Application of Mobile Technology in the Developing World

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    • 00:01


    • 00:09

      KEN BANKS: My name is Ken Banks.I'm the founder of work with grassroots, non-profits,and social innovators in the wider nonprofit sectorto help them make the best possible use of technologyin their work.So today, technology has a huge numberof advantages and benefits and potentialin helping us connect the world in ways that have never

    • 00:31

      KEN BANKS [continued]: been done before, to help people connectin new and meaningful ways.And that means that we can hold governments to account.We can report on things that we previously couldn't report on.We can make noise.We can get attention.We can monitor elections.We can do all sorts of quite amazing things.And this has the potential really,I suppose, to change the entire landscapeof the planet for the nonprofit sector,

    • 00:52

      KEN BANKS [continued]: for business, for politics, pretty much for everybody.And the thing that I spend most of my time onis rather than just having us thinkabout how we could perhaps get the latest football scoreor order a pizza or find a mate online,how we can use these technologiesand use this opportunity to actually make the worlda better place.How do we use that great chance that we

    • 01:13

      KEN BANKS [continued]: have, these mobile phones, these tablets, the spreadof the internet, all these types of things,to make the world a better place for most of the peoplewho actually are living on the other side of the fenceand aren't as fortunate as me, who may have a slightlytougher or more difficult life?And to me, I think if we can get that right,then we can make indeed make the world better and make itmore just and equal.

    • 01:34

      KEN BANKS [continued]: And that's what drives me.Near the end of 2002, I found myself in Nigeria.I'd been there for nearly a year,running a primate sanctuary.And again, this was all part of my learning, my learningexperience and my learning mission.I wanted to understand what conservationwas like for communities in developing countries who

    • 01:57

      KEN BANKS [continued]: are living on the edge of where that conservation washappening.The only way to do that is to jump on a planeand to live with them.There really is no other way.I was on a motorbike which was involved in a crash.And I bounced down the road little bit and I broke my leg.And at that particular moment in time,I really had no idea really what wasgoing to happen, both medically but also in my career,

    • 02:18

      KEN BANKS [continued]: because I was living in Nigeria.I had no home to go back to.I'd sold everything I'd owned.I had no money.I had no job that paid any money.I was flown back to Jersey.I sat in a hospital bed.And I sort of wondered, what next?And out of the blue about two months later,I got a phone call from some friendswho used to run Jersey Zoo, Gerald Durrell's famous zoo

    • 02:40

      KEN BANKS [continued]: in Jersey.They were now living in Cambridge.And they were working for a conservation organizationcalled Fauna and Flora International.So David Attenborough is one of the vice presidents.It's an amazing organization.And they said, we've just got some money from Vodafone,and they want us to look at how mobiletechnology, which is slowly now beginningto emerge across the developing world,

    • 03:01

      KEN BANKS [continued]: we want to understand how we can use that technologyto help development and conservation projects.And we need somebody who understandsconservation and development, but also understandstechnology.And we don't know anybody, apart from you,so would you be interested?So I got on my crutches.I jumped on a plane.I went for an interview.I was offered the job and I moved to Cambridge.

    • 03:22

      KEN BANKS [continued]: And it was January, early January, probably January 5,2003.And I started looking at these crazy little devicesthat people were carrying around in their pockets,where people had a hunch they might be useful for communitiesliving in places that were hard to reach,that we could maybe send them text messages.We could call them.They could contact other people.This was never possible before.

    • 03:43

      KEN BANKS [continued]: And so I was right at the very beginning of that,trying to make sense of all of that.And people laughed at the beginning.They found it amazing that I was working on mobile technologyin somewhere like Africa.Questions like, do they have mobile phone coveragein Africa?Do they have mobile phones in Africa?Can people in Africa afford mobile phones?All valid questions, I guess, when you look back.

