Africa goes mobile
The invited participants at Open Ed Tech enjoyed a very interesting opening Tech Talk yesterday from a young researcher based at Strathmore Research Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. Jessica Colaço is the principal researcher at Strathmore Research and Consultancy Centre (SRCC) and is a Mobile Technology Evangelist. Earlier this year, the magazine 'Business Daily' named her as one of the top 40, under 40 years of age women in Kenya's business scene. She has already spoken at prestigious events such as TED, is extremely good at presenting her case and convinced us that Africa is moving forward rapidly with mobile technology as they aim for wideranging social change. There are 370 million mobile phone subscribers in Africa so it´s a fertile ground.
Jessica told those of us present on the campus of the Open University of Catalonia about a number of innovative projects she has been involved in, including M-PESA (Pensa is Swahili for money) which enables users to exchange money without the need to either go to a bank or hold an account. Tangaza is a voice based transmission service - you can update your Facebook or Twitter status through voice recordings on your mobile phone. Several other recently created apps were also demonstrated, including fish tracking devices and other tools designed to help people gain information on the move about education, health and agriculture. M-Kulima for example, can enable farmers to store and retrieve information about milk sales prices and purchase dates, where previously they would have had to try to remember each transaction.
There is also M-Guide for tourists. Take a photo of an unfamiliar bird or animal in the game reserve and your mobile phone sends the picture to a server. The server sends back via SMS a description of the animal - there are some obvious educational applications to that one.
There was much discussion following from Jessica´s Tech Talk. One of the most insightful comments was that perhaps, because Africans have been largely passed over by the first few waves of technology, they are now only just beginning to be creative with their first computing device - their mobile phones - and therefore seeing opportunities to innovate which the Western industrialised nations cannot see. Open Edtech continues today.