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Ken Banks talks mobile phones in Africa
Technologist, anthropologist Tech Awards Laureate 2009
National Geographic 2010 Emerging Explorer
Founder of Kiwanja.net and FrontlineSMS
Ken Banks, founder of kiwanja.net, devotes himself to the application of mobile technology for positive social and environmental change in the developing world, and has spent the last 17 years working on projects in Africa.
Recently, his research resulted in the development of FrontlineSMS, an award-winning text messaging-based field communication system designed to empower grassroots non-profit organisations.
Ken graduated from Sussex University with honours in Social Anthropology with Development Studies, and was awarded a Stanford University Reuters Digital Vision Fellowship in 2006, and named a Pop!Tech Social Innovation Fellow in 2008.
In 2009 he was named a Laureate of the Tech Awards, an international awards program which honours innovators from around the world who are applying technology to benefit humanity.
He was also named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer in May 2010. Ken's work was initially supported by the MacArthur Foundation, and he is the current recipient of grants from the Open
Society Institute, Rockefeller Foundation, HIVOS, the Omidyar Network
and the Hewlett Foundation
Clint & Cristy © Loyce Kyogabirwe Isis-WICCE © Loyce Kyogabirwe ©
Introduction and an overview of the work of Kiwanja.net and FrontlineSMS
"FrontlineSMS is relatively low-tech, but it's built to work in the kinds of places that many technologies we are seeing don't actually work"
How are mobile phones changing people's lives in African countries today?
"Many people now in Africa, their first experience of the internet will be through thei mobile phone, not a computer."
"It's important to remember for some people mobiles are more than just phones. They are calenders, diaries, wallets, torches and tools"
What does the future hold for mobiles in Africa?
"I think the bigget game-changer will be a $30 smartphone. Within a couple of years we will see it and it will drive a wave of innovation and services"
What can mobiles do for the poorest people in Africa?
"Potentially the mobile phone effect will trickle down as far as it can go. But the real challenge we have is trying to understand what kinds of services are useful to people at teh very bottom of the economic period"
On the importance of homegrown innovation in African countries?
"In African countries it's about innovation out of neccessity, rather than just finding cool things to do with technology."
"If I was in Nairobi in Kenya, I could leave the building and pay for a cab with my mobile. I couldn't do that in London"
On the rise of the reluctant innovator
"A lot of the solutions to many of the problems you see in developing countries are being solved by people who just happen to find themselves closest to that problem, and coming up with an answer"