What can we learn from Africa on the use of mobiles for social/digital inclusion?

2/1/2011 | Christian Kreutz

David Wilcox asked me on Quora this question, which I also want to publish as a response here to discuss the topic further. Would be great to get some more thoughts on that topic from you. I imagine we can learn a lot from digital inclusion in Africa. Here are some points:

The art of improvisation

When it comes to access, the innovation under constraints is amazing in Africa. Look, for example, how the challenge of energy supply has been greatly mastered. I think that in Europe we address inclusion only from few angles and should be more creative. We could focus a lot more on mobile phones and offer real needed services even through SMS. Suddenly, we can potentially reach over 90% of people, but most important, we need to play a lot more with technology and hack it where we can. A lot is happening in this regard in the UK, on the contrary Germany, where technological skepticism is still hampering innovations, or where one faces legal implications when offering open wifi.

I like these to posts very much:

However, to me one of the biggest challenges is media competency, and not only in Germany but in the rest of the world.

Service models

If we have not reached enough people through the Internet, it might be that most services do not address a real need and do not offer sufficient help. Isn't the Internet in Europe largely focused towards the middle class? Where are web solutions or services focused on marginal groups? Here information literacy is the key: "… empower people in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals" UNESCO

I wish there would be more solutions such as "Rate my Prison" from the first social innovation camp or or "My Police". Unfortunately "Rate my Prison" seem not to have been developed further.

Look at the public sector for example and see how little is offered here in Germany. There is a city website, but hardly any online services. On the other hand, Fixmystreet is still a rare exception. The whole world of apps unleashes here a new creativity, but if you really want to get inspired for future mobile services, you need to look at Africa. In Africa solutions such as Farmer's friend (SMS price information) attempt to reach also poor people in remote areas. Where are such business models in Europe?