6:30—8:00 PM
Center for Global Development, 1800 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Third Floor, Washington, DC

Global Development Matters August Meetup

nameOn Tuesday, August 25th, CGD hosted our Global Development Matters August Meetup featuring Jenny Aker, Visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development and Assistant Professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Economics Department, Tufts University. Aker discussed her research and work with mobile phones in sub-Saharan Africa (see full event description below). 

Access Aker's slideshow (pdf, 3M)

Event summary: Mobile phones are transforming lives in low-income countries faster than ever imagined. The effect is particularly dramatic in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, where mobile phones have often represented the first modern infrastructure of any kind. The iconic image of cell phones in Africa is the market woman, surrounding by her goods while making calls to potential clients in the capital city. Equally common are the slogans of mobile phone companies promising a better life for those who use it. 

Yet do these images and slogans reflect the reality of what cell phones can do? Cell phones are being adopted by the rural and urban poor at a surprising rate, far exceeding cell phone companies’ projections. An emerging body of research suggests that mobile phones are improving households’ access to information and reducing costs, thereby making markets more efficient and increasing incomes. These impacts have occurred without NGOs or donor investments--but as a positive externality from the IT sector. 

Governments, donors and NGOs have noticed the potential of information technology in achieving development goals in a variety of sectors, including agriculture, education, health, financial services and governance. Mobile phones can greatly facilitate the effectiveness of development programs, but are needed in partnership with the private sector. And the potential "dark side" of improved communications, as was evident in the Kenyan elections, should not be ignored. Finally, with coverage reaching over 60% of the population in most African countries, other constraints to cell phone adoption--namely pricing and handset cost--should be addressed.


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