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The real power of smartphones

In Luc Besson's latest film—Lucy—Scarlett Johanssen plays a woman who finds herself able to use 100% of her brain's thinking power. The film's premise is based on the oft-repeated slogan that we only use 10-15% of our brain's potential. If we could somehow "unlock" that unused potential, we'd be covering blackboards with chalky text explaining the origins of the universe.

Sometimes I think the power of massed smartphones is parked in the 10-15% range. Most of own a device packed with more number-crunching power than the entire US space program had in the 1960s. Yet some use them mostly to take selfies, gossip about friends and/or strangers, or crush candy-colored icons.

That's all fine, but many are determined to unlock unused communication potential within global mobile networks. Qualcomm, which (among other things) makes the snappily named Snapdragon processors, has an initiative called Wireless Reach aimed at doing just that.

"We work in both developed and developing countries," says Shawn Covell, VP of government affairs and Wireless Reach initiatives, Qualcomm. "We try to align with a country's policy objectives and ensure sustainability of projects."

Crucial alignment

Covell's comment illuminates the evolution of CSR (corporate social responsibility) efforts over the years. Aligning with a country's policy objectives means a partnership that respects the country's community standards, religious stance, etc. Sustainability means that the CSR project provides incentives in terms of time and financial savings – motivating public-sector decision-makers to implement and maintain the project.

Covell highlights a project in Morocco called: "Mobile Ultrasound Patrol: early detection of at-risk pregnancies through the use of 3G technology." Three villages in the north African country used 3G to send data physicians providing diagnoses in city centers in Morocco and France.

The results? According to Qualcomm, the use of advanced wireless technology led to:
• Shortened diagnostic review or second opinion time from two weeks to fewer than 24 hours
• Reduced cost of a medical diagnosis from $80 to $2 per patient
• Shortened transportation time of the medical data for review from four days to two seconds.

Improvements on this scale make Moore's Law look conservative.

3G app to improve women's health in China

Covell also mentions the "Mobilizing HERhealth program" which uses an HTML5-based app for 3G phones to help women factory workers in China to better manage and improve their health. The app "provides peer health educators participating in BSR’s HERhealth program – and the women they interact with – access to reproductive health training and other interactive health-related content," said Qualcomm in a statement.

"This project is based on BSR’s HERhealth initiative, which provides women working in global supply chains with comprehensive training in a range of wellness topics including reproductive health and nutrition," said Qualcomm. Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) developed the HERhealth program, including the training model, curriculum and educational materials, and leads the Mobilizing HERhealth project’s implementation in China.

Covell says that the program's business stats help drive adoption. "The potential ROI for existing HERhealth programs can be US$4 for every $1 invested in the project," she says, "and participating factories have seen health-related absenteeism reduced." More Usain Bolt-level metrics to help convince CFOs that CSR makes sense.

Development for developing countries
Wireless Reach initiatives reach further into the developing world with TaroWorks, described by Qualcomm as a "suite of mobile-enabled data management solutions tailored to the needs of social enterprises working exclusively with the poor in rural and remote areas."

In Indonesia, "Wireless Reach and Grameen Foundation incubated a social enterprise called Ruma to ensure long-term support for their Mobile Microfranchising and Application Laboratory projects," said Qualcomm. "An important lesson learned from those projects led to the development of TaroWorks, which allows a social enterprise to support thousands of people in various regions."

TaroWorks is built on the Salesforce platform and field access is provided via Android devices. In the Philippines, the Hapinoy micro-enterprise development program provides access to products, financing and training to sari-sari shops: small home-based shops that provide basic commodities to poor communities in the Philippines. It uses TaroWorks to manage operations across its network of shops and to gain insights about the types of products the communities need, said Qualcomm.

"There's no reason why CSR can't be an integral part of business operations given these metrics," says Covell. She has a powerful—and too-often overlooked—point. As we unlock more of the potential inherent in massed mobile phone adoption, we gain the power to make incremental improvements in the social sphere which also create financial improvements in the business picture.

I call that a win-win.