Mobile phones are ubiquitous across the global South. They have spawned whole new business opportunities and changed the way people solve problems and find solutions.
Sub-Saharan Africa is now home to approximately 650 million mobile phone subscribers, more than the United States and the European Union (World Bank). A recent World Bank report estimated mobile phones led directly to the creation of 5 million jobs in Africa in 2012, contributing to seven per cent of Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Mobile phones have also led to contests and challenges, set up to spark further innovation in this area and spur the development of so-called “apps”, or applications, to run on these electronic devices.
These prizes encourage and reward useful innovation that directly tackles the problems and challenges of the South.
In Cairo, Egypt – a city notorious for some of the worst traffic congestion in the world – many have been trying to find smart solutions to the gridlock. The World Bank says in its Cairo Traffic Congestion Study that the annual cost of congestion in Cairo is estimated at up to US $8 billion. This is four per cent of Egypt’s gross domestic product (GDP) – four times the impact on national GDP experienced by other comparable large cities. The study found that at least 1,000 Cairo residents die each year in traffic-related accidents, more than half of them pedestrians. And rapid growth in the city is making it ever-harder to get on top of the problem.
Rising traffic congestion is a problem around the world. In the United States, traffic jumped 236 per cent as the population grew by 20 per cent between 1982 and 2001 (IBM).
The IBM Commuter Pain Study conducted in 2011, ranking the emotional and economic toll of commuting in 20 international cities, found that the commute in Beijing is four times more painful than the commute in Los Angeles or New York, and seven times more painful than the commute in Stockholm.
Commuter pain leads to productivity loss as people lose time stuck in traffic and fuel is wasted as engines idle in traffic jams – not to mention damage to the environment from the increased pollution.
According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 95 per cent of congestion growth in the coming years will be in developing countries. Even in developed countries like the United States, in 2000, the average driver experienced 27 hours of delays (up seven hours from 1980) (MIT Press). This ballooned to 136 hours in Los Angeles.
Developing countries are seeing vehicle numbers rise by between 10 and 30 per cent per year (World Bank). In economic hotspots, growth is even faster.
The Cairo Transport App Challenge (https://www.facebook.com/CairoTransportAppChallenge) is a contest aimed at taming the city’s traffic chaos. It is hosted by the Technology Innovation Entrepreneurship Center (TIEC) (http://www.tiec.gov.eg/en-us/Pages/default.aspx) and is organized by the World Bank in collaboration with others.
The contest’s press release says it aims to connect transport and urban development experts with volunteer technology communities to build “applications to address pressing transport challenges in Cairo through leveraging the new information and communication technologies (ICT) – such as mobile phones, smartphones and GPS-enabled devices – as well as the talent of Egyptian software developers and innovators.”
The first winner of the US $3,000 in prize money is a mobile phone app that helps drivers get help on the road and with car maintenance.
Users can use the Belya app to find the best routes, and to get help if their vehicle breaks down. The app is essentially a portable virtual car mechanic. It uses Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to locate service centres, which are then contacted when somebody needs help. The app gives details to the repair shop on what is wrong, the date and time.
“It is also linked to the General Traffic Administration, to provide quick and regular updates of the traffic situation,” according to a statement from Egypt’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, which awarded the prize.
The content’s second prize was won by E-mokhalfa (http://www.emokhalfa.com/emokhalfa/),which helps communities create safer roads by using peer pressure to make drivers behave better. Third place went to the app called “Where is my bus?” (https://twitter.com/AutobeesyFeen). It helps passengers find bus stations, routes, journey times and all mass transport options on their mobile phones.
Published: February 2013
1) A guide to making mobile phone apps: Here are some resources to building your own phone app online or through a provider. Website:http://www.brandignity.com/2011/03/building-mobile-iphone-phone-app-onlin/
2) Android: Android is the world’s most popular mobile platform. Website: android.com
3) Arab Republic of Egypt, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. Website: http://www.mcit.gov.eg/
4) IBM Smart Traffic: IBM Intelligent Transportation, a compliment to the Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities, enables advanced analysis of the many factors that make up traffic flow, and gives planners and responders a comprehensive look at the state of their city’s roadways on ground level. Website:http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/eg/en/traffic_congestion/ideas/index.html
5) Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 1: Mobile Phones and Information Technology. Website:http://www.scribd.com/doc/95410448/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-1-Mobile-Phones-and-Information-Technology
31 July 2013
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.
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