Innovation and best practice in mobile technologies for development

Innovation and best practice in mobile technologies for development

Mobile adoption in developing countries has increased dramatically over the last decade. This paper is a review of innovation in the ICT entrepreneurship / mobile internet/mobile related applications space. The paper aims to identify best practice in stimulating innovation in developing countries. In this review, the author identified innovation in mobile technologies for development, on the basis of evidence that mobile phones are the main technology owned by poorer people in developing nations. The document discusses the main facts and figures on mobile technologies for development worldwide, then looks at best practice in Kenya, in particular mobile banking and the striking success of M-PESA. It then goes on to review sectors where best practice, in Kenya, is still to be achieved: namely, m-health and m-agriculture, both of which feature high demand by the Kenyan population. Each of these sectors have an identified set of examples of best practice.

The main lesson extracted by this helpdesk review is exemplified by M-PESA. On the basis of this experience, innovation, if it is to be fostered in mobile technologies in developing countries, requires the presence of three factors:

  • a specific and wide market demand for innovation recognised by creative private sector actors taking initiative
  • a supportive government coordinating the process, and
  • committed board of international donors supporting the innovation in all its phases

The first factor – demand - is present in Kenya, with reference to both health and agriculture, which have therefore been selected here as key areas in which Kenya can expand through mobile technologies. There are various case studies of best practice in these fields. The second lesson is that on the one hand, best practice in m-health seems to leverage crucially on demand, and on the role of the government in facilitating innovation mechanisms. On the other hand, m-agriculture leaves more room for private entrepreneurship, and seems to entail high path-dependence with previous experiences of mobile-based development (the strong interrelation between M-PESA, and the entrepreneurial venture developed under M-Farm, is an example of these dynamics). Therefore, the report concludes with the remark that innovation is cross-sectoral, and maintains this intrinsic feature even when “exported” into the imperfect markets that characterize developing nations.
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