The World Banks calls on governments to play a leading role in supporting the development of mobile apps as a tool to help transform their economies. Guy Daniels reports.
A new report on global mobile trends published by infoDev and the World Bank shows that three quarters of the world’s population now has access to a mobile phone. That’s around six million mobile subscriptions in use worldwide. On top of that, more than 30 billion apps were downloaded in 2011, extending the capabilities of phones into areas including banking, payments and healthcare.
The report, entitled ‘Information and Communications for Development 2012: Maximizing Mobile’, is the third in the World Bank’s series and looks at the consequences for development of the emerging app economy, especially in evolving approaches to entrepreneurship and employment.
The World Bank and infoDev are particularly interested in exploring the possibilities of ICT in developing countries, where mobile phones can create new livelihoods and improve lifestyles. According to Tim Kelly, Lead ICT Policy Specialist at the World Bank and one of the authors of the report:
“The mobile revolution is right at the start of its growth curve: mobile devices are becoming cheaper and more powerful while networks are doubling in bandwidth roughly every 18 months and expanding into rural areas.”
The report marks a shift from the World Bank Group’s traditional focus on ICT connectivity to a new focus on applications and on the ways ICTs, especially mobile phones, are being used to transform different sectors of the global economy.
It seeks to illustrate the role of governments in enabling mobile application development.
The report highlights how mobile innovation labs – shared spaces for training developers and incubating start-ups – can help bring new apps to market. It cites the example of its five regional mobile innovation labs (mLabs) in Armenia, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa, and Vietnam – created in collaboration with the Government of Finland and Nokia.
Valerie D’Costa, Program Manager of infoDev, adds that they are now focusing on creating mobile hubs (mHubs) to connect grassroots entrepreneurs via social media:
“Most businesses based around mobile app technology are at an early stage of development, but may hold enormous employment and economic potential, similar to that of the software industry in the 1980s and 1990s. Supporting the networking and incubation of entrepreneurs is essential to ensure that such potential is tapped.”
Some examples featured in the report include how the Indian government in the state of Kerala has deployed over 20 applications via its mGovernment programme and logged more than 3 million interactions between it and its citizens since its launch in December 2010. In Palestine, Souktel’s JobMatch service is helping young people find jobs, with college graduates using the service reporting a dramatic reduction in the time spent looking for employment from twelve weeks to just one week, as well as securing an increase in salary of up to 50 per cent.
There are many more case studies within the extensive 244-page report, which can be downloaded from the infoDev website. The research was funded by the governments of Finland, South Korea and the UK.
Rachel Kyte, World Bank VP for Sustainable Development, adds:
“Mobile communications offer major opportunities to advance human and economic development – from providing basic access to health information to making cash payments, spurring job creation, and stimulating citizen involvement in democratic processes. The challenge now is to enable people, businesses, and governments in developing countries to develop their own locally-relevant mobile applications so they can take full advantage of these opportunities.”
The mission of the World Bank is to work for a world free of poverty – a goal that it says is likely to be achieved more efficiently when ICT investment is integrated effectively alongside investment in sectors such as agriculture, health, and government.
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