How Mobile Internet is Changing Lives in Sierra Leone
4th March 2014
You can rarely escape the hot sun in Sierra Leone, nor can you escape Africell or Airtel advertisements. Both of the leading mobile telcos advertise their products on any surface possible, from billboards to walls, to beach umbrellas, and of course, on football jerseys. While travelling through Freetown, you notice tiny mobile phone top-up and charging stations at almost every corner.
According to the Sierra Leone government, Internet penetration is at seven percent with mobile penetration at 40 percent. The country has leaped from the PC age directly to the mobile age.
The growth in mobile and Internet access is changing the way organizations are marketing in Sierra Leone and also leading to new development opportunities for the country’s severely impoverished population. Sierra Leone is Africa’s poorest country, despite having one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.
Mobile leading change
While in Sierra Leone, I led a digital marketing and web presence workshop with the YMCA of Sierra Leone (YSL). As part of the workshop, we talked about how YSL could build on a member-driven marketing campaign that Digital Giants had developed with the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka called MyY.ca. The campaign provided a platform for members and others to share the impact of the YMCA on their lives.
With the YSL we brainstormed how they could adopt this web-based campaign to the mobile platform with more of a focus on pictures, and using text messaging and WhatsApp to communicate directly with members.
One-to-one marketing using mobile
Mobile platforms, just like other social media platforms, have multiple applications and use for one-to-one marketing – from providing life-saving information to mothers to sanitation to entertainment. They can foster and enable powerful two-way conversations between organizations and their audiences.
A recent mobile marketing campaign by Africell demonstrates how mobile marketing can save the lives of more mothers and babies in Sierra Leone, through the mass dissemination of information on maternal health. As part of the campaign, Africell sent text messages to their top mobile users. The text messages served as reminders about proactively participating in celebrating World Blood Donor Day.
Connecting to a better economic future
Every street corner in Sierra Leone has someone selling something, the often familiar plastic bins on their heads carry watermelons, charcoal, flats of hard-boiled eggs, small bags of water, socks, small electric appliances and more. All for sale. It is absolutely fascinating to watch how they balance their inventory on their heads and walk miles looking for customers.
This is truly a nation of entrepreneurs, looking to improve their situation in life one sale at a time. Like entrepreneurs around the world, many of Sierra Leone’s citizens lack access to capital, resources, and training. Few have had the benefit of unrestricted and reliable Internet access for almost twenty years.
Many studies have identified fast, cheap and easily available Internet access, through mobile devices or wifi, as an important contributor to a nation’s economic development. The Internet holds great economic and educational benefits as well as reducing social inequality for developing African nations. Based on experiences in North America and Europe, we know that the roll-out of the telephone networks aided in the development of many countries. Being able to communicate is what makes nearly all other technological adaptations adoptable.
At Digital Giants we believe in the limitless opportunities of doing business online. I strongly believe that access to the Internet and the growth of mobile networks will help those living in Sierra Leone in so many ways and begin to foster even more of an entrepreneurial culture. I’m looking forward to seeing how the people of Sierra Leone continue to use mobile technology for marketing and improving their lives.