Leapfrogging to New Technology
The term "leapfrogging" refers to the development concept where a developing country bypasses less efficient technology to take advantage of more advanced technology. An excellent example of this is the cell phone. Cell phone towers are being constructed all over the world, and buying a mobile phone has proven far more effective than ordering a landline phone to rural places.
In Africa, where Seacology recently expanded its reach to Pemba Island in Zanzibar, many people are buying cell phones. The Kenyan man at left is showing two forms of leapfrogging: a cell phone and a solar-powered charger.
Leapfrogging has been explored in numerous articles, demonstrating its importance to the developing world: In Business Week's "Upwardly Mobile in Africa," the special report discusses how cell phones have fueled business growth and allowed people to call for emergency services like medical help. Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University economist, calls the cell phone "the single most transformative technology for development." Abwao Oluoch's article on AllAfrica.com discusses the mobile phone industry in East Africa, and Jason Pontin's New York Times article "What Does Africa Need Most: Technology or Aid?" debates the benefits of humanitarian aid and new technology. Mr. Pontin's article discusses his visit to the Technology, Entertainment and Design Global 2007 conference in Tanzania, coming to the conclusion that Africa needs both aid and technology.
While I was in Uganda last year for my cousin's wedding, I was surprised to see that everyone had cell phones, given that it feels like not so long ago that I acquired mine. There seemed to be phone card refill booths on every corner in the capital of Kampala, and some of my cousin's friends had more than one phone so that they wouldn't lose air time if they exhausted their minutes. I also remember that no matter where we traveled, they all had great reception--a far cry from dropped calls here in the U.S.!
Another form of leapfrogging is bypassing electricity to use solar power, as Seacology's new Araway, Indonesia project demonstrates. The small village had no power source and no way to receive outside information, so they requested solar power to run a transistor radio and a light bulb in the village meeting place. (In return, the village has collaborated with eight adjacent communities to support a 123,553-acre marine protected area.)