Saturday, May 31, 2008

To Innovate or Not To Innovate

What are the ramifications about introducing cutting-edge innovation technology & media into low-income communities?

There are 3.3 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide. There are 1.3 billion fixed landline phones. There are 1.5 billion TV sets. There are more cell phone subscriptions than landlines and TV sets put together. (Communities Dominate Brands, January 16th, 2008)

It makes perfect sense for many people that low-income folks might not be able to afford a PC, but with the above statistics we pretty much know they have a mobile phone. We will able to reach more people through a phone than a computer for the foreseeable future.

But there are an increasing number of more exotic opportunities for mobile functionality, so what should public purpose media folks think about that? Recently, someone remarked that she believes that most people in her low-income community do not have “smart phones” that could utilize the tools we were considering. She urged us to stick "with the old stuff."

The average replacement cycle for a PC is 3.5 years. The replacement cycle for mobile phones is 18 months. (Semiconductor Industry Association, May 2006)

How Fast to Innovate?
It made me wonder what should be our pace to introduce cutting edge, market innovations into the low-income marketplace? I think we would be missing huge opportunity, as well as an important stand, if we did not take leading edge innovations and apply them to the problems of poverty, even if our users were not fully there with the technology. There are five reasons:

If we don’t innovate we die. We have to continue to look for ways to not anticipate, but integrate all that is new in the media world to exploit all opportunities to improve the quality and efficacy of our content delivery.

Our Target Market lives in a saturated media world. And that means that, like us Dear Readers, they have as much opportunity to be overwhelmed by media, which in turn makes them savvy media customers. In this respect the market is training them (even urging) to be ready for innovation.

The Technology Cycle is faster than we care to believe in low-income communities. There is a persistent myth from the beginning that low-income people don’t use, know how to use or appreciate technology. I simply reject this, but if we believe that there is more opportunity for mobile adoption in low-income communities and that cell phones are being replaced every 18 months, then all we have to wait is two or three quarters and half our audience has the latest technology available.

We are not Inventors, but Integrators. With few exceptions public purpose media's strength is not original innovation, but taking market-based technologies or functionality and turning it into a tool for users to improve their lives. If we don’t continue to integrate innovation the market will leave us in the dust and we will lose future opportunities to not only pursue our missions, but also be sustainable.

OK, Last Point: If we don’t do it, who will?

We have to continue to innovate in bringing new media to solve the problems of poverty and improve peoples’ lives. We will continue to have doubters about technology and low-income communities. The doubters, in the name of "representing" the community are doing a disservice to the people they are, in their own way, trying to serve. One of the most positive things about my experience so far is my, perhaps na├»ve, belief in people and their own ability to make decisions about their own lives. And one way to honor that belief is to continue to push the envelope in bringing high and low technology to the most impoverished communities on the planet.

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