One of my consistent predictions for mobile in the last 5 years or so, has been that innovation in mobile will travel from developing markets into the developed ones. This is because mobile is either the only game in town in media terms or certainly the most important digital device for most people, most of the time. As a consequence, the mobile is going to be viewed in a different way by users and developers alike, leading to different use-cases, products and services.
This export of technology innovation into developed markets is probably going to be the first time that this phenomenon has ever happened at scale and on a consistent basis, so it’s going to be fascinating to observe it at first hand.
I was delighted to hear that this is a theme also promoted by Iqbal Quadir, the visionary and influential founder of Grameenphone, when we spoke at the same event in London recently, so there must be something in the idea!
This week I was at Mobile Web Africa, which proved to be a well attended event in Johannesburg, with a great line up of speakers. Africa is certainly a market to watch in the future and I expect to see huge growth in innovation, mobile usage and revenues from the mobile ecosystem. So it was a privilege to be asked to speak and to learn what’s happening in person.
M-Pesa, the Kenyan branchless banking system undoubtedly stole the headlines, judging by the Tweets and ReTweets and is a very African success story. Not only is it now the biggest bank in the world with 8 million customers, but annual money transfers are now equivalent to 20 – 25% of Kenya’s total GDP, depending on who you believe has the most up-to-date facts. Many banks will clearly try to replicate this and probably most will fail, but it does paint a great picture of what mobile banking success looks like.
By the way, M-Pesa launched in March 2007.
There were many other examples of the new, new, but one of my favourite pieces of out-of-the-box thinking came from Mocality, which aspires to be Africa’s largest (only?) business directory. The challenge is how they build such a thing from scratch, especially in the content of small businesses’ lack of tech savvy and indeed, tech access.
Their solution was to crowd-source – employ a whole bunch of agents to input the data via their wap-enabled phones, along with photos uploaded from camera phones. The problem comes with ensuring the accuracy of that data – and avoiding completely fraudulent entries, created purely to make commission.
So, when Agent A completes an entry for a business, the data is sent randomly to another agent in the area. Agent B then visits the business and verifies the entry. Both get paid, but the result is as accurate as it can reasonably be expected to be and probably better quality than if the businesses themselves uploaded the data in the first place.
I thought it was a very clever solution and one that I hadn’t come across before, so I thought I’d share.
I love traveling to Africa and seeing what works here and already looking forward to my next visit.