January 2013 will be my ten year anniversary in “mobiles for development”. To say a lot has changed is something of an understatement. Back in those early pre-m4d-community days I would often get asked “Do they have mobile phone networks in Africa?”, or “How do people in Africa afford phones?”, or “Why are you wasting your time looking at the use of mobile phones in development?”.
Silly questions today, but not so silly back then, perhaps. Mobile phone ownership and penetration were largely in their infancy, and I only began looking at the conservation and development potential of this ’emerging’ technology thanks to the incredible vision of a team at Fauna & Flora International in Cambridge, UK. A year after we started work we’d not only developed a groundbreaking project – wildlive! – but pulled together what was likely the first comprehensive report on the development potential of mobile phones. With so little actual data to go on, most of our research was based on anecdotal evidence. Ironically, solid data – even ten years on – is still a little tricky to come by.
(The full report is available in the kiwanja Mobile Database here).
Over the past nine years the conversation – and the technology – have moved on considerably, and today few people would argue that mobiles have had a transformative effect in the developing world. Quite where things are headed is a little unclear, but infographics such as this two-pager from the World Bank can help remind us how far we’ve come, and how exciting this sector is to work in.
I would say “Here’s to the next ten years”, but with the pace of change we’ve seen so far we’re probably best not looking that far ahead.