    • 04:04

      KEN BANKS [continued]: But people laughed at me because I was doing somethingwhich seemed absolutely crazy.And the irony now, I think, is that if you ask peopleif they're not looking at mobile technology for developmentpurposes, you'll get a laugh then,because almost everybody's looking at it.You're crazy if you're not considering it.So for the past now nearly 13 yearsI've been pretty sort of exclusively focused

    • 04:25

      KEN BANKS [continued]: on how we can make sense of this great technological opportunitythat mobiles has given us, plus of course the internet.And it's just funny when I look back to think that that turningpoint was really that broken leg,because without that broken leg, I reallyhave absolutely no idea what I'd be doing today.

    • 04:48

      KEN BANKS [continued]: I flew back and forth to South Africa, Mozambique,a number of times to get involved in field work,in research, and to look at what was happening on the ground,because of course you need to see what's happening actuallyon the ground to really genuinely understand it.There were no books written about the subject back then.And some of the work involved going to conservation projectsand meeting communities.And phones were beginning to appear.

    • 05:10

      KEN BANKS [continued]: You know, you'd see people walking down a dirt trackwith almost no possessions and you go to their homesand they had almost nothing there.But they had a mobile phone.It was really quite strange.And so the opportunity to involve those peoplein the conservation effort was immense.And if you look back at the history of most conservationparks, national parks, conservation projects,

    • 05:31

      KEN BANKS [continued]: going back maybe 50, 60, 100 years, in most casesthe communities that lived in those placeswere just kicked off the land.There was no consultation process.People did not belong with nature.Get rid of the people.Create these safe havens and the wildlife will flourish.Now, Kruger National Parks, who had created the park in 1923,wanted to reconnect those communities that

    • 05:51

      KEN BANKS [continued]: were kicked off 80 years earlier with the conservationthat they were trying to do.And they thought phones could be useful.And so I was wandering around a lot, and they found me.And they said, can you help us figure out whatwe can do with these phones?So we thought text messaging might be great.At that particular moment in timethere was a social ecology unit whichspent a day driving around all the villages in a Land Rover

    • 06:13

      KEN BANKS [continued]: to arrange one meeting.Now, if the meeting time changed or was canceled,the guy got back in the Land Rover,drove around all day again to change the meetingor to cancel the meeting.It was hugely inefficient.And of course, the people weren't alwaysthere when you wanted them to be there.So we thought, could we send a text messageto chiefs or community leaders in those villages to say,can you make a meeting, yes or no?

    • 06:35

      KEN BANKS [continued]: The meeting's changed.Do you have any questions?Is there anything you'd like us to discuss in our next meeting?All those kinds of things.So I looked for a technology thatwould allow you on the edge of somewherelike a national park in Africa to send 200 text messages.And I couldn't find anything.This was 2003, 2004Time.The only technologies around at that particular moment in time

    • 06:57

      KEN BANKS [continued]: that allowed you to do mass text messagingrequired the internet, which you couldn't get onin a national park in Africa in 2003.They required credit cards to pay for message credits.And now most non-profits and most peoplein developing countries who want to dolarge numbers of messaging don't have credit cards.It's just something they just don't have.Don't have bank accounts, don't have fixed addresses,don't have any of the things that you

    • 07:18

      KEN BANKS [continued]: would need to get that.So I kind of left it at that, really.I told them, look, there's nothingthat I can help you with.There's no tools that work.And then about a year later, I waswatching Match of the Day, a very boring football match,a match of the day, in my flat just outside Cambridgedrinking beer.And I suddenly thought that, could youuse a cheap laptop computer, attach a phone and a cable

    • 07:38

      KEN BANKS [continued]: to that, and then could you top the phoneup using the regular scratch cards that we used to use?In fact, many people I guess stilluse top-up cards in this country, although a lot of it'sdone through cash machines and things now.But could you top a phone up with a scratch cardthat you can buy in a local market, no credit card needed?Could you use the mobile phone signalto send and receive the messages, whichis what you would normally do, so youwouldn't need the internet?

    • 07:59

      KEN BANKS [continued]: And I could I build something thatwould allow you to do a large number of text messagestwo-way, from somewhere on the edgeof a national park in Africa?And so I did some playing around with some technology.I went on eBay.I bought a phone.I bought a cable.I went online and found out what commandsI'd have to use to instruct a phone to send a messageand then to read the message back off the phoneand display it on the screen.

