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How to Win the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge? Give Women Mangos

By Wayan Vota on December 14, 2012

Wednesday was the last day to submit your entry for the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge to redefine the user experience of mobile phones to meet the needs of resource-poor women.

Designers, programmers and innovators of all kinds are invited to consider the user experience of resource-poor women to reimagine a smartphone’s core user interface to be more intuitive and accessible. The more a woman can use her phone, the more value she’ll be able to realize from the pre-installed apps, widgets, and other functionality that can enhance her and her family’s lives.

Now I am sure there will be many, many smart and interesting applications from brilliant minds in London and Lesotho. But I really don’t understand why GSMA is going through all this trouble. They really should just give women mangos instead.

Now this isn’t me being flippant. This is my humble recognition of what I think is the best mobile phone literacy program ever devised:

Mango tree mobile phone menu navigation

The Jokko Initiative in Senegal from Tostan

Tostan teaches basic literacy and numeracy, by tying it to the use of mobile phones. First, they came up with an amazingly simple methodology to introduce people to menu systems using a mango tree metaphor which gracefully transitions from the concrete (planning a climbing route on a real tree to get to a specific mango) to the semi-concrete (the same, on a diagram of a tree), to the abstract (the tree diagram becomes the menu diagram, the mango a specific function).

Next, they teach the cost-efficiency of SMS texting relative to placing a call, which has immediate impact on the girls’ lives. They can use their newly acquired ability to read and write in their national language, Wolof, from the Community Empowerment Program, to compose and read text messages without assistance. The women are also able to show mastery of mobile phones, which allows husbands to trust wives with phones, even obtaining their own phones.

Then, participants apply the skills they’ve gained to specific themes (such as health, agriculture, and the environment) relevant to their everyday lives. For example, to send text messages about vaccinations and awareness-raising campaigns, to make appointments at health clinics, and to ask for advice on matters concerning health and hygiene.

So give them mangos

I am sure the winner will be an intriguing design that makes mobile phones easier to use, yet I do wish GSMA would give mango money to Tostan instead. Learning to use a mobile phone is one thing, learning higher-level language and math skills with a mobile phone is a whole other – and arguably a faster way to lift women out of poverty across the developing world.


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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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