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The mobile revolution in the emerging world saw a spike of SMS-based applications to “solve” development problems: lack of sanitation, access to financial services, education, and more. Yes, there are more cell phones than toilets, as the International Telecommunication Union, reports. But social enterprises are finding that SMS is not always the easiest way to communicate. Rather, the solution involves something even more basic, low-tech, and cheaper.
Anand Shrivastav, 57, is the founder of Beam, an SMS-based mobile money platform, that’s recently partnered with MasterCard to offer “debit cards” to India’s nearly 40 percent unbanked. Beam enables users to store “cash” on their cell phones to buy rail tickets, pay bills, and do remittances.
Anu Sridharan, 26, is the founder of NextDrop, an SMS-based water tool, that’s received funding from Knight Foundation to find a solution to India’s water woes.
Valvemen, such as the one pictured above in Hubli, South India, are responsible for orchestrating water distribution in the country.
They both have the same problem. “SMS is not the solution,” says Sridharan, as she bounces along the bumpy roads outside of Bangalore to Whitefield, where Hindustan Unilever’s offices are situated. Sridharan has been tinkering away at NextDrop for the past three years; she spent one full year doing household surveys in South India, trying to scale a pilot. Grassroots level work has shown her that SMS has its limitations.