Posted by: Charlie | October 6, 2009

Texting Frenzy Around the World: Communication Technology and Development

A cell tower in Kumai, Ghana via Flikr

A cell tower in Kumai, Ghana via Flikr

Two way communication died months ago. This weekend at the Better World by Design conference at RISD/Brown thought leaders in design, engineering, and appropriate technology collaborated on group projects and shared significant developments since convening last year. I was particularly delighted to see Ken Banks from Kiwanja / FrontlineSMS. His open software has enabled health clinics, farmers, and merchants  better track patient health, harvest growth, and sales in developing countries. A number of his constituent projects have received significant funding to scale successful projects to new countries.

The opportunity for cell-phones to change the world has  recurred throughout mainstream media in recent months. Yesterday the New York Times reported that texting in east and central Africa has enabled farmers to increase their livelihoods. Farmers receive texts about incoming disease strains, volatile pricing, and weather patterns. Farmers in rural areas are connected to urban centers where markets and commodity brokers influence prices. This urban, rural dialogue is changing farmers behavior and their access to global markets. This a contributing factor to Africa’s cell-phone boom, the largest growth sector in the mobile industry.

Access to global communication systems is changing the power dynamics and relationships between producers, manufacturers, and consumers. Working with Runa, a sustainable amazonian beverage company, my team was contacted by Ecuadorian indigenous farmers by e-mail before we had done first site visit. Having seen our  website (shoddy at best), they expressed interest in working together.

At what other point in history have rural areas had such sophisticated knowledge sharing tools to improve their livelihoods? How does this effect education and training for both knowledge and labor economies. When else in history have producers had the ability to access global networks of consumers so directly? What implications does this have for our conceptions of global trade?



  1. The world of information is expanding into every corner of the globe. It will be interesting to see how social media and other internet resources accelerate this process and continue to effect positive change across the global community.

    • Adam,

      Thanks for the comment. I am amazed daily by this sense of connectivity gchatting with my friends in Ghana and Ecuador. Sometimes it seems like the biggest barrier to working together is the time difference. Check out the TED talk in my latest post, although its less about the global community and social media, it paints an interesting picture of democratized capitalism.


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  4. […] technology has lowered transaction costs, uniting a global world on the web. Like the TV before it, the internet has excited potential for education and other social change. […]

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