Cell Phone as a Key to Economic Development

Navid Chowdhury
June 11, 2012

Submitted as coursework for PH250, Stanford University, Spring 2012


While most of us use our cell phones (more like Smart phones) to text our friends and play angry birds, it is inspiring a major revolution in the developing nations. Cell phone with its innovative features and with it ever expanding market has facilitated a major leap in information technology in developing nations in Asia and Africa. The competitive cell phone market and dropping manufacturing cost has made it possible for even the poorest to own a cell phone and the benefits are countless. Developing countries where lack of physical infrastructure (roads and railways) are a major hurdle to widespread connectivity and access to information, cell phone has managed to mend that gap and become a beacon of hope for them. Cell phone today is making a difference in the field of medicine,banking and education, some of the major determining factors of economic development in developing nations

The Pocket Doctor

Healthcare services in developing nations are rudimentary at most and cell phone with satellite technology has decided to remedy that situation. Cell phone services have facilitated medical services to leapfrog to personalized medicine in these countries (something that is still being perfected in the Western world). In South Africa, a country plagued with HIV and AIDS, cell phone has provided it with a mean to tackle these two epidemics. MTN, a major cell phone network provider, and ITeach, a privately funded company that aims to deliver medical care to HIV infected victims, have together launched a program called Project Masiluleke [1]. The project aims to raise awareness about AIDS through SMS bases text messaging. It is already regarded as one on the biggest field trial of mobile health services offered [1]. It removes the stigma that comes with AIDS as cell phone is very personal thing.

Mobile Banking

Mobile has become a big part of banking in areas of the world where the poor have limited access to banking facilities. For example in India, Obopay has enabled people to make payments from their mobile phones [2]. Payments could be sent or received just solely on SMS based text messages. In a country like where many people don't have fixed physical address or means to maintain baking account, this system by Obopay allows them to receive money on their phone (cutting out the bank as middlemen). Once they receive the money on their phone, they can also remit the amounts internationally or even send funds to their friends or family all through Obopay [2]. This system also makes the monetary transaction less risky as there are no cash being transferred (which increases the risk of theft).

Mobile Education

Cell phone has a huge potential as a learning device, both academic and social. In academia, cell phone could be used for things like taking attendance (in large classes) or even taking short quizzes or sending learning reminders to students [3]. In a social arena Cell phone could be used to raise awareness about social issues like healthy eating habits, family planning, reminder about local events and for government campaigns against social evils like early marriage and illiteracy. Cell phone has proven its might in even helping farmers learn about effective farming practices in places like India and Bangladesh. In India, Tata Consultancy recently launched an IT platform called mKrishi that provides personalized advice to Indian farmers on effective farming practices through their cell phone [4]. Now when a farmer in India needs to know what pesticide to use for his land, all he needs to do is submit a question through his phone and wait for experts to send him the answer from thousands of miles away.


There were more than 4.1 billion mobile phone subscription around the world by 2009 (which is more than half of the world's current population) and the number is rising aggressively [5]. This expansion of the mobile phone market has made cell phones accessible to the poorest of the world and the benefits of this technology are only beginning to show. People, who previously could not access banking facilities due to their financial background and other social reasons, are now doing transactions on the phone and event paying their bills without even having to step out of the house. Farmers who did not know which pesticide to use can now get an answer to any farming related question at a minimal cost and without even having to leave their field. And all of this have happened under the blessing of cell phones. But this is only the beginning, the future of cell phone enabled developed nation is a very promising one.]

© Navid Chowdhury. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "A Doctor in Your Pocket," The Economist, 16 Aug 09.

[2] P. Kulkarni, "Do Mobile Based Options Really Benefit You?," Economic Times, 1 Jun 12.

[3] B. Bracey and T. Culver, eds. Harnessing the Potential of ICT for Education (United National Publication, 2005).

[4] D. Banerjee, "Mobile-Phone Farming," Wall Street Journal, 24 Aug 10.

[5] C. Tryhorn, "Nice Talking to You ... Mobile Phone Passes Milestone," The Guardian, 2 Mar 09.