Apps 4 Africa contest uses technology to solve social, economic problems

Friday - 10/29/2010, 5:42pm EDT

Josh Goldstein, Co-coordinator, Apps 4 Africa Competition

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The Apps 4 Africa competition taps into the widespread use of mobile devices in Africa to try to solve social and economic problems.

In Africa, mobile telephone use "is approaching ubiquity," said Apps 4 Africa co-coordinator Joshua Goldstein in an interview with the DorobekINSIDER.

In East Africa alone there are 50 million mobile device subscribers, according to the Apps 4 Africa website.

"You can imagine how valuable it is to have a phone if you're trying to get market prices from a place that's four hours away on a not-so sturdy road," Goldstein said.

The competition challenged African programmers and developers to create a web-based or mobile-based app that solved a problem in their community. The contest was open to East African countries, including Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.

"The idea is that people from communities in the developing world can best address and solve their own problems," Goldstein said.

The contest received financial support from the Department of State. According to State's website for Apps 4 Africa, the contest harnesses the "regional creative and innovative spirit."

The contest winners were from Kenya with an application called iCow that allows farmers to track their cattle's gestation and feeding periods.

One of the benefits of the contest was opening a dialogue between the app developers and people from rural, poorer regions. The apps, therefore, had to be available on basic phones.

"We recognized that the value was not necessarily in having a flashy application but in having a tool that could be utilized," Goldstein said.