Old mobile phone models. Cellphones have the potential to help alleviate poverty and address development challenge. Photo by: Adrian Clark / CC BY-ND

The potential mobile phones have in helping alleviate poverty and address development challenges is huge — and the developing world should know.

This week, for example, the U.N. Development Program and the government of Haiti launched a mobile money transfer initiative, which seeks to help some 1,000 Haitian families rebuild houses. Apart from receiving cash subsidies to purchase construction materials, beneficiaries can access a mobile phone checking account to reduce financial transaction costs and help them save, among others

The U.S. Agency for International Development has also released an infographic detailing programs that make use of mobile phones to empower the poor. These include the mFarmer Initiative Fund, which provides farmers helpful agricultural information via mobile phones, and the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, which provides mothers without access to clinics vital health information.

Such innovative programs employing the use of mobile phones do not end there.

On the last day of the Mobile World Congress 2012, which ran Feb. 27 to March 1 in Barcelona, Grameen Foundation, MTN Uganda and CGAP announced a new initiative to research and develop mobile financial products for the poor. The partners will provide $1 million in financing for the initiative, which aims to help the poor boost their income and invest in productive assets, education and health services. The initiative intends to provide convenient access to financial services and develop products appropriate for low-income consumers.

This is a welcome addition to programs such as the GSMA mWomen Program launched by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010. The program, which recently received a pledge worth $5.6 million from the Australian Agency for International Development, aims to reduce mobile phone gender gap 50 percent by 2014.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.