AppLab Wins Best Use of Mobile for Social & Economic Development Award


Eric Cantor recounts his story from Barcelona.

My heart was racing as I sat in an auditorium with several hundred of the 45,000+ attendees of 2010 GSMA Mobile World Congress . We were there to hear which of the 100 finalists out of 500 nominations for the Global Mobile Awards – recognizing the top achievements in the mobile world from the prior year – would get the one of the top honors in the industry.

The category of Best use of Mobile for Social and Economic Development was the reason for the aforementioned anxiety, because along with our partners in the AppLab and Google SMS endeavors of the last 2.5 years, Google and MTN Uganda , we had two entries out of the seven finalists. As the results were announced, we weren’t sure whether we would win or not. Then the announcement came, it was us – we won the award!

They called my name and we went up on stage to accept the trophy, say our thank you’s and give a brief acceptance speech. In my shock, I’m not sure what I said but I am hopeful it was fitting for the moment. This recognition comes at a critical time for Grameen Foundation . Since the inception of AppLab in late 2007, Grameen Foundation and its partners have been focused on leveraging the most successful technological innovation of our time, the mobile phone, to improve lives of the low-income individuals and communities who are always the last to be reached by the market.

AppLab provides a platform to test, develop and scale mobile services with the potential to reach those people and improve their lives. We have taken some early steps toward the realization of those lofty goals, gained substantial insights and enjoyed a few high points including the launch of the Google SMS service suite in June 2009, which brings critical information about health, agriculture and markets to people who do not have Internet access.

Acknowledgement from the industry that our efforts are noted and appreciated gives AppLab and its partners a license to continue along these lines, and to work even harder and smarter to learn about how mobiles can serve the needs of the underserved. Lastly, a note about those partners. The Google SMS product could never have been built without sizable contributions from not just three entities, but a broader ecosystem of organizations and people.

NGOs like Straight Talk Foundation , Marie Stopes Uganda and BROSDI contribute relevant content and field networks, thousands of farmers, health workers and regular people test and continue to use the services. Village Phone Operators and Community Knowledge Workers explain the services to their communities and gather critical feedback. And of course, countless individuals within MTN and Grameen Foundation contributed to the work, alongside a stellar engineering and product development effort from Google, who was also the angel investor enabling AppLab to start up.

This type of public-private and distributed alliance is how business is done today, and surely the model Grameen Foundation will use to continue advancing the cause of socially beneficial mobile apps. The team in Uganda is humbled and grateful for the recognition, and hopeful that more organizations and individuals will join us in the quest to harness the great potential of the mobile phone for development.

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6 Responses to “AppLab Wins Best Use of Mobile for Social & Economic Development Award”

  1. Fehmeen Says:

    Great work! This platform could go a long way in helping the poor. You can also transform it into a mobile money platform that helps branchless banking penetrate undeserved markets in the developing as well as the developed world.

  2. Nicole Says:


    I second Fehmeen’s point about mobile banking, but I do have a question. What about security issues? Can anyone respond on that topic?

    Thanks in advance!

  3. Fehmeen Says:

    In my humble opinion, mobile money security isn’t a full blown impediment, but certainly an emerging risk. According to CGAP, the low penetration of mobile money solutions means it’s not a very profitable opportunity for the highly organised crime mafia. However, the transactions still need to be heavily encrypted, and perhaps some sort of a continuously changing pin-code/password can be used to prevent the theft of funds when handsets are first stolen.

    In Kenya, regular penetration tests are conducted to ensure the system cannot be hacked. Luckily, the major source of theft identified there has an easy solution. The services were being offered on both new and old SIMs, where the old one’s weren’t registered as service subscribers. As a result, criminals registered themselves on the behalf of old SIM users and were able to transfer money this way. The solution is simple – all old SIM users should be asked to personally upgrade their packages first.

    Of course, new problems will keep emerging. But so will solutions.

    Hope that answers your question.

  4. Jack Armour Says:

    This is such exciting news – well done Eric & team!

    Incidently I posted this message on the GoogleLab Ideas site just 2 days ago!:

    “I have been watching with keen interest the development of Google’s SMS service in Africa and the beta version of GoogleTrader which addresses the key problems holding back development in the developing world – transactions costs and access to markets!
    This coupled with GPS via GoogleEarth can create virtual markets that can revolutionise how countries trade and do business! & above all will reduce unnecessary transportation, reducing food miles dramatically, reducing the carbon footprint of the agric-food value chain, providing more jobs and markets to the marginalised, reducing poverty, and for Google, bringing more people into the ICT web!
    I have a formal research proposal I could forward to a real “email” address / Google contact person.”

    If you have not already done it all – I would very much like to share my experience/ideas with someone driving the collaborative project!

    R. Jack Armour
    PhD Agricultural & Natural Resource Economics

  5. Fehmeen Says:

    I’d like to review this venture on my blog, which is also about micrfonance. One question – have you thought about expanding this to Pakistan? There’s a mobile phone density of over 60%, the number of people living below the poverty line is around 20% and microfinance, as a sector, is growing very quickly.

  6. magassouba moussa Says:

    i want to write to muhamad yunus because i have a projet and i would speak with him

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