    • 08:20

      KEN BANKS [continued]: And it worked.I actually managed to make it work.So I thought, wow, if you built somethingwhich was on a laptop which could be carried around,it could be used anywhere with a mobile phone signal,didn't require the internet, didn't require credit cards,if you made it really simple so that anybody could use itwithout training, without a manual,then I think lots of people could find this useful.I knew for sure that Kruger National Parks

    • 08:41

      KEN BANKS [continued]: could find it useful, because they were stillwaiting for that to exist.So I raised a very small amount of money.I bought the rest of the kit I needed.I went to Finland that August, and my now-wife is Finnish.She went off to work at her cousin's factory.And I sat for five weeks at a kitchen table

    • 09:01

      KEN BANKS [continued]: and I wrote what became FrontlineSMS.I didn't really know quite what it was going to turn out like.I had the manuals with me.I had a contact at Microsoft who helped me with the programmingwhen I got stuck.But after five weeks I had a very solid working prototypeof a piece of software that allowedyou to create groups, add people into groups, type a message,"meeting at 11 under the tree in Village X" and hit Go,

    • 09:25

      KEN BANKS [continued]: and then the software would send that messageto whoever's in that group.It could be 50 people, 100 people, 200 people.And then when they replied, the software could read the repliesand it could sort them and you could figure outwho could make it, who couldn't make it,whether the meeting should be rearranged again,or whether you should go ahead.And in October, 2005, I built a website for itand I threw it out to the world and then got on

    • 09:47

      KEN BANKS [continued]: with my day job, because this wasn't paying me any money.This was something I had a hunch was going to be useful.And within two weeks, we had a user in Zimbabwewho had picked it up.What I'd done in the interim is I'dGoogled everybody I could find online who was doing anythingwith technology, mobile phones, Africa, politics, development,

    • 10:09

      KEN BANKS [continued]: conservation.I said, hey, I've written this whatI think is quite a cool piece of software.And the website's here.And if you'd like to talk about it, write about it,do an interview, share it with anyone that you know whomight be interested, please do.And that's how the Zimbabweans heard about it.And immediately they started using it to share informationwith rural communities who were having their houses destroyed

    • 10:31

      KEN BANKS [continued]: by Robert Mugabe, who was doing some prettybad things at the time to anyone who didn't vote for him.The MDC, the Movement for Democratic Changewere probably the first and only viableopposition there had been for a very long time.They were coming close in elections.It was looking a bit hairy for him.So he was on a mass sort of suppression drive

    • 10:52

      KEN BANKS [continued]: to burn down houses, and basically lots of peoplegot killed.And the news of what was happeningwas just so hard to get, because the mediais controlled by Mugabe.Suddenly, communities could be given newsfrom other places via text messageusing FrontlineSMS to tell them whatwas actually genuinely happening in other parts of the country.And they could then text back and say what

    • 11:12

      KEN BANKS [continued]: was happening where they were.And for the first time, you could get a complete pictureof what was really going on in Zimbabwe during this crisis.And for me it was hugely exciting.And I had one user at that point and I was happy with one user,because I had no idea how useful this wasgoing to be on a broader scale.But it was such a compelling use for the tool,

    • 11:32

      KEN BANKS [continued]: and it was really just an enabler.FrontlineSMS didn't do anything otherthan enable these people to do what they were desperate to do.It's a tool.It doesn't fix anything.It just makes communication easier.And that was really the start of it.

    • 11:53

      KEN BANKS [continued]: And if you think about the mobile phone for developmentsector, which I've spent the last 12, 13 years working in,Jeffrey Sachs, the sort of famous economist,has said that mobile technology isthe single most transformative tool for development.And it is.It's probably created more good for developmentthan all the development money for the past 50 years,all that UN money, all that World Bank money.

    • 12:14

      KEN BANKS [continued]: Kids in their bedroom can build a mobile appthat the next day somebody in Malawi or Ugandacould be using to do data collection on prevalenceof malaria in a village.Or somebody could build something thatcould help farmers somewhere.Or somebody could build an educational tool.Development's being truly democratized, I think,by the spread of the internet and by the marchof mobile technologies.

