Back to the old school: harnessing the power of SMS in emerging markets [Report]

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Palestinian startup Souktel has hacked normal mobile phone communication to once again put SMS front and centre of how people reach each other.

Back in 2006, the three co-founders locked onto the fact that mobile phones have a high penetration rate in the Middle East and Africa. Knowing that there's more than one way to use them to get important information from person A to person B, they developed a backed system that uses SMSs to transfer information most people think can only be accessed via the internet.

Jacob Korenblum, Mohamed Kilany and Lana Hijazi spoke to young people who couldn't access job websites because they didn't have a phone that could use broadband, and watched aid agencies struggle to keep in touch with staff working in isolated areas, clients and very people they were trying to help. 

An Aramex report, published in collaboration with the American University in Cairo and Wamda, investigates how Souktel created three mobile services to help young people find job information (JobMatch), link aid agencies with people in crisis (AidLink), and act as a social network (PeerNet) - all via SMS.

Souktel’s focus is solely on emerging markets, mainly in the Middle East and Africa. This initially raised doubts with every investor they met about the viability of the idea. That skepticism quickly faded when it became clear just how valuable non-broadband-based mobile information services could be in regions where many have phones but fewer have internet access.

Since this report was written, Souktel has received a $1 million investment from Palestinian venture fund Sadara Ventures. It plans to use to grow its team and expand its services in the Middle East, East Africa, and other regions. The founders also want to offer extra services such as education programs or health and social services.

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