Mobile app helps economic development

Workers in Uganda (Arne Hoel / World Bank)

Workers in Uganda (Arne Hoel / World Bank)

Despite trillions in foreign aid and philanthropy, economic development remains a complex problem that requires innovative thinking in order to make a difference.

Entrepreneurs Lena Simet and Thomas Disley are bringing forth just the kind of innovation that is needed with their new mobile app, M-App, that helps monitor road-construction programs in developing countries.
Both students of The New School (a New York-based university), Simet and Disley worked in the International Field Program. After working on a project in Argentina, they recognized the need for improving monitoring in sub-Saharan Africa road-construction projects.
Because these construction projects have a lot of moving parts, communication and payment systems often break down and the roads suffer as a result. M-App aims to solve that problem, streamlining oversight of projects and reducing fraud, corruption, and wasted time. In real-time, project managers can keep up with deadlines and payment notifications in order to ensure accuracy.
The next important step for M-App will be a 14-day pilot program in Uganda. “The purpose of the pilot is to proof the success of the app by evaluating benefits, feasibility, time, cost, and adverse events of the application, as well as tracking the user experience,” Simet told Opportunity Lives. “The ultimate goal is to improve end product design and validate the concept.”
Since only 20 percent of roads in Uganda are paved and there are various projects already going on in the country, it’s a great location to test out M-App. If the pilot goes well, the team hopes to expand to other cities in Uganda, other countries in Africa, and even Latin America. “The project also has applicability across infrastructure areas, it is not limited to road construction,” said Simet. If M-App proves to reduce labor time and increase transparency, the model could soon be expanded to other types of projects.
One of the biggest challenges was learning the terminology of these road-construction projects and designing an app that was simple enough to use. “New technology is often ditched if it can’t be tweaked to ever changing work requirements,” said Disley. “Simplicity and adaptability were key components in our design phase and it took some adjusting to find tools that let us do this.”
But fortunately, after much hard work, M-App could soon prove to be a great success in the developing world. The key? Simet and Disley weren’t afraid to jump in and try something new. “Don’t be intimidated by not having the expertise to build your product at the beginning of the project,” Disley said. “It is best to get to work, no matter how bad you feel your first attempt is, and learn by doing.”
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