[INTERVIEW] Bright Simons, founder of mPedigree, best IT & digital innovation in Ghana.
This week Africa Business Communities speak to social entrepreneur Bright Simmons, founder of mPedigree, Ghana.
An Ashoka fellow and founder of innovative mPedigree, an initiative aimed at using technology to verify the safety of medicines. Bright and mPedigree have won an award from UNESCO for their innovative use of technology.
Please introduce your company
"I lead the mPedigree team working across a number of African countries to deploy the social and technology infrastructure that powers the mPedigree pharmaceutical quality assurance system."
What is your ICT story?
"For all my adult life I have been an activist. But there comes a time when one gets tired of protesting against the system and decides to work directly in reforming it from within. Half a decade ago I resolved to become a social entrepreneur. Lacking the resources and background in business that are often the constraints on many a young innovator's dreams, I decide to turn to the one tool that can level the playing field for upstart social innovators and veteran traditional entrepreneurs - ICT. In the case of Africa, my initial focus, ICT has the social qualities I mentioned above only in its mobile telephony form. So it was to mobile technology I turned. The final decision regarding what precise social issues to address with mobile telephony was influenced by the starting principle of causing large-scale transformation from within the system. The inclusiveness and connectivity power of mobile could obviously assist in sharing important information to all citizens regardless of background. If that information is designed to enable trust and empower citizens make critical choices, then I would have largely succeeded. The problem of pharmaceutical counterfeiting, when I first encountered, seems to me like one designed specifically to be defeated by the transformative, large-scale, trust-enabling system that mobile technology is best placed to create."
What in your view are the effective ways an ICT company can integrate technologies into communities to get the best impact?
"There are no hard and fast rules, but I guess recognising the fundamental principles that make ICT, and mobile technology in particular, revolutionary is a good start. Some of those principles are inclusion, connectivity, ubiquity, interconnectedness. If the solution the company has in mind do not necessarily benefit from these attributes of ICT, then, I suppose, there is no pressing case for the company to make the effort to engage the community in the first place."
Mobile companies are completely saturating Accra and other tourist locations, but it is reported that Ghana still has relatively low mobile penetration and even lower internet penetration, what are your thoughts on this disparity?
"Well, I have seen figures that suggest that penetration is 70% plus. I guess multiple SIM counting and other redundancies might imply a penetration closer to the figure you mention - perhaps about 50%. That
is actually still quite a phenomenal level of access. Consider what the case used to be with fixed line communications. In terms of the rural - urban divide, the answer is obvious: return on investment for
the telcos. It costs them roughly the same, and in some cases more, to put infrastructure in low-density and/or low-income rural backwaters as it does to put it in urban areas, and yet they make multiples of
what they would in a rural setting in an urban location. The way to bridge this gulf between social and economic imperative is innovation. If mobile network operators develop next-generation services that can
enhance the economic livelihood of rural populations, then it goes without saying that they may be able to recoup more of their investment from rural locations."
How do you think sustainability is achieved for your ICT project innovations?
"Quite simple really: by aligning the interests of our multiple stakeholders: telcos, pharma companies, government agencies, consumers and healthcare professionals. Everyone is thus motivated to play their
part in keeping the ecosystem vibrant."
ICT has radically changed the world. What are the kinds of developments you see ahead?
"Some say it is a "conflict" between "personalisation" and "socialisation". I think, instead, ICT offers us the tools and above all the imagination to reconcile these two competing forces in post-modern society."
For three times in a roll in 2009 you won awards, tell us about it...
"You mean to list the awards? Well: Nokia Calling All Innovators, Tech Museum Award and World Economic Forum's Tech Pioneer Award."
What are some of dangers you see as the Internet continues to develop?
"Some are worried about security, especially as the internet becomes more and more a "critical utility". I guess the root cause is whether a certain sense of "dependency" is emerging that can make even brief
outages of the internet massively costly. I suspect the key is to find ways of making the internet an enabler of "offline" activity and not some sort of counter-universe to non-digital reality."
What is the latest news?
"We have begun the effort to expand beyond Africa."
This article was originally posted on West Africa Business Communities