How can the ubiquitous mobile phone improve the lives of the poor? How can the phone become more like the “Aladdin’s Lamp” that Muhammed Yunus talks about, something that can offer any service its owner wants? If the phone is to be about more than just talk, we have to put some effort into adding to the services offered over it. The 2012-14 LIRNEasia research program funded by IDRC focuses on these questions.
One thing we discovered in our research was that people need to manage the inevitable power outages. Instead of publishing long newspaper advertisements that cause the readers’ brains to shut down, electricity distribution companies should use the potential of the ubiquitous mobile to communicate with the affected subscribers (and excluding those not affected). The instantaneous nature of SMS allows them to communicate information even of unplanned outages.
Outages are a serious problem for those who run micro enterprises. One person we interviewed, a young woman who operated a beauty parlor, said that she could not offer her services without power. That meant lost revenue. If she knew of a planned outage, she could reschedule her clients. Even with an unplanned outage, if she was quickly informed of the when service was likely to be restored she could use her phone to reschedule clients and minimize the disruption to their lives and to her business.