Huffpost UK Tech uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Andrew Dunnett Headshot

Mobile: The Enabler

Posted: Updated:

Vodafone Foundations receive about 12,000 requests for the £40 million plus funding we allocate each year.

More and more of those requests are not just for our funding but also for help with access to technologists, aggregators, developers, apps, text giving or data philanthropy. Not a day goes by without the inbox ringing with a new wave of innovative ideas of how our mobile technology can enable charities to deliver a greater public benefit. We get everything, only this week we got a mobile enabled sewage collection programme. The problem is not innovation, the problem is picking the ones where we can make the most difference.

For the Foundation, the enabling bit began with both the smartphone revolution and the wider penetration of mobiles in to developing economies. Before then, enabling meant providing emergency telecoms in a disaster situation. Fabulous work - we still fund this with Télécoms Sans Frontières - but very targeted and not transformational. The simple text message-based mobile money transfer service M-Pesa broke the mould - a dramatic technological and social revolution, enabling a country like Kenya with 90 per cent unbanked to save and transfer money phone-to-phone. Go to church on Sunday in Nairobi and the collection will as likely be taken by M-Pesa - not a collection plate or bag in sight. Truly enabling.

However M-Pesa will be dwarfed by what is to come. People don't articulate it yet and the language of mobile can be limiting. But with three computers per 1000 and 50 smartphones per 1000 in Sub-Saharan Africa, what we are seeing is the beginning of a mobile computer distribution programme - the impact of which will be hard to imagine. While the business works out the commercial and technological challenges of this, the Foundation's role is to understand how our limited funds and unique access to Vodafone's technology can make the maximum public benefit. We would be failing as trustees if we did not.

For that reason, the Foundation has launched the Mobile for Good programme, a commitment to allocate 70 per cent of our giving by 2015 to projects which use mobile as enabler. And because the best enabling only happens when projects are meeting an unmet problem, where there is a clear demand, we have also committed to doing less better - and focus our funding on a smaller number of projects.

Next week's Mobile for Good summit in London is an important part of that journey. Around 300 people are attending from businesses, NGOs, academic institutions and grant making organisations. We will publish new research by London Business School and, because enabling is nothing without collaboration, we will also be looking at new partnerships arising from the summit which will deliver transformational change.

Samuel Morse described the enabling impact of his telegraph when he said it would make one neighbourhood of the whole country. Mobile is making one neighbourhood of the whole world. The challenge for us at the Foundation is to make that world which is coming an inclusive one.
Andrew Dunnett runs The Vodafone Foundation which, alongside London Business School, is hosting the Mobile For Good Summit on Monday.