Building on the impact the Web has had on developed economies today, and what the Web and mobile phones can enable in developing economies in the future, the Web Foundation promotes a world where any person or group with an idea can acquire the technical and entrepreneurial skills to create and deploy new mobile services. Where all people, not only rich urban neighborhoods but also rural underprivileged communities, can be active co-creators of web content and services. By fostering the creation of innovative web and mobile services in underprivileged areas of the world, we promote social and economic value creation in these regions, and we help diversify the offering of services globally available.
By enabling local organizations to deliver such expertise to local entrepreneurs, we believe that it will be possible to create an ecosystem in which the creation and launch of new mobile services filling the social and/or business needs of the local market is possible, triggering a positive socio-economic impact on broader segments of the population, from the urban middle classes to underprivileged rural communities. A vibrant, viable society of mobile Web entrepreneurs across the developing world will more quickly close the gap in access to services that can improve lives, whether it be access to educational materials where there is no school, or access to health services where there is no hospital.
The mobile wave sweeping the developing world continues to offer new opportunities to deploy services and content on a platform already accessible to billions of people – mobile phones. But here again, while the proof of concept has largely been demonstrated (see for example The Impact of Cell Phones on Grain Markets in Niger), the full potential of mobile as a service delivery platform has yet to be realized. The key challenge we have identified is a content and services creation gap: the lack of individuals, companies and institutions in the global south that use mobile and web technologies to deliver services with a beneficial impact on the way people live, organize their activities and connect with others. We have witnessed many causes for the persistence of this gap. Among the most significant ones:
Expertise in technology development and innovation-based entrepreneurship is not fully developed (lack of capability development through communities, academia, on-the-job learning);
Lack of environments where this expertise can be channeled towards the creation of services and enterprises;
Access-to-market asymmetries mean that the disruptive potential of innovation is blocked by heavy barriers to entry from existing actors in the ecosystem;
Mismatch between literacy levels and capabilities of the existing technologies in the hands of people in the developing world and the typical offering of data services present in the western world (text-heavy interfaces offered through complex applications or websites developed for modern desktop / smartphone browsing).
We envision a broad network of Mobile Web training labs across the developing world each serving as a source for technical training, business mentoring and incubation, and a place for community engagement in their respective locations. This network – or Meta-Lab – will be supported by a coordination center to help each lab achieve scale and foster synergies and collaboration among the labs.
We are currently supporting 3 Mobile Entrepreneurship labs in Ghana, Kenya and Senegal, and looking to expand further across the continent and beyond. To date more than 250 people have been trained (gaining skills in business innovation, mobile and web technicaldevelopment, user experience and design, marketing, project management), 15 companies have received seed funding, and 3 companies have received international attention, awards, and/or larger scale investment.
Mobile Web Ghanais the first of a growing network of Mobile Entrepreneur labs across Africa. Its mentorship and community building focus aims to marry the Ghanaian passion for IT and entrepreneurial spirit, helping passionate people become mobile-technology entrepreneurs by teaching them to create applications accessible via mobile phones (whether via mobile websites, apps, SMS, or voice). The lab’s focus on business training and mentorship has connected many MWG alumni with the international developer and business community.
mLab aims to foster innovation and entrepreneurship within the Kenyan community, with a focus on Web and mobile services. The lab provides a full range of resources and initiatives (training, business development support, community creation) to infuse innovators and researchers with the support they need to introduce innovative products and services that have an impact on the Kenyan context and abroad.
An integral element of the VOICES project, EMS furthers the experience gained from hosting trainings and business mentoring programs in Ghana and Kenya by integrating a specialized focus on voice-based tool development for interested Senegalese mobile Web developers.
Status: Inaugural training conducted January-March 2012. The first training was split into three tracks:Â Technology track:Â Voice, SMS, Mobile Web services and applications, prototyping platforms; Business track:business models, revenue, dealing with operators, intellectual property; Design track: understanding your customers, structuring your service, making your service useful, usable, and engaging.