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By Olivia Nava

I was at the Rio+20 conference in Rio de Janeiro last week immersing myself in what the world’s nations were collectively trying to do to address climate change and further create mechanism for sustainable development (SD). I found the official sessions to be a bit of a remnant of an archaic way of conducting negotiations. The leaders and influencers of the world poetically talk about what they are doing successfully and how great it is, often behind closed doors. I was hard-pressed to find someone to say what is NOT working, or what they learned from their failures in trying to implement SD programs and how they are committed to forging forward regardless, because it is what needs to happen. We are reaching a point of no return on saving our planet from permanent damage (for human survivability), yet the outcome was to agree to talk more … in the near future.

However, the best thing about this conference was meeting the “regular” people it attracts, many people who want to DO something, in big and small ways. Do something to help this planet and the diversity of people that exist on it. This was encouraging. It was cool to turn to the person sitting next to you and be consistently awed by what they are doing.

I attended the Rio+Social event on June 19, the sexiest of side events if anything is “sexy” about a UN conference about SD. It was a bit of corporations trying to make SD cool while at the same time being corporations. Big time money brought the celebrity types out and I did find the panels to be interesting despite their inability to find more women to populate these opportunities. Specifically, I found the session about mobile technology in the Global South to be pertinent to what we’re trying to do at juabar.

This is where Mashable CEO, Pete Cashmore, posed the question, “Where on the hierarchy of needs is connectivity?”

Right now this is an important question because the answer is not universally consistent. How connectivity integrates into people’s lives and provides them with security versus status remains an ongoing question in the context of promoting mobile products in Africa.

I thought about the hierarchy of needs for connectivity and remembered how 10 years ago many people I knew justified their first cell phone purchase by citing security. As if it were some luxury that they should feel regretful for having. It was for that moment when by themselves, late at night, on an abandoned road … their car breaks and they’re miles from anywhere.

The context for off-grid communities in the Global South is one where mobile technology IS connectivity and will have a role in most faucets of people’s lives. I heard many examples at Rio+20 of people using mobile technology for government accountability, healthcare, communications, banking, economic development and a number of other purposes.

In the way that folks in the bay area think about laptops, tablets or even more crucial – their smartphones, how could we live with out these? Mobile platforms for connectivity will fall low on the hierarchy of needs for most people around the globe in the near future, more pressingly in places like East Africa.

At juabar, this is what interests us in providing energy for mobile phones in East Africa, because with 90% of the country with access to connectivity and only 10% of the population with access to grid energy — mobile energy is the beginning of what could be a very big need over the next 5 years.