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Tech leaps in the Global South

Cell phones instead of landlines. Smart phones instead of computers.

“Never limit yourself because of others’ limited imagination.” This quote from Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Black woman astronaut in space, reminds me that we serve a God whose creativity and power reaches far beyond our imaginations. But I have often limited others, boxing them into my tiny vision of what was possible.

In 2005, barely out of college, I arrived in Taipei to begin a contract. A new colleague met me and a guest at the airport and as we drove home, I stared out the window, wide-eyed and jet-lagged, listening to my two companions discuss their latest cell phone models. I mentioned that I’d recently gotten my first one ever. My host laughed. “Oh, North America!” he teased. “Always so far behind.” Over the next few years, I started to understand what he meant as I travelled around Asia and was introduced to more technology not yet in use in the West, from motion-activated doors to chip credit cards to bullet trains.

In recent years, I was surprised to find out that many regions throughout the Global South had leapfrogged right over land lines and gone directly to mobile phones. Across Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America, many technological developments moved more quickly than they ever did in Canada. For example, the huge expenses involved in landline set-up were never necessary in countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania or Senegal. By 2014, these five countries’ landline usage averaged 2.6 percent, while their cell phone usage averaged nearly 80 percent (Pew Research) – roughly on par with Canadians’ at the time.

While some Canadians still regularly find ourselves in line to deposit a cheque or withdraw cash, mobile banking has been popular in other countries for nearly a decade. Drones are being used to transport medicine to remote regions in Africa and the South Pacific. Throughout the pandemic, children in Honduran communities who couldn’t access textbooks or computers kept up with school work on their parents’ smartphones.

Many households around the world can’t afford the cost of a laptop, but using a phone to conduct business is more feasible. Recognizing that shift in use of technology, this year, World Renew’s Gift Catalogue includes an app that farmers can use to predict the weather, compare markets and track their crops’ growth over time.

“All of us need to remember that the materially poor really are created in the image of God and have the ability to think and to understand the world around them,” writes Steve Corbett in When Helping Hurts. “[I]t is reflective of a god-complex to assume that we have all the knowledge and that we always know what is best.” Who knows what technology may emerge from the Global South and take us Canadians by storm in the future? Our God is a God of unlimited possibilities.

This page is made possible through a partnership with CRC Ministries within Canada.

Author

  • Naomi Bula

    Naomi Bula is the Program Coordinator at World Renew.

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