Empowering participative governance in Africa through mobile

OnMobile Global Vijay Sai PratapOnMobile Global director of business development Vijay Sai PratapVijay Sai Pratap, director of business development for OnMobile Global, discusses the evolving business model for m-Governance projects and the use of mobile technology as a catalyst for inclusive development

The mobile phone has ushered in an era where a phone is no longer a plain communication device, but an empowering piece of technology that can make a difference to the lives of people around the world. This is of specific relevance to developing economies like those found in Africa, where the need is even further pronounced and immediate.

Mobile governance initiatives and the provisioning of life impacting services are vital to today’s developing countries as they seek to enrich the lives of communities and individuals by providing services from preventive and curative care through to advice on managing the crops they depend upon.

By using mobile services to deliver timely and accurate information to citizens, governments are able to provide people with remote services and potentially make a dramatic impact to mortality rates and education, while empowering "participative governance".

The rise of mobile governance and various social impact initiatives are driven by the need to assist those communities that can benefit from guidance and utilising a technology that is already, in some way, prevalent. Individuals will not have the latest iPhone or Android device, but instead the back-to-basic feature phone or even ultra-low cost handsets. Yet this technology holds the key to change and is driving mobile innovation as providers and operators are forced to think outside of the box and look at how they can harness the power of a solution to make a difference to someone’s life.

Why collaboration is the key to success

To some this may sound obvious. It is not easy to fix the world’s problems single-handedly at the click of your fingers within a matter of months. It takes time and more than one pair of hands to make a worthy change or address significant social issues.

As critical as government backing is, to make these projects a success requires the support of various stakeholders in the eco-system. It is imperative to recognise the importance of the private sector, social sector, domain experts, technology providers, handset manufacturers and mobile service providers. With each of these different bodies comes knowledge and experience that can enhance the overall perspective, scope and scale of the projects and ensure that key areas can be addressed by those with the know-how to ensure strong and sustainable results.

From our experience, we have not only seen cases where a project has been successful, but also where projects have failed to meet its objectives in spite of their best intent. One example we can refer to did not succeed because the initiative was being driven by a single entity and using conventional business logic, without any true collaborative approach or support from other stakeholders. By acknowledging the need and involvement of all relevant stakeholders at the beginning, there can be a significant level of timely and valuable contribution to ensure that needs are met and they will all have a vested interest in making the project a success.

Back to basics

For those communities that require assistance in Africa, access may be currently restricted to feature phones and ultra-low cost handsets. Statistics from Informa Telecoms & Media shows smartphone connections account for just 11 per cent of mobile connections in Africa against a global average of 21 per cent. Telecom markets, such as that in Africa, have nurtured and continue to breed an exciting mobile services and applications industry that help create some innovative services, catering to a wide spectrum of the market.

This is where a mobile services provider plays a pivotal role as they will be instrumental in coming up with ideas and platforms extending their core network capabilities to power services for those with basic phones, but yet allowing them access to relevant information. People have to be able to access information and services primarily on voice and possibly even messaging, while they prepare to transition into a data-led world.

How a collaborative m-Governance initiative can work?

We have seen initiatives in the market demonstrate how a collaborative approach to an m-governance initiative can benefit remote communities. As a part of the group that worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, BBC Media Action and the government, we worked on the Bihar initiative - Project Ananya, which is now expanding to other states of India.

Apart from providing an audio-based mobile training course targeting front line health workers (FLW) to help them deliver life-saving information, it also aims to help pregnant women and their families prepare for the unexpected and potentially deadly situations that can arise in child birth. The aim was to use mobile phones to provide cost effective training and job-aids to community health care workers.

Leap of faith – build eco-systems

The time is now, therefore, for Africa to take a giant leap forward from e-Governance to m-Governance and life changing mobile services. There is a need to develop and enable eco-systems which empower the industry to drive effective solutions that aid in overall socio-economic development.

While there are bound to be challenges en route, we need to solve them head on. It is important for all the stakeholders to come together in making positive headway towards healthier socio economic development - collaboration and focusing on the end consumer is key. 

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