The Digital Agency for International Development

'Moving toward' or 'catching up with' Mobile

By Aptivate on 30 June 2014

Guest Post by Isabelle Amazon-Brown of Every1Mobile

Without wanting to bite the hand that feeds, let’s put this out there: the development sector needs to stop ‘Moving Towards...’ and start ‘Seriously Catching Up With.’

Mobile is a pivotal tool for positive change in developing countries, as we all (surely?) know by now. I’m not here to reel off the figures, because they’re everywhere, having even trickled across to the mainstream press: suffice to say that a world in which a person can be without running water, but can Tweet about it, is a world that has experienced a seismic social shift.

That’s reason enough to really start hustling.

I would argue, though, that the massive mobile penetration we’re seeing in developing countries has implications beyond simply facilitating Development programmes in new and inspiring ways.

We also have the chance to radically shape how mobile phones are used by those ‘Significant Others’: our friends in the corporate sector.

And believe me; our friends are not waiting around. Cape Town, where my company’s African offices are based, is a booming mobile media hub with enough trendy coffee-cum-bike-repair shops to make Hoxton blush.

Meanwhile, jammed into minibus taxis, people are nose-down in their BlackBerrys, Nokia C1s, and, yes, Android phones, being bombarded by banner adverts and marketing SMSs encouraging them to buy, buy, buy. This is what awaits the millions of basic mobile phone users in the developing world as they move up the technology ladder.

Full disclosure: I was behind one of those adverts. Last month I ran a mobile media campaign for a major South African insurance brand within our ‘social impact’ communities.  This obviously raised some dilemmas, but what I realised as the work progressed, was that I was in a position to change and define the ways campaigns like these are run – in this case by running an effective campaign that broadcasts quality content that the users enjoy and benefit from.

And by the way, at the same time I was soaking up the tips and tricks used by advertisers to reach people so effectively, that we secretly so envy of them.

This isn’t just about the development sector adopting corporate style marketing campaigns to speak to people at scale. It also isn’t just about the for-profit/sustainability argument. We need to start seriously engaging with mobile and mobile media in particular, because we have the unprecedented chance to change the way the commercial stuff is done, too.

We find ourselves in a position where we may be able to actively shape the ways in which consumer-driven activities are being carried out in the global South, with the end goal of entrenching social responsibility in mass media in a way that never had a chance to happen in Europe or the US. We need to do so before the practice and players in these countries are so entrenched that we find ourselves back in our walled gardens.

Undoubtedly this provokes some big and worrisome questions which, thoughtful person that I am, I mull over endlessly. But if I am right...wouldn’t it be great? ‘Move Toward’, indeed...

Isabelle Amazon-Brown is Head of Communities at Every1Mobile in Brighton. E1M use mobile social networks to build mass communities of 15-35 year olds across Africa, concentrating on Health, Education, Jobs and Entertainment.

If you would like to respond to this blog, or share your own thoughts on how the development sector is (or could be) ‘moving toward mobile’ (the theme for this year's Apticon) – please drop an email to