Mobilize: MIT's NextLab Seeks to Help Developing Countries Through Mobile Tech

Jhonatan Rotberg For many people, it’d be difficult to find a relationship between farmers in Zacatecas, Mexico and mobile technology. But students at MIT’s NextLab found a way to help farmers there price their crops by connecting them with current market rates using mobile technology. NextLab Founder and Director Jhonatan Rotberg said at our Mobilize 09 conference today that he built the year-long program as a way to get students to think of innovative ways to use mobile tech solve pressing problems in the developing world. Students have subsequently come up with ways to use mobile phones to, among other things, report real-time earthquake information in rural areas in India and Vietnam and send patients’ medical information to doctors.

The NextLab program isn’t alone in the belief that mobile phones provide a way to help the developing world. In June, Google released three SMS-based mobile applications in Africa that allow people to access web information on their phones. So far, the NextLab program has launched 22 projects in 14 countries around the world, four of which projects have been spun off to become independent ventures. Students from Harvard, Tufts and Boston University have also participated in the program, and Rotberg is looking for partners here on the West Coast as well.

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