The World Bank reports that between 2007 and 2012, Africa exceeded the number of cell phone subscribers found in the European Union and in the United States.  Africa has 650 million cell phone subscribers. [1]  At the same time, Africa has profound infrastructure gaps that the World Bank identifies as gaps able to be closed by "human capital." [2] Ritva Reinikka (World Bank Director for Human Development in Africa) suggests school / vocation / university buildings led by teachers and attended by students are a way to build human capital. [2]

By choice, force, chance or some combination, Africa has not invested in traditional schools and has invested in cell phones. Philanthropy to Africa might be more successful if it occurs over the telephone instead of (or in addition to) in traditional school buildings.  Education, training and health advice are not optimally delivered exclusively by telephone. But they may be more successful than traditional schools housed in buildings where teachers are typically absent and students attend only two hours a day, where only one-quarter of teachers know how to divide one fraction by another, and where roads to arrive at a school building are often lacking. [2]

In October 2012 Entertainment Weekly included a free working Android smart phone in one thousand copies of their magazine. [3] In December 2012 a single dumb cell phones can be had for less than US$30 and a single smart phone can be had for less than US$100. [4]  Bulk purchases are likely to make cell phones cost less. Nokia offers lessons in mathematics via cell phone. [5]  Google offers many of their services via sms. [6] 

Philanthropic building of roads and school buildings should not end.  But here is a case of a very mobile mountain able to meet Mohammed, by way of increased taking advantage of Africa's own commitment to cell phones.

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[1] "ICTs Delivering Home-Grown Development Solutions in Africa." The World Bank, 10 Dec. 2012. Web. 22 Dec. 2012.

[2] Reinikka, Ritva. "Why Should Africa Invest in People Now?" The World Bank. ND. Web. 22 Dec. 2012.

[3] Trel, Michael. "Magazine Crams in Working Android Cellphone for Video Ad." DVICE. N.p., 3 Oct. 2012. Web. 22 Dec. 2012.

[4] In the interest of avoiding commercial endorsements, no citation offered - check for yourself.

[5] "Nokia Mobile Mathematics." Nokia. ND. Web. 22 Dec. 2012.

[6] "Google SMS Applications." Google. ND. Web. 22 Dec. 2012.

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Since I'm having some serious productivity issues lately I'm using this comment to make an advanced commitment.

Before December 25th I'll send two mails. One to my family in Niger asking if they are interested in setting up/endorsing such a program and a second to the World Bank inquiring if they would be interested in contacting some local people to set up an education by cell phone thingy. If I haven't replied to this message by 25/12 feel free to downvote it into oblivion.



I ended up sending four mails: one to my uncle, one to Poverty Reduction and Economic Management in Africa, another to Sustainable Development in Africa and finally to Human Development in Africa

Hmm, doesn't positive motivation (upvotes for success rather than downvotes for failure) work better?


Probably, but asking for upvotes is classified as "not acceptable LW behaviour" in my brain. Should I take from your comment that it is acceptable in a case like this?

It'd be acceptable to me, certainly, especially in the rationality diary or "what are you working on" thread, since (as far as I know), those have reinforcement of effective behaviors as a clear objective.

I wouldn't waste time worrying about whether it's acceptable or not. Would probably throw something out there like "Yo, this isn't normal practice, but it should work better, so halp!", and then see if there's a resulting movement to pitch you overboard. If not, all's well and good. :P

I'm not sure that he gets more upvotes if he asks for upvotes. Saying "please downvote" when I fail to do something might increase the chance that other people upvote him when he successfully does it.

I think people are just as likely to upvote his comments on the basis of "this is a good idea, I approve" (which I did,) as compared to if they are explicitly asked for upvotes, possibly more so since as Axel says explicitly asking does tend to be disapproved of.

This is why Wikipedia is spending a chunk of your donations on making stuff mobile-ready - Wikipedia Zero, editing and upload for people with cheap phones who will never have a desktop, people in Africa already crying out for free Wikipedia access because the phone is the only library they have reasonable access to.