5 Initiatives Using Cell Phones for Good [LIST]

The world’s most popular digital device is helping people to live safer, healthier and better-connected lives.

Dec 29, 2014

Rainforest Connection uses cell phones to monitor illegal logging in rainforests. [Image from Rainforest Connection Facebook]

Remember when having a cell phone was a status symbol? You might even recall seeing people walking around holding a large telephone powered by a battery pack slung over their shoulder. Need a visual? Think back to Saved By the Bell’s main character Zach Morris and his Brick phone that was popular in the early 1990s. In fact, the first handheld cell phone was created even earlier, back in 1984, selling for almost $4,000.
In the past 30 years cell phones have rapidly evolved and it is rare to meet someone who doesn’t have one. In fact, six billion of the world’s seven billion people have a mobile phone - making for the unbelievable statistic of more people having access to cell phones than toilets.
These five initiatives are using the world’s most popular digital device to help people to live safer, healthier and better connected lives.

1. CELL PHONES THAT ARE SAVING LIVES

WHO: Medic Mobile
HOW: The nonprofit builds mobile and web tools to aid underserved and far-flung communities that have limited access to health care. Medic Mobile builds mobile applications for community health workers, caregivers, and patients to increase life-saving health care coverage. An offshoot of Medic Mobile is Hope Phones, a campaign that collects donated phones which are recycled or refurbished, with the cash value being driven towards funding Medic Mobile’s activities.

Community health workers in Nepal learning about how they can treat their patients more effectively by using a cell phone.

Community health workers in Nepal learning about how they can treat their patients more effectively by using a cell phone. [Image from Medic Mobile Facebook]

2. THE BUY-ONE-DONATE-ONE CELL PHONE PLAN

WHO: BetterWorld Wireless
HOW: Launched in the spring of 2014, BetterWorld Wireless in collaboration with Sprint is intent on using their services for good. Taking a nod from TOMS footwear, for every mobile device purchased, BetterWorld Wireless donates a cell phone to one of its nonprofit partners which include Black Girls Code and Worldreader. The company also offers customers flexible usage plans, allowing folks to pay just for the minutes, messages and megabytes they use – saving users around 20 percent.

In partnership with Worldreader, Kenyan students received Kindle e-readers to give them access to digital books.

In partnership with Worldreader, Kenyan students received Kindle e-readers to give them access to digital books. [Screenshot]

3. CELL PHONES THAT SAVE TREES

WHO: Rainforest Connection
HOW: Rainforest Connection uses recycled cell phones to monitor and detect illegal logging in the world’s rainforests. If there is so much as a hum of a chainsaw, the solar-powered listening mobile devices will alert local authorities in real-time as to where the illegal logging is taking place. BetterWorld Wireless has teamed up with Rainforest Connection by donating smartphones to be used as rainforest guardians – protecting the animals, trees and precious resources of the rainforest.  

Rainforest Connection is saving trees in real-time with their use of cell phones

Rainforest Connection is saving trees in real-time with their use of cell phones. [Image from Rainforest Connection Facebook]

4. CELL PHONE NETWORKS THAT ARE MADE ACCESSIBLE TO ALL

WHO: Village Telco
HOW: While most of the world’s population possesses a cell phone, access to affordable communications can be difficult. The Village Telco initiative builds a low-cost community telephone network hardware, which can be set up anywhere in the world within minutes. Cell phone towers or land lines aren’t required to get a signal, granting crystal clear communication for people in remote areas.

Village Telco is giving folks in remote areas telephone network hardware

Village Telco is giving folks in remote areas telephone network hardware. [Image from Village Telco Facebook]

5. CELL PHONES THAT ELIMINATE E-WASTE

WHO: Phonebloks
HOW: One video with a revolutionary idea sparked a massive response – creating a cell phone that is built to last forever. The concept behind Phonebloks is a customized cell phone made up of easily detachable blocks, allowing the user to build their own phone depending on individual needs. Parts would be supplied from a wide range for brands, giving the buyer the choice to construct the cell phone of their dreams. The idea for the sustainable cell phone garnered a lot of interest and companies are heeding the call to start producing; Phonebloks hopes that this will be the start of creating more electronics out of blocks - leading to less electronic waste and improved user experience.

Screenshot of Phonebloks

A mock-up for a sustainable phone that will last forever. [Image from Phonebloks Facebook]

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