earners, or at the top end the early adopters. It was the same with the mobile phone, considered toys for executives in the early days and only more recently essential devices for the masses. What’s different today is, unlike the PC which stalled price-wise at the lower-end of the developed western markets, mobile manufacturers have very quickly begun looking at the very bottom of the pyramid, the emerging markets, the billions living in poverty in the developing world. The rationale behind this is two-fold, at the very least. Firstly, the developed world (if we can call it that) has reached saturation point in terms of mobile ownership, so it is natural to look towards new markets. Secondly, mobile phones are incredibly, and perhaps uniquely, empowering socially and economically, so people don’t tend to see the move into emerging markets as an exploitative one.

For me, most significant is the interest that mobile manufacturers (and operators, come to that) are taking in development issues – poverty, gender, health, literacy, infrastructure, economic empowerment and so on. Just take the MOTOPOWER charging kiosk (pictured, courtesy of the Mobile Gallery), rolled out in Uganda earlier this year. Not only does it solve a major charging problem for mobile users (it runs on solar power, by the way), but it creates opportunity for micro-enterprise. Many women now run these kiosks.

This is just one example of how manufacturers and operators have quickly understood that poverty – in all its forms – are barriers to ownership, and as a result they’re making significant efforts to understand it. This, I believe, is a potential revolution in how big technology business views the developing world. Think, only recently have there been wide scale (global) attempts to build affordable laptops for the worlds poor – OLPC, for example – but it’s taken decades to get there. Mobile manufacturers are already on the ball, in less than ten.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but there may well end up being more than one winner. And the world’s poor may just be among them.