Mobile Revolutions in the Developing World

Do you remember the famous impostor, Karl Power, who once appeared in a Manchester United team photograph before a match at Bayern Munich? He couldn’t play football for his village, let alone Man U.

I thought of Mr Power during our team gathering this week at which colleagues reported back from various expeditions. Our co-founder, Peter Armstrong, produced a photograph of himself sharing a panel at Davos with the bosses of China Mobile, Vodafone and Alcatel-Lucent. Phew!

The debate was billed as “Mobile Revolutions in the Developing World”. I imagined the moderator linking up the speakers:

“thankyou Mr.Wang and congratulations on your latest sales figures of XXX trillion dollars. Now we’re going to hear from Peter Armstrong of OneWorld UK whose turnover last year increased to …. (sound of spluttering as the figure is too low for Davos Man to comprehend)

I hasten to add that my Karl Power analogy is very unfair to Peter. By all accounts he turned the tables on the mobile phone barons. Whilst they enthused about the future potential of the mobile revolution in developing countries, he reported that OneWorld projects have already achieved results. Our phone software applications deliver technical advice to poor farmers in India and confidential guidance on HIV/AIDS to school kids in Nigeria.

Three thousand miles away, almost to the day of this Davos session, in the very hot, very dusty and very poor Muslim state of Bauchi in northern Nigeria, another OneWorld UK manager found herself playing the impostor on a platform. Our Learning about Living project offers e-learning packages on HIV/AIDS for schools. The trainer from a partner organisation had visa problems at the last moment and failed to turn up for a “teach the teachers” workshop. Our project manager, Uju, had to stand in and improvise.

Believe me, it requires considerable corporate agility for one small organisation to bridge the divide between Davos and Bauchi, having something constructive to say to both. We often struggle with the philosophical ramifications but are the wiser for it.

I thought of this as I read reports of the gloom that descended on Davos as delegates failed in their search for the holy grail of economic recovery. Supposedly trained in “thinking outside the box”, business and political leaders are trying too hard to repair a system that deserves to be broken. Where is the will to engage with the unfamiliar, the brazen courage of the impostor?


this article was first published by OneWorld UK