Posted on October 29, 2014

Vodafone’s Head of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability, Dana Haidan, was recently hosted at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar to address students and faculty on the role of CSR in bringing about real transformational change in countries across the globe. Haidan discussed the barriers that prevent many people around the world from sharing in the benefits of the mobile and the data revolution and explored the reasons why they are currently finding themselves excluded, and the ways Vodafone is working to reverse this. Haidan also shared examples of Vodafone’s social investment projects that are making a real difference around the world.

According to Wireless Intelligence 2012, there are 9 mobile connections for every 10 people on the planet; that’s 6.3 billion devices allowing people across the world to talk, text and trade. Nearly a billion of those connections are mobile internet enabled phones and tablets. “Giving more of the world's citizens access to mobile technology has the potential to benefit us all.” Haidan explained.

“Vodafone is working to make the benefits of mobile available to everybody: Mobile has the potential to transform the lives of millions around the world. Although cultural factors, physical barriers and lack of access to technology exclude many people from the communication revolution, Vodafone is working hard to extend the benefits of mobile to everyone – wherever and however they live. The technology and services that Vodafone delivers are designed to give businesses and individuals access to opportunities. By working collaboratively with governments, industry bodies, NGOs, aid agencies and regulators we can increase their availability, and so truly democratise the mobile internet, enabling millions more people to connect.” said Haidan.

Vodafone delivering transformational [].jpgUNESCO estimates that one in five of the world’s adult population is unable to read or write. Mobile internet gives schools with no books the ability to access global libraries online. Around the world, 270 million children are growing up without access to basic medical facilities. Mobile internet allows communities to connect with healthcare providers who offer emergency advice, remote patient monitoring and a host of other services. Mobile payment and information services can transform the prospects for farmers and smallholders in emerging markets. By 2020, an estimated USD138 billion uplift in income could be generated through these mobile services, which enable farmers to develop their businesses. (Sources: UN Literacy Decade; UNICEF; Vodafone’s Connected Agriculture Report.)

According to Jeffrey Sachs, Professor of Economics at Columbia University, the mobile phone is ending isolation in all its different varieties. If the world is divided by lack of access to technology and information, this digital divide is predominantly a wired divide. The new generation of mobile smartphones offer the answer. They are powerful tools that accelerate human progress and economic growth. They change lives for the better. For increasing numbers of people around the world, the mobile internet is the internet – after all, a smartphone is a handheld computer. In 2011, shipments of smartphones overtook those of personal computers and tablets for the first time. By 2015, 788 million people will access the internet only through mobile devices – a staggering 56-fold increase in five years. Wireless technology closes the digital divide in a way that wired has never been able to.

The explosion of mobile-connected devices is resulting in an explosion of data. More than 100 million smartphone users each consumed more than 1 GB of data per month in 2013 – the equivalent of 250 songs, or 4,000 photographs. This is just the beginning: it is predicted that by 2016 global mobile data will reach 18 times current levels – a mind-boggling 130 exabytes annually. To put that in context, all the words ever spoken by human beings would add up to around 5 exabytes. (Sources: Cisco and UC Berkeley School of Information)

Haidan showcased how the digital divide takes shape across genders, demographics, geographic contexts and human capabilities: “In the developed world as a whole, mobile penetration is close to 100%. In the developing world, however, it is calculated at just 70%. In the least developed markets, only 34% of people have a mobile phone. In some parts of the world, women are especially excluded from the mobile revolution: It is estimated that 300 million fewer women than men in emerging markets have a mobile phone. These women are deprived of opportunities for economic and social independence. And of course, older people represent a growing share of the global population: Middle Eastern people aged 65-74 are more than four times more likely than younger citizens to have never used the internet. Even for those with access to devices and to connectivity, there can be physical barriers. Elderly people can have difficulty using standard devices and mass market applications, as can many of the 1 billion people who live with disabilities. Devices that are designed for a population of young, fully able-bodied people may not be right for everybody.” (Sources: Cherie Blair Foundation for Women; ITU; UN; OECD: WHO; World Bank; UNICEF; Census; The Economic Times)

Haidan continued to shed light on safe technology for the children and youth and digital parenting and spoke about Vodafone’s AmanTECH programme: “When PCs were the only or main portal to the internet at home, it was easier for parents to monitor the time their children spent online, as well as what they looked at. Even so, only a third of households with internet access currently protect their children with filtering or blocking software. As the digital world becomes ever more portable, it is becoming harder for parents to know what their children are up to online. And while the mobile internet is empowering for children, satisfying their innate sense of curiosity and instinct to communicate, and giving them more digital independence, parents want to ensure their kids don't look at unsuitable material, share inappropriate information, or run up big bills. Nearly half of Qatari children aged 8-15 own a smartphone, and 72% of children aged 9-16 have a social network profile. The average Qatari 9-16 year-old spends a minimum of 3 hours per day on the net.”

Haidan also spoke about how Vodafone is working around the world to enable as many people as possible to share in the mobile internet revolution and shared case studies on mWomen and Al Johara; mobile payment though M-Pesa; Instant Network for disaster relief; and Technology for All to help accessibility. Dana Haidan has tackled similar issues earlier this year at the CSR Oman Summit 2014 which was held in September 2014 and which brought together peers from across the GCC to learn and network alongside key stakeholders to develop and advance CSR. 

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