Internet must address poverty

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Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire founder and CEO of Facebook, has zoomed into the subject of internet connectivity as a tool to address poverty across the globe. By Ujuh Reporter


Using an Indian example in his latest blog, he touches on the subject of ehealth in a way that resonates with recently launched initiatives in South Africa and mainly to the project called MomConnect and a youth focused Mobi-Site.

“Connectivity isn’t an end in itself. It’s what people do with it that matters — like raising a healthy family,” says Zuckerberg.

He was speaking about improvements via the Internet.org to help improve access to basic services for poor communities. The actual improvements are located in the functioning of apps BabyCenter and MAMA (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action ) which reach millions of people in offering free basic services. More like MomConnect, the BabyCentre app amongst other things makes available timely expert advice to parents who may not have access to a doctor.

Launched by South Africa’s minister of health, Aaron Motsoaledi last year, MomConnect was set up to walk with 1 million pregnant women through the stages of pregnancy by issuing expert information. The initiative has received international praise.

South Africa followed the MomConnect initiative by launching the youth focused Mobi-Site last months (August 2015). The Mobi-site is aimed at providing health information and easy access to various experts to young people.

Zuckerberg made his point by telling the story of Asif Mujhawar, a soybean farmer from rural Maharashtra, India.

“He has two daughters, and says he makes better parenting decisions by accessing expert advice through the BabyCenter app for free through Internet.org.”

Zuckerberg says “Millions of people like Asif are using Internet.org (via BabyCentre and MAMA apps) to get vital health information. We want to bring services like BabyCenter to more people, and that means making Internet.org clearer, safer and easier to use.”

Internet.org is a social investment arm of Facebook established in 2013 with a mission to get 4.5 billion unconnected people on the internet.

So today, said Zuckerberg, we’re announcing significant improvements to Internet.org. We’ve listened to feedback from the community and made three big changes:

“First, we’ve opened up the Internet.org platform. Starting today, any developer can include their services in Internet.org. This gives people the power to choose what apps they want to use. Second, we’ve improved the security and privacy of Internet.org. We already encrypt information everywhere possible, and starting todayInternet.org also supports secure HTTPS web services as well.

“Third, we’ve changed the name of the app providing these free basic services to “Free Basics”. We want to make it clear that the apps you can use through Internet.org are free, basic services that can give you access to essential resources like BabyCenter.

He concluded that “We hope the improvements we’ve made today help even more people get connected — so that our whole global community can benefit together.”

That talk feeds into a growing consideration of the internet as tool that can lift people out of poverty. Across the African continent the connectivity is closing the financial services gap in a speed that was unimaginable a few years ago. This comes via mobile phone based banking services, allowing the movement of money in remote areas. The ehealth movement is seen as the next frontier in this development.

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