Flowminder, a non-profit based in Sweden, was lauded last month when they partnered with Orange Telecoms to release illustrated data - gleaned from anonymized and aggregated cell phone signals - on population movements in West Africa. The data helped health officials predict the possible spread of Ebola and decide where to focus medical resources and information campaigns. Meanwhile, in India, a start-up called Biosense is adding to its growing collection of mobile-based diagnostic tools by building an online platform for the country's poorest people to share ideas (particularly health solutions), create a business plan, and raise capital through crowdfunding.
On the surface, these two organizations have little in common. One is
non-profit, the other a private company. One focuses on data, the other
on devices. But they also share a few very important characteristics:
1.) their work is only possible in a world where billions of people are
using mobile phones, and 2.) they represent the future of development.
That's a big claim, but it's getting harder and harder to argue against
the transformative impact of mobile technology on traditional
development models. In the old days, an aid group or a company swept
into a developing country, identified a problem, and announced a grand
plan (preceded by a pilot project) to address the issue. Today, mobile
phones have turned every project beneficiary into a stakeholder (or a
potential customer). And the growing importance of data is transforming
measurement and evaluation, product design, and partnership equations.
The transition to mobile-based, data-driven development creates myriad
opportunities for both public and private organizations - something
Flowminder and Biosense understood before the rest of us. A
faster-paced, better-connected development landscape will require
greater agility, an on-the-ground presence, and a comprehensive
approach. Funders and companies that can deliver this agility and work
well in a broad, diverse collection of public and private partners will
set the directional needle for development in the years and decades to