UNDP/Motorola Mobiles for Human Development Report

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mobiles4hdThe report has now been published online by UNDP and can be downloaded here.

I also placed a copy here just in case the previous link is unavailable.

Below are the conclusions to the report which I wrote a few months back. They still hold their own ground.

Conclusions and way forward

The analysis of our sample has shown the complexities of mobiles for development work in two key developing regions, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in developed countries. While our data as not obtained in a fully random fashion, its sheer volume as well as the attempt to study data vis-a-vis four core development areas, has provided critical insights in terms of work being done by the various actors -and gaps that will need to be addressed by development practitioners, social innovators and app developers, and the private sector.

The first outcome of the analysis is the rather wide disparity of activities among our four core development categories. While poverty reduction is pervasive across as half of all events, fall here, both health and governance lag far behind. Education is doing fine as roughly one out of every four interventions support this area.

We also see that development categories have regional flavors. While poverty reduction is driven by Africa, Latin America leads in governance and education is the top priority for industrialized countries. Health is co-championed by both Africa and industrialized countries while almost being absent in Latin America.

In terms of our various development subcategories, private sector development, lifelong learning, ICTs in education, HIV and development, and access to information and e-governance are the main drivers of their respective categories. And again, we also found that specific regions are the engines for these subcategories: Africa for private sector development, lifelong learning (excluding industrialized countries) and HIV and development, Latin America for ICTs in education and access to information and e-governance.

Within subregions, we found that is most cases Eastern African, and South America are the largest and most dynamic ones, usually being the prime movers for most of the categories and subcategories highlighted above. There are some exceptions of course. For example, Western Africa is the only subregion where MDG-related work is the top priority, even beating the overwhelming private sector development.

The above trends can also help depict gaps at all these levels. Here, we first note the somewhat surprising gaps related to work on e-business (which includes m-business), m-learning, and m-health, particularly in or two developing country regions. Take the case of m-learning for example. Given the large volume of activities on long-life learning, we can conclude that developers and practitioners are indeed using more traditional platforms to provide educational materials. Same can be said about m-health and e-business. The other factor to consider here is the possibility that these innovative areas are still in taking off and should be growing much faster in the next few years.

Support for gender equality and women’s empowerment activities is perhaps the most appalling finding of this report. If we only look at our two regions, Africa and Latin America, they just report a total of four cases in this area, all of them in Africa! While indeed our sample could have introduced some bias here too, the gap is too broad to be fully explained away in this fashion. We not only need incentives in these areas of work but also more women working as either developers or practitioners -or both.

In the era of social media, crowdsourcing, and e-democracy, it is surprising that governance activities are at the bottom of our development category pyramid, especially all those activities pertaining to governance subcategories other than access to information and e-governance and, being generous, civic engagement. Elections and access to justice, in particular, seems to have fallen out of favor in all regions and subregions. One plausible explanation here is that these areas perhaps demand more sophisticated mobile applications, although platforms such as Ushahidi can efficiently address primary concerns here. Maybe governments are still reluctant to use open source platforms which, in their view, they cannot fully master or control.

One emerging area that we did not consider in our study is environment and development. As the UN prepares to launch a new post2015 development agenda, a new set of Sustainable Development Goals is expected to be approved by September of next year. The environment and natural resource use will be primary drivers here, and mobile actors should engage sooner rather than later.

All of the above give us solid ground to make a few key recommendations that can be endorsed or supported by all players in the mobiles for development ecosystem. They are:

  • Local and subregional contexts must be taken into account before policy and app recommendations are made in specific countries and regions. A one size fits all approach is also doom to fail in this space.
  • Taking stock and mapping of activities currently being supported by local developers and practitioners is essential before starting new ones or supporting ongoing ones about which we might know little. This report is the first step in this direction, but more localization is needed to find synergies and identify gaps at the local level.
  • In this light, Latin America needs to so more on health while Africa has to focus more deeply in supporting governance activities other than access to information and e-governance.
  • Women’s empowerment and gender equality activities need to be beefed up across the board. We not only need incentives in this area of work but also more women working here as either developers or practitioners -or both.
  • Emerging areas such as m-business, m-health, and m-learning need special attention either to accelerate their takeoff or to mainstream them in the development and developers communities.
  • Large areas of work such as private sector development, etc. are now prone to impact assessment and drawing good and not so good practices and lessons learned. Players in the sector should consider supporting this as this can help in turn emerging areas.
  • There is a critical gap when it comes to sustainable development and mobiles for development. Developers, practitioners, and partners in the private sector should try to openly address such gap.

Cheers, Raúl