Hello! 58-12 Design Lab is a non-profit research and design firm. We do things like produce advocacy journalism and create low-cost housing plans. Take a look at our work, read our blog, find out more about us, and see how you can get involved!

Mobile Technology for the Poor

The mobile technology we often take for granted as we use mobile apps to accomplish our most mundane tasks has now become one of the most impactful tools for improved quality of life for the impoverished. Not that we underestimate the power of the mobile phone and its potential to change our lives, but its application and use has finally reached its full potential as it breaks down the walls of confinement in the developed world.

Mobile phones have been around for decades. However, the capabilities and ways we’ve come to use our phones have transformed the way we interact with each other and the world around us in society today. We purchase items, have meaningful “face-to-face” conversations, and even process bank transactions on-the-go without hesitation as we keep up with the ever increasing fast pace of what we call our normal work day—all accomplished on one small, yet very powerful device. Amazing, isn’t it?

Now access to mobile technology is transforming communities developing countries. Under the Business Call to Action initiative, the UN has partnered with a private technology firm to provide mobile technology to the poor in South America, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Using a cloud-based technology provided by Movirtu Technology, mobile devices can be used by multiple users to make and receive calls in addition to accessing various important services such as banking, employment and agricultural information. These communities of families and villages will each be given a unique phone number to use on a shared mobile device.


Photo Courtesy of Mobiledia


Access to such mobile technology has opened the door to a plethora of benefits readily available to the developed world. Those living in poverty can now take advantage of services, programs and initiatives that were previously limited by transportation and delivery fees. This includes receiving health care services where users can call free emergency hotlines and even receive text messages informing them of test results and other reminders. Moreover, this opens the door for investments as farmers can not only access savings, but can also purchase essential farming equipment and other goods on an e-commerce platform.

Photo Courtesy of Senego


Another example of the impact of mobile technology comes from the Ghana-based mobile carrier MTN. This carrier now offers to its consumers the option to purchase life insurance using their mobile phone account. These policies are provided by the Hollard Insurance Group, where Ghanaians can pay premiums as low as 65 cents per month via the MTN banking system that can handle registration over the phone.

MTN Logo


As we take this a step further, we as a non-profit design firm wonder about the ways in which mobile technology can be integrated into housing concepts. How can housing be conducive to technology’s rapid rise as the world moves toward a less tangible environment with valuable services provided and tasks accomplished in one simple device? These are the types of questions we will explore more and hope to answer.



“Cloud-Based Phone Connects Third World to Mobile Service – Mobiledia.” Mobiledia – News and Insight on Mobile Technology. Web. 15 Aug. 2011. <http://www.mobiledia.com/news/92017.html>.

“Mobile Finance Thrives in Africa – Mobiledia.” Mobiledia – News and Insight on Mobile Technology. Web. 15 Aug. 2011. <http://www.mobiledia.com/news/85463.html>.

“U.N. Offers Cloud-Based Phones for Poor – Mobiledia.” Mobiledia – News and Insight on Mobile Technology. Web. 15 Aug. 2011. <http://www.mobiledia.com/news/101506.html>.

Posted on 08/16/2011 by Tammy Hu

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