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IDB launches initiative to promote mobile phone-based services

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) today launched a program to foster the development of mobile services for people at the base of the socio-economic pyramid in Latin America and the Caribbean, aiming to address poverty problems in sectors such as health, education, social protection, employment and business.

About 80 percent of this region’s population (about 460 million people) has cell phones. Almost half of them have incomes below $300 a month. Mobile technology could expand their access to many additional services to improve their living standards.

The Mobile Citizen program, designed and managed by the IDB’s Science and Technology Division and funded by the Italian Trust Fund for Information and Communication Technologies for Development, will provide grants totaling $750,000 to organizations interested in developing such services.

The program will be supported by a network of partners that includes leading regional and global players in the field of innovation and mobile technologies, such as Telefonica, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Open Mobile Consortium,, mHealth Alliance, the Carso Health Institute and the Federal University of Amazonas.


These partners, and others that may join the program in the future, could assist in the development of innovative wireless solutions for the poor by providing knowledge, services and technology.

"One of the biggest barriers for the poor is a lack of timely access to relevant information. The innovative use of cell phones, especially of their ability for messaging and data transmission, can help reduce this barrier, creating new opportunities for economic and social inclusion," said Rafael Anta, senior ICT specialist at the IDB.


"Mobile Citizen is the first program in this region to promote the development of mobile services with an exclusive focus on its poorest citizens," he added.

The first phase of the program will consist of a "call for problems" to identify relevant needs and challenges that affect low-income people in Latin America and the Caribbean and could be addressed using mobile services. This call, which will accept submissions until November 19, 2009, is open to public and private institutions, for-profit and non-profit organizations, research and development centers and academic institutions in the region.

Two of the main selection criteria are the ability and the commitment of applicant institutions to work with the IDB on the design and implementation of innovative solutions. Submission of problems may be made through the program’s website.

Once problems are selected, the IDB will work with applicants and program partners in the development and implementation of mobile services. After one year of operation, the program will assess the impact of such services.

"Through these assessments, we seek to generate empirical evidence on the impact of mobile technologies on economic and social inclusion. This evidence may persuade governments to give greater priority to innovation and technology in their development agendas, and encourage public and private institutions to replicate these projects on a larger scale, "said Flora Painter, chief of  the IDB’s Science and Technology Division.

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