Does Uganda Have More Mobile Phones Than Light Bulbs?

Does Uganda Have More Mobile Phones Than Light Bulbs?

By Dara Kerr |From C Net

In many parts of the world, electricity is a luxury. People spend hours gathering firewood to cook their dinners or warm their homes. In Uganda, only 10 percent of the population has electricity, the vast majority doesn’t have microwave ovens, computers, or televisions. People don’t have access to the latest information on disease outbreaks, weather forecasts, or soccer championships. But this may soon change.

More than a third of Uganda’s population, about 10 million people, own a cell phone, and many more have access to these phones through family members and neighbors. Cell phones can be found in every desolate corner of the countryside, where 85 percent of the country’s residents live. With the dire need to be connected, people go to great lengths to use cell phones, charging them with car batteries or solar chargers.

In a place where cell phones could outnumber light bulbs, several nonprofits have begun thinking that the best way to reach the country’s poor and get them much needed information is through their phones. The Grameen Foundation, a global nonprofit that helps the world’s poor with financial services and technology solutions, has partnered with Google, telecommunications provider MTN Uganda, and several local nonprofits to develop and design mobile applications that let cell phone users get information via SMS text queries.

The goal is to improve the lives and livelihoods for Uganda’s poor. “We had a clear vision of what we wanted to achieve,” says David Edelstein, director of Grameen’s Information and Communication Technology Innovation center. “We applied our expertise of being on the ground in Uganda and combined that with Google’s expertise of disseminating information.”

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