    • 12:35

      KEN BANKS [continued]: Today, anybody anywhere can use those twoto make the world better, anywhere in the world,on their own doorstep or far away.We're now having grassroots innovatorsbuilding their own solutions to problems.They're getting students flying out to Nairobi and Kenyaand building things.We're seeing this almost 1,000 flowers blooming all

    • 12:58

      KEN BANKS [continued]: over the place where solutions, really good solutions, thatdo really genuinely make things better,coming out of garages and huts and these sort of the places.So I think the future of development is a complete flip.I think it's local people taking control of their own problems,building their own solutions.And development will always have a place.If there's a natural disaster, a large-scale famine, a tsunami,

    • 13:21

      KEN BANKS [continued]: an earthquake, you need large-scale-- youneed Red Crosses.You need UNs to deal with that.But the day-to-day stuff, I thinkthe solutions are now going to come from a very, verydifferent place.And it better it get to it, because otherwiseit's going to become irrelevant very quickly.

    • 13:43

      KEN BANKS [continued]: So Means of Exchange was an interesting one for me.I'd just stepped back from FrontlineSMS,so I ran it for eight years.We'd raised $2 or $3 million funding.We had users in 170 countries.The last survey we had done showedthat 20 to 30 million people around the worldwere benefiting from the use of FrontlineSMSin many thousands of projects.It was an amazing ride.

    • 14:04

      KEN BANKS [continued]: I stepped back because it became moreabout running an organization.I felt it needed new leadership to take it into a new era.And also at the time, founders weren't really stepping backfrom their projects, because people that create and buildthings tend to think it's their rightto stay with them forever.And in many cases, they drag them back down into nothingif they stick around too long.And I didn't want to be that person.So around about 2012, I stepped back from FrontlineSMS.

    • 14:27

      KEN BANKS [continued]: A new management team took over.I stayed on the board.And I started thinking about somethingthat my mom had sort of spoken to meabout while she was alive.And she was always interested and amazedthat I was trying to help so many people so far awaythat I'd never met.And I wondered, we have problems in the UK.We have problems in our High Street.

    • 14:48

      KEN BANKS [continued]: We have shops closing.We have local traders going out of business.We have communities that are breaking down.People don't know their neighbors.I mean, I see these wonderful pictures in the war whereyou had the street parties and the whole streetwas full of tables and people ate togetherand they lent each of the stuff and they talked over fences.People used to buy locally more.They'd buy from local farmers shops and farmers markets.

    • 15:10

      KEN BANKS [continued]: All that seemed to be going.And it's continued to go since.So Means of Exchange for me was almost a flip to FrontlineSMS.It was, hey, there are problems on my doorstepwhich concern me.There are people in my community whohave lost their jobs because a factory 5,000 miles away hasclosed down because of an economic crisisthey had nothing to do with.

    • 15:32

      KEN BANKS [continued]: This globalized world has createda sort of web of dependency where our lives are almostdirected and guided and controlled by things completelyout of our control.And that is amazingly scary when you actuallystop for maybe just two minutes and think about it.So with Means of Exchange, I wanted to figure out,could we use technology in a similar waythat I'd used it across Africa and developing countries

    • 15:54

      KEN BANKS [continued]: to reconnect communities?Could we use it to help people realize that if they don'tuse local shops that they will closeand the High Street will either become full of chain shopsor charity shops, as here we are sitting in St. Ives.There's lots of charity shops in the street.A lot of local shops have closed.So how can we reverse that?And also, how can we get people to buy locally more?

    • 16:16

      KEN BANKS [continued]: They're buying strawberries from Spain from Tescowhen there's a farmer half a mileup the road who grows strawberries.Is it because they're too lazy?Is it because they don't know it's there?Is it convenience?So Means of Exchange was just, let's focus my time and effortnow on problems that are on my own doorstep,problems that affect me, and problems that Ican see on a daily basis.So in 2012, I created that as a project

    • 16:39

      KEN BANKS [continued]: and then started to look at the potential of mobile technologyto try and reconnect those dots.The cash mob we ran, I was on a trip probably a year earlierto Canada.And I was flying back and Inc. magazine,which is a sort of famous entrepreneurial magazine,had a very small column about somebodyin Canada who had run this cash mob.And I thought, what on earth's a cash mob?

