Fighting Poverty With Mobile Phones

In the world of mathematics the difference between 8 and 10 is 2 and the difference between 0 and 1 is only 1.  It would seem mathematically speaking that 2 is larger than 1.  I’m sure that holds true above the poverty line but below the poverty line the difference between 0 and 1 is far greater than anything that comes after.

The gap between 0 and 1 represents the barrier to entry into a world where technology can help save lives.  While we often think of technology as being the latest shiny thing to enter the market, for many even old tech can make a difference.  The old dumb cell phones many people laugh at were new tech when I was in Afghanistan only a few years ago and those cell phones connected families, organized military operations and shortened the distance between the person holding it and the information they were seeking.

Iqbal Quadir uses his experiences from his youth combined with his modern understanding of economics to communicate that the reduction of inefficiencies within a group increase the overall productivity and economic value.

His perspective acknowledges that there is a gap between a government’s goals and the goals of the citizenry to improve their lives.  He specifically mentions that the world bank is an organization created by and for governments.  I imagine that he would be pleased to hear of Jim Yong Kim’s overhaul of the world bank to include principles that help people pull themselves out of poverty (Rosalsky).  While those changes may be significant he is absolutely correct.  Large organizations such as governments generally set up institutions that benefit those organizations.  It’s not evil, it’s just how they see the world.  Often times when the US commits foreign aid to other countries we do so through that nation’s government and the aid we’re trying to send often gets so diluted through the local government little gets to those in need.

Quadir’s talk is certainly worth watching.  His examples illustrate some of the inefficiencies in the market and how reducing the cost of communication via a cell phone is economically sound at both the micro and macro level.  He describes some of the challenges that exist with regards to implementing solutions and some methods for overcoming those challenges.

Individuals who typically view governments as solution driven organizations will have issues with this video as his experience illustrates that governments aren’t generally capable of providing all of the resources needed to improve the lives of their citizenry.  Going from 0 to 1 is a larger step when you’re below the poverty line and it’s a hard one to fund when you’re a struggling government.