Mobile for Social Impact Series: Mobile and the Connected Service Provider

Mobile for Social Impact Series: Mobile and the Connected Service Provider

Mobile Impact Blog Series part II

This post is the second in a series about the use of mobile in the social sector (read first post here). This series, as well as a forthcoming collection of three digital guides on this topic, are made possible through the generous support of the Vodafone Foundation.

Share your thoughts on how mobile technology is used for social impact with the hashtag #MobileImpact.

Using a variety of lenses in a number of other posts on the ZeroDivide blog, we have explored the transformative nature of technology with underserved communities and vulnerable populations.

In all our priority work areas, we see the emergence of mobile technologies as providing unique opportunities and distinct challenges for underserved communities and the staff of institutions and organizations that serve these individuals and families.

On one hand, there have been unprecedented numbers of people in traditionally underserved communities adopting mobile devices (smartphones and tablets), and these devices often serve as their primary means to connect to information and services on the Internet.

The Pew Research Center has been tracking the “cell-mostly Internet user” phenomenon since 2011, and over that time, consistently high rates of people in several demographic groups—young adults, non-whites, less affluent people and people with less education—have said they go online mostly using their cell phone.

This fact remained true in 2013, as these data indicate:

Among those who use their phone to go online, six in ten Hispanics and 43% of African-Americans are cell-mostly Internet users, compared to 27% of whites.



Young adults 
Half of cell Internet users ages 18-29 mostly use their cell phone to go online.

The less-educated 
Some 45% of cell Internet users with a high school diploma or less mostly use their phone to go online, compared with 21% of those with a college degree. 

The less-affluent 
Similarly, 45% of cell Internet users living in households with an annual income of less than $30,000 mostly use their phone to go online, compared with 27% of those living in households with an annual income of $75,000 or more.





Citation: Pew Research Center, Internet Project


Additionally, the development of pioneering clinical apps to increase patient-provider communication and medication adherence; mobile community-based wellness efforts; municipal information-gathering and dissemination services; and other civic organizing and mobilization efforts are providing critical lessons about the engagement and benefit of mobile technologies in underserved communities.

On the other hand, there remain limitations as to what people can do on their mobile devices. For example, one may be able to conduct a job search through a smartphone, but updating a rèsumè or submitting an application may prove challenging or nearly impossible without access to a desktop computer or laptop. This will undoubtedly change over time as devices, cloud-based services and unified communications platforms continue to evolve, but these current limitations can be significant hurdles for underserved populations.

With this dichotomy in impact that mobile presents for underserved communities, we provide some guidance for how service providers can take advantage of the benefits and mitigate the challenges.

How might community-based organizations prepare for, respond to and leverage the ubiquity of mobile devices in their communities and among their constituents?

Since 2001, ZeroDivide has funded, advised and facilitated technology capacity-building efforts with nearly 1,000 community-based nonprofits and service providers.

Our particular approach to technology adoption and integration centers on how technology can be leveraged in line with the mission, vision and leadership of an organization to achieve greater social impact for communities. Not tech for tech’s sake, but tech for mission’s sake.

Increasing access to mobile devices and platforms among constituents affords a distinct opportunity for many service providers to expand their services and impact. Some of this work will be achieved through the use of mobile with time-tested methods familiar to community-based organizations—strategic planning, public/private partnership development and fundraising.

Other service and impact achievements will come through new understanding and development of competencies, methods and processes particular to digital and mobile services, including app coding, prototyping and market analytics.

As with other digital media and platforms, “Content is king,” and so the ability to focus on relevant information and its culturally competent delivery for constituents will be critical for success.

While strategy, partners, clear objectives and funding are critical elements in assessing organizational readiness to take on a tech capacity project, our learnings also suggest that the greatest gains oftentimes come down to a small group or even a single staff member’s willingness to “champion” the effort and take on some risk.

Tech Champions represent a  particular kind of leadership, and they can appear anywhere in an organization: on the board, at the senior staff level and as frontline staff.

It can also be the case that the impetus for adoption and integration, as well as Tech Champions themselves, emerge from the needs, aspirations and digital savviness of an organization’s constituents.

Who me? A Tech Champion? For mobile? How do I know if I’m ready?

1. You already integrate some mobile digital skills.

You shop online, update your social media accounts and check your bank account balance on a mobile phone. You have experienced firsthand cost and time savings through your use of mobile tools. In certain cases, you have experienced “tech joy!” as the use of a tool has connected you to new info and resources.

2. You’re open to some experimentation.

You’re not necessarily a techie-by-training or a tech savvy hacker, but with a little persistence, you’ve been able to find digital and mobile app tools, work them into your personal and professional workflows, keep them when they’re the right ones and delete them when they prove to be a headache. It has become a little easier each time you do it.

3. You have some “digital zen” going on.

Digital technology doesn’t solve everything. You know when to schedule in some face-to-face meeting time and when to to send out a text message. You have been  able to balance a “right-sized approach” versus “one-size-fits-all” approach to your tech adoption.

4. You get the strategy and the vision of the future that your organization is aiming to achieve.

You understand that mobile technology is only the latest arena to affect social impact and that all the other fronts of your work will continue to progress alongside your use of mobile media. You are ready to think through the sequence of mixing tools, messaging and actions to develop the combination that will get you closer to achieving your organization’s aims, faster.

Digital skills are transferable, and these four individual competencies are directly linked to higher-level organizational core competencies that allow for the leveraging of mobile tech for social impact.

SMS strategy, mobile campaigns, community technology, mobile impact