News & Views

Opinion / Tech Development

by Contagious Contributor

Brands can make a tangible impact in developing countries, argues Miguel Alvarez, head of R&D at AnalogFolk London. Here’s how. 

No internet access? No electricity? No innovation? Not so if brands see daily challenges in developing countries as an opportunity. If companies can find ways to facilitate access to bleeding-edge technology in such communities, the impact could be huge.

Technology is already acting as an enabler for good in developing countries, and it’s not necessarily the newest tech that’s making the difference. Initiatives include using SMS to give women advice during pregnancy across Africa and Latin America, and to remind patients about their retroviral therapy appointments in Mozambique, while mobile phones are having a positive impact on improving literacy in several countries. Even more inspiring are projects that create jobs as well as having a social benefit, such as fitting solar power cells on children’s backpacks in South Africa to generate energy, which means they can study by electric light rather than candlelight in the evening.

Despite these positive examples of technology making a difference, however, there’s still a lot that can be done. This opens the door for brands in developed countries to support initiatives that have a good social impact. For instance, Stella Artois’ Buy a Lady a Drink campaign, with its famous 360 video that supported the overall initiative, has helped to provide more than 800,000 people in the developing world with access to clean water for five years through the sale of more than 225,000 limited-edition chalices and by directly donating more than $3 million. The campaign, which was widely talked about, had a positive impact on the company, boosting brand-awareness.

Some of the examples in developing countries show positive impact through well-thought-out, systematic SMS, but we’re still miles away from the constant connectivity required to anchor more advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence and the high power-consumption of virtual reality. This creates an opportunity to think about new techniques to enable artificial intelligence to run directly on phones while consuming low levels of energy, low energy-consumption VR and much more.

AI on a low-cost phone could lead to personalised education in communities with difficult or no access to schools. This could translate to kids taking photos of their surroundings and, through trained AI, getting back information about what’s in each picture, the history behind it, the composition, and so on.

If we could have agencies coming up with ideas while brands support research to get bleeding-edge technologies into developing countries, the impact would be exponential. This could level the world in terms of knowledge and advance the concept, put forward by Thomas Friedman in 2005 in his book about globalisation, of making the world ‘flat’.