Leveraging Mobile Ubiquity to Improve Life at the Base of the Pyramid


This post is the second of a series on mobile phones and the Base of the Pyramid. You can find the first of the series here.
In our previous post we explored the explosion of mobile phone access and the innovative businesses that enabled it. In the next two posts, we will look at companies and trends that are leveraging mobile access to provide valuable services to the poor in emerging markets.
SMS Enabled Services
SMS (Short Message Service), better known as text messaging, has had a tremendous impact everywhere in the world. To many of us, it is just a simple way to quickly communicate with friends and family. However, to an increasing number of people at the base of the period, it is an essential platform enabling everything from ad-hoc marketplaces to outsourced employmnent. This post will highlight a few of the innovative companies that are revolutionizing what we can do with regular cellphones to help some of the most needy people in the world.
Mass Texting for NGOs
An early service derived from the ubiquity of mobile phones is mass SMS or text messaging. At its most basic level, it provides an easy way for groups to communicate even where computers are impractical. FrontlineSMS for example, provides a platform for NGOs to manage texting lists (mailing lists, for text messages). Using this software, a NGO can reach out to their fieldworkers anywhere in the world, raise awareness for a campaign, run surveys through FrontlineSMS’s SurveyManager or reach specific individuals in a targeted community.
Mobile Payments
Mailing lists where just the beginning, even for Frontline SMS, as they have spun out several other services including Frontline SMS: Credit; a Mobile transaction service enabling MFI’s (microfinance institutions) to provide financial services via SMS messaging services.

Mobile banking platforms are too numerous to list. They are largely operated by established Telecom’s (e.g. Safaricom’s (Vodafone) mPesa) or Financial Institutions (e.g. ANZ’s Wing Money). However, what might be the most interesting innovation in mobile banking is largely being carved out by small start-ups like Kopo Kopo and SF Global that are creating neutral mobile transaction platforms that don’t require affiliation with a given telecom or financial institution.
Texting to make money
Beyond simply moving money using SMS technology, a few companies have figured out how to leverage mobile phones to directly contribute to the income generation of those who need it most.
TxtEagle has leveraged mobile ubiquity to develop paid micro tasks assigned to mobile users with a little free time and a need for cash. TxtEagle breaks simple tasks into small units so that individual mobile users around the world can complete a part of the task via SMS. In turn, the mobile users are paid in either airtime or mobile money.
Another great example is Empleo Listo!, the Latin Americas arm of US based Assured Labor. They are creatively using mobile technology to improve employment inefficiencies at the base of the pyramid. By creating an SMS enabled job listing and employment matching service, Empleo Listo! provides anyone with a mobile phone immediate access to jobs that are pre-screened to meet their specific requirements.
Final thoughts

The few examples here are just the tip of the iceberg and every week we see new innovations in mobile technology for the poor in emerging markets. The sheer size of the market is driving mainstream manufacturers to produce cheaper and cheaper products, but the real innovation is on the software side, where developers are finding ways to reinvent everything as affordable, empowering mobile apps. Next week we will look at smartphones and the massive potential that their computing power and connectivity create.