It was in that context I was pleased to field a call from Amr Shady, CEO and co-founder TA Telecom which has a mobile application and SMS system called Megakheir, currently in use in Egypt but with aspirations to grow into other middle eastern territories.
The application, which takes its name from the Arabic word for ''mega goodness" is a suite that NGOs can use to promote and collect donations. This is considered important during Ramadan because it is a time of year when around 95 percent of all Muslim donations are made in the region.
As an indicator of success, in 2012, Megakheir raised around $250,000 but this exploded by 350% to $900,000 in 2013. "We are now in the second half of Ramadan 2014 and already I'd say we're close to having raised the same amount we did in 2013," said Shady. "We see that the last 10 days or so of Ramadan is when donations really pick up so we're hoping to have a very good outcome for 2014."
How does this work?
There are two styles of application: one works on SMS primarily for feature phones and the other is an Android application for smartphones. In Egypt, there are restrictions on the amounts that can be sent via SMS since the government does not want the phone to become a mobile payment device. Megakheir overcomes this by sending multiple messages.
Users can trust that donations will reach legitimate NGOs since they are all required to present TA Telecom with a government issued licence to accept donations in this manner.
I was curious to know the impact of smartphones in the region since the perceived wisdom is that most African states' populations will tend to use the much cheaper feature phone: "While it is true that many people will keep their feature phones for a very long time, vendors are coming to market with relatively inexpensive smartphones running on Android. We now see them at $100 and that means even taxi drivers and building porters can afford them."
That's good news for Megkheir and TA Telecom because they have found that smartphone donations are growing much more rapidly than those coming in via SMS. The company reckons that smartphone donations were three times those coming in via SMS. "We make it as easy as possible on SMS but it isn't as intuitive as using an Android app which only requires one click of a button,' says Shady.
It doesn't stop there. TA Telecom draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources and talked about work undertaken at MIT where cameras added to phones can be used for specific diagnostics. "This is something that could be really useful where we're trying to reach areas where there may be no doctors."
- Mobile first is a reality in many parts of the world. I often wonder how much those of us who are schooled in the ways of the desktop browser could learn from initiatives like this.
- The logical step of using a person's most trusted device ie the phone should mean solutions like Megakheir grow substantially in popularity.
- Regulation is never far away and it is interesting to see how companies like TA Telecom work around rules that seem archaic and arcane in this day and age.
- The Islamic tradition of charitable giving is not unique among religious believers but this is the first time I have seen modern technology meet the 'old' world in such a simple and meaningful way.
Featured image credit: Ramadan giving via Gulf News
- Is the world ready for enterprise mobility? (diginomica.com)
- How Carego International extends the reach of mobile medical care (diginomica.com)
- Top Apps for Phone to Help you in Ramadan (islamgreatreligion.wordpress.com)
- Ramadan Apps Sweep Muslim World (hispanicbusiness.com)