N2Y4: Mobile Advocacy in Developing Countries and Underserved Populations

By May 28, 2009

At most tech conferences, the number one question asked of a demoing company is "What's your business model?" At N2Y4, the question is "How can I help?" The event is more participatory than most, beginning with the setup: groups of tables instead of rows of chairs; a collection of ever-shifting islands instead of an assortment of individuals receiving a centralized message. Sessions begin as presentations and end as dialogues.

12pt;">This year’s focus is mobile advocacy, which turns the Big Brother paradigm on its head: citizens watching government and demanding change accordingly. Not only is mobile the most easily adoptable of all digital technologies, it is also the safest method of cause-based crowdsourcing in countries in political turmoil, where the identification of dissenting individuals and groups can lead to persecution.
Many developing countries are building towards mobile saturation faster than developing ones.
There are 3.5 billion mobile users in the world and there are more than 1.1 billion potential customers in the developing world, where mobile is the best – often only – means of citizen mobilization. And in developing countries, mobile phones are the most effective way to connect citizens in remote areas and undocumented individuals in urban areas.
Technology must be simple in these areas, which have limited technical capabilities and bandwidth. Text-based mobile is the best means of communication in developing countries and underserved areas, as it puts considerably less strain on infrastructure; voice is more costly and more difficult to scale.
There are many barriers to mobile adoption in developing countries and underserved communities. One of the big issues that many of the groups at N2Y4 have to work around is digital illiteracy. As one of the presenters asked, "How do you marry rural skills with modern needs?" Digital illiteracy, along with cost and the availability of viable mobile infrastructure, is still a barrier to the availability of these applications to all users.
What's fascinating is that, even while finalists are all competing for the same time prize, they're working together. Sharing technology, experience, and ideas. New mashups will be born from the meeting of the organizations as they seek to see how hey can help each other.

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