Mobile telephony has had a huge positive impact in the 13 years since its introduction to Sudan, Africa's largest country. Sudan's student population is one group that has benefitted, being able to stay in touch with family and friends when away from home. One student, Hiba, went further and turned her mobile phone into an innovative business.
Like most students the world over, Hiba depended on financial support from her parents when she began her studies at Khartoum University, and like most students, she soon needed more money to "fill the gap."
Hiba quickly realized that the mobile in her pocket – the same mobile that she bought to stay in touch with her parents in the first place – could help her.
She began selling mobile credits to fellow students, which in turn allowed them to stay in touch with their families and friends.
"I would buy credit for 100 Sudan Pounds (about USD 45) and distribute it to my friends for 110 Sudan Pounds (about USD 49.5)," she says.
In other words, Hiba's friends were able to buy the amount of credit they needed and, because she was able to divide the credit into so many portions, she was able to make a profit.
Her business model proved so successful among her friends they spread the word and other students began buying into the service.
Hiba's case is just one example of how the mobile phone has made a difference in Sudan.
The story of the mobile phone in the country is also the subject of a new report compiled by African operator Zain and Ericsson, called Socio-Economic Impact of Mobile Phones in Sudan.
Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, writes in the forward of the report that mobile telephony has had a "remarkable" impact on economic development in the country.
"Mobile telephony has quickly assumed a central place in Sudan’s economy: in direct employment in the telecoms sector itself; in providing market information and logistical support in the dominant agriculture sector; and in enabling families to stay in contact in the course of conflicts, migration, and large population displacements.
"Mobile penetration has extended beyond the Khartoum region to include South Sudan and even conflict-ridden Darfur. The use of mobile phones in refugee camps to support health, education, and family reunification is also being tested. The report underscores the central fact that mobile telephony offers a remarkable, indeed, unique, tool for economic development and can even reach the poorest of the poor through creative approaches by the providers and users."
Zain and Ericsson report on economic impact of mobile communications in Sudan (pdf)
More information about the Sudan report on the Zain website
Jeffrey Sachs on fighting poverty with connectivity
Zain report on effects and meaning of the mobile phone in a (post) war economy in Karima, Khartoum and Juba, Sudan (pdf)