Mobile phones and other forms of mobile communication technology are making their mark on the developing world. The number of mobile subscriptions has grown to 6 billion, of which 5 billion are in developing countries, according to a World Bank report. More than 30 billion apps; pieces of software that extend the capabilities of phones were downloaded in 2011. It’s likely that record will be far surpassed in 2012.
For impact investors, the rise of mobile phones provides a new platform for delivering products and services. A small sample of deals currently listed on Maximpact.com reveals how social innovators are using mobile technology to make social impact pay dividends.
VIVUS combines the smart use of mobile phone technology with a shared rural transportation system and an inclusive business model to create an integrated supply chain of food staples feeding growing Ghanaian cities. They’ve developed a mobile-based “crowd-purchasing” system for women vendors who receive a “Deal of the Day” SMS text message, offering staples at discounted prices.
InVenture offers a standardized credit scoring system for unbanked individuals to qualify for financing, something more than 2.7 billion individuals lack. Using InSight, a simple accounting tool that works on most mobile phones, it promotes financial literacy and provides accounting and credit scoring through a text-messaging platform. InSight captures data which feeds understanding of how bottom-of-the-pyramid individuals, households, businesses manage money.
The Lifesaver app from media company UNIT9 delivers interactive emergency training to people via their mobile phones or tablet devices. It educates about first aid and health and safety through video modules that use gaming technology to create an interactive learning interface. Lifesaver offers an engaging way to increase public competence in lifesaving techniques in a convenient, cost-effective manner.
Project Ray brings advanced mobile communications services together with the many capabilities offered by specially built tools in a single hand-held device that assists the visually impaired and their families. Based on an off-the-shelf smartphone that runs the company’s user interface, it supports a range of utilities and online services including telephony, photography, messaging, navigation, text-to-speech, object recognition, social networking, remote assistance and entertainment. The device serves as a platform for use in vertical markets and provides an open interface and API, allowing third parties to develop additional applications and services.