    • 17:00

      KEN BANKS [continued]: And it's a mixture of flash mobbing and cash.So a flash mob, some people probably or possiblyhave heard of those.You see them on the internet.A bunch of people will show up in the foyer at King's CrossStation and they will do a moon danceor they'll act out some scene in a filmor they'll all lie down and pretendto sleep for two minutes and they'll disperse.Very strange, random things, people just--

    • 17:22

      KEN BANKS [continued]: and it's a flash in time and it disperses,which is why it's called a flash mob.The idea of a cash mob I thought was quite brilliant.The idea is that a group of people justrandomly show up at a shop and they spend money.They all agree to spend 5 or 10 pounds or $10 or whatever.And they then disperse.And it was done in this Canadian examplewith a local shop, so a local shop that was struggling.

    • 17:43

      KEN BANKS [continued]: And there were people who were concernedabout the plight of local traders,picked a small local store.This tradesman suddenly had 50 peoplerunning through their shop buying stuff.And A, it gave them a great trading day.B, it helped them financially.And C, it actually started to raise awarenessthat we need to use these traders and use these shops,otherwise we're going to lose them.

    • 18:04

      KEN BANKS [continued]: And so I wondered-- cash mob for me was a brilliant combinationof using social media to do the mobilizingand to create the buzz and the excitementand the virality of it.But then it ends up with an act on the streets wherepeople get on their feet and off their backsidesto do something.It's not clicking the like and stopping.It's clicking the like and then getting on a busor going for a walk and going to a shop

    • 18:26

      KEN BANKS [continued]: and joining like-minded people, being part of a small movementand a part of something exciting.So during the London Olympics-- andthere was this big deal at the timethat if London got the Olympics that all these traders weregoing to get all this amazing traffic.People were going to walk past every day on the wayto the Olympic village.They were going to buy stuff.Never happened.Never happened.People got on the Tubes and the transport

    • 18:48

      KEN BANKS [continued]: straight to the village.Shops were empty.Streets were empty.We found a bookshop called Pages of Hackney.And we contacted them.And we said we'd like to do this cash mob in your book shop.And they were like, what's a cash mob and are you crazyand who are you and should I be worried?And we talked them through it.And they thought it was a great idea.I love books.And bookshops are particularly struggling, not only

    • 19:08

      KEN BANKS [continued]: because local trades a struggling because of the shop,but ebooks are taking over and there's all this sort of fearthat bookshops will die.So during the Olympics, then, we used social media.We got a Facebook page.We got a website.We got a Twitter handle.We contacted the press.We explained the concept to everybody.And we organized this event.And we showed up at midday at this little bookshop.

    • 19:32

      KEN BANKS [continued]: And about I think maybe 50 other people showed up.And we're all waving our 10 pound notes.And we all spent money in the bookshop.And the Financial Times came, because theyfound it quite fascinating that therewas this strange kind of business/social movementthing going on.We got Huffington Post there.The Daily Telegraph showed up.The BBC heard about it and did a radio thing later.

    • 19:53

      KEN BANKS [continued]: And that for me was the exciting bit.These things need to capture people's imaginations in orderto spread and be replicated.And this actually has.Cash mobs take place now in the UK every week.And it's not down to me, but I thinkwhat we did helped democratize and popularizethe whole concept of it.Pages of Hackney in one hour sold about 500 pounds' worth

    • 20:13

      KEN BANKS [continued]: of books, their best trading day of the year.People got excited again about this shopthat they had perhaps lived nearby but not really ever beenin and seen.And I think it spurred almost kindof a new kind of thinking about how we coulddo that combination of genuine activismand getting out and doing something tangible with the useof social media and technology.And that's exactly what Means of Exchange was trying to do.

