Harnessing technology for the world’s poor


‘Global Poverty and ICTs: what Cambridge can do to change the world’ was the high-profile launch of a themed year on ICT for Development (ICT4D) that took place in Cambridge this week.

David Edelstein from Grameen Foundation gave the keynote speech, highlighting the huge potential of mobile technology to bring about social change in developing countries.

“Mobile phones can level the playing field,” David explained. Mobile phones are cheap, portable and accessible. Crucially, they allow relevant information to reach remote communities – giving farmers access to weather forecasts and market prices, and giving nurses access to the data that helps them save lives.

But the transformative potential of mobile phones is yet to be fully realised – David stressed that we are only just beginning. For him, growth in this area will depend on successful business models that are sustainable, provide incentives for investment, and draw on creative partnerships.

David Edelstein is Director of Grameen Technology Center and Vice President of Technology Programs at Grameen Foundation, which helps the world’s poorest people improve their lives and escape poverty through access to microfinance and technology. The Foundation works with local organisations in 36 countries across the world and aims to identify both local needs and global trends, developing transferable solutions to poverty.

Speakers from Cambridge organisations presented a range of impressive ICT for Development projects. These include:

FrontlineSMS; open source software that enables users to send and receive text messages with groups of people. It’s an adaptable communication tool that is being applied in health, education and mobile money initiatives.
• Cambridge University
Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR), which is using FrontlineSMS to transform radio into a two-way communications channel and increase citizen engagement in Africa.
Iceni Mobile, which offers secure mobile services and extended network coverage in developing countries, providing sustainable solutions for rural communities.
• Cambridge University
Centre for Commonwealth Education, which is using ICT as an entry point to improve classroom teaching skills in Zambia.
Camfed and Aptivate, two leading Cambridge NGOs that are working together to use personal digital assistants (palmtop computers) to evaluate and improve education in Zambia. Catherine Boyce of Camfed said that “technology builds confidence, unlocks opportunities and fosters networks.”

This week’s event was the launch of a year-long programme on ICT4D, run by the Humanitarian Centre, a Cambridge-based network for international relief and development, in partnership with ARM, a globally recognised company that designs the technology at the heart of advanced digital products.

Ian Steed, Director of the Humanitarian Centre, outlined the goal of this year: “facilitating connections that will have an impact in the developing world.” The launch event was a promising beginning, bringing together a varied audience of around 250 people from across the charity, private and academic sectors in Cambridge and as far afield as Rwanda and Mexico.


For more information on the ICT4D year and upcoming events, visit http://www.humanitariancentre.org/ict4d/


The Centre for Global Equality's aim is to identify and solve problems that tackle the root causes of poverty and inequality and to alleviate their enduring symptoms.

The Centre for Global Equality