NetSquared Conference: Mobile Endeavors for Social Change

picture-61Tech conferences typically focus their programming on the search for the next big thing—and often rightfully so. Though yet to turn a profit, Twitter was first introduced at the SXSW Interactive conference in 2007 and has experienced exponential growth rates since—up 1,382 percent from Feb. 2008 to Feb. 2009, according to Nielsen Online.

And while the race to find the next Twitter is indeed exhilarating, it was refreshing to attended the NetSquared conference last week in San Jose, a gathering of techies who want to "remix the web for social change."  (You can, of course, review the conference Twitter feed.)

While the conference attendees are themselves on the forefront of digital frontier, the conference centered on the Mobile Challenge, which highlights and funds innovative projects that use the preexisting mobile infrastructure to find solutions to global issues (not unlike the Vodafone Americas Foundation project that we blogged about earlier.) Despite the fact that the mobile industry is still in its nascent stages, in many developing countries communication via mobile is ubiquitous while internet access is limited.

The picture-51contest is not only about spending two days sizing up the projects, or, if you're an entrant, pitching your ideas to compete for seed money—but about networking with other attendees to share ideas and pool resources. Most of the projects have already found success at the grassroots level and hope to win prize money to scale up the projects for application in other communities. It was up to us, the 330 attendees of the conference, to decide the winners—what they dub a "collective open grant making process." (Side note: We voted with wooden nickels. How cool is that?) Here's a snapshot of a handful of this year's 14 finalists:

*Both IPeace and HandHeld Human Rights enables mobile reporting of human rights violations, in DR Congo and Burma, respectively.

*IJCentral focuses on the role of justice in bringing peace to global conflict through the International Criminal Court.

*SeeClickFix allows citizens to report non-emergency issues, thus improving communities through small, incremental fixes.

*AMIS addresses the needs of the small-scale farmers of Cameroon (who make up 70% of the population) by using SMS to send current market prices for crops, weather forecasts and farming technique updates, among other things, aiming to eliminate the exploitation of the farmers.

*DatAgro won the Yahoo! Green Award and a FACT Social Justice Award. You can check out all of the projects here.

And the winners...

picture-7*First place ($25,000): FrontlineSMS:Medic: SMS for medical records and mobile lab diagnostics. (Check back later in the week for an Q&A with the Frontline SMS team.)

*Second place ($15,000): Extraordinaries: On demand crowd sourcing volunteerism via smart phones.

picture-81*Third place ($10,000): VozMob: Mobile Voices—Empowers low wage immigrant workers to take control of the reporting of their communities via SMS & MMS.

The momentum doesn't have to stop here. If you have resources and ideas that can help improve these initiatives, contact the teams directly through their websites or drop me a line. And quick shout out to Cisco, Microsoft, Yahoo! for being the major sponsors of the conference. Til next year!

Comments ()