    • 20:36

      KEN BANKS [continued]: So for me, it was just the perfect way of starting it.And as I say, cash mobs now take place across the country.And we need more of those.We need more ideas like that which drive and exciteand just want people to get out and do stuff.And that's the challenge, is finding those.

    • 20:59

      KEN BANKS [continued]: Over the years, increasingly seeing peopleon the ground finding solutions to problems unexpectedly,people that you wouldn't necessarily thinkwould be finding solutions.Many of these people had just gone out,they were in a hospital somewhere,they were in a ballot box somewhere,they were on a street, they were in a farm.And they suddenly saw something which totally took themby surprise, an injustice, a problem, or an issue.

    • 21:21

      KEN BANKS [continued]: And it disturbed them and troubled them to such an extentthey ended up dedicating the rest of their livesto fixing it.And I didn't read enough about those stories.I felt that stories of these lone, grassroots innovatorsjust weren't being told enough.So at the end of 2013, I edited this book called The Riseof the Reluctant Innovator.And it's a story of 10 people who have basically fixed things

    • 21:43

      KEN BANKS [continued]: because they felt they needed to be fixed.And example, there's Laura Stachel,who actually a couple weeks ago won $1 millionat a UN solar prize.She's created a solar suitcase for maternity wardsacross the developing world where mothers and babies aredying in the dark because the lights go outin the middle of an operation and theycan't be-- the operations can't be completed.

    • 22:04

      KEN BANKS [continued]: And Laura saw women and babies dying in front of herbecause the lights had gone out.And well, if that didn't upset or effect or drive anyoneto want to make a difference in that particular area,I don't know what would.So the solar suitcase has now fixed that problem.It's providing light in wards at night when the power goes.And it's a solar-powered solution.Friends at Ushahidi, which is a mapping platform-- "ushahidi"

    • 22:27

      KEN BANKS [continued]: is "witness" in Swahili-- who were friends from Kenya, whowere sort of scattered around the world at the time, 2008,2009, the Kenyan election crisis-- the countrywent into meltdown, people started getting killed,it all looked very, very bad, theyrealized nobody was reporting the news from the places whereit needed to be reported-- built this map in three days

    • 22:47

      KEN BANKS [continued]: with no money, no plan, no permission, just got on with itand did it.They didn't think about why they shouldn't be doing things.They just really just got stuck in.Today, Ushahidi is being used in about 130 countries.And it was central in the Haiti earthquake response.The entire international communityused this map, built by a scrappy group of Kenyanswith no money and no permission and no plan,

    • 23:09

      KEN BANKS [continued]: to coordinate the Haiti earthquake response.I think there are some lessons in these stories,that some of the more meaningful thingssometimes are not controlled.We don't always know where they're headed.We don't even know really if they're going to be useful.And those stories I think need to be told,because many of the students watching this,and certainly in my case, are goingto come across problems where they're not really going

    • 23:31

      KEN BANKS [continued]: to know how to solve them.We don't always have the answers.You know, you're kind of feeling aroundin the dark a little bit.And all you want to do is just try stuff out.So this book is about 10 people that did that.And it's actually become very popular at universitiesand at colleges, because they're very raw stories.This isn't just glorifying social innovationand social entrepreneurship and development.This is warts and all.

    • 23:51

      KEN BANKS [continued]: This is the pain, the tears, the blood, the heartache,the sweat, because we sometimes lookat people who have succeeded in this fieldand we put them on a pedestal.And maybe we need to think sometimesactually how much work have they put in to get there,because I've not read a lot about how hard they found it.All I keep reading about is how brilliant they are.We want to uncover the true stories of what it really

    • 24:12

      KEN BANKS [continued]: means to be an innovator.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Application of Mobile Technology in the Developing World

View Segments Segment :


Technology innovator and social activist Ken Banks discusses the potential ramifications for mobile device technology to incite progressive change around the world. He recounts his personal experience creating FrontlineSMS and other projects designed to help those in need.

SAGE Video In Practice
Application of Mobile Technology in the Developing World

Technology innovator and social activist Ken Banks discusses the potential ramifications for mobile device technology to incite progressive change around the world. He recounts his personal experience creating FrontlineSMS and other projects designed to help those in need.

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