The Niche and the Pandemic

by | Apr 17, 2020 | ICT4D |

We often create something with a specific audience in mind. Whether it is a garden, a cake, a report, a proposal, a website, or an app. We tend not to create for everyone. This narrowing helps us focus. It also helps us make decisions that come up during the creative process. Sometimes we call this our niche or niche marketing.

The challenge is that this introduces a type of bias into our thinking and creative process. And this becomes apparent in public health emergencies when our audience is everyone.

Tech companies, big and small, are wanting to help respond to the pandemic. However, the vast majority of companies pushing their solutions make two killer assumptions. First, their solutions requires a smartphone. Second, their solutions require internet connectivity.

However, 74.61% of people in the top 10 developing countries don’t have a smartphone and according to the same report 14.28% of the current world population (1.1 billion) doesn’t have access to electricity – resulting in the fact they couldn’t even charge one if they owned it. Therefore, creating a smartphone based app might not be a great solution for a public health crisis.

Can it help? Of course it can, but everyone’s doing it. The space is crowded. We need solutions that work when the audience has a feature phone, a landline, or no device at all. That would be niche.

And just so that we are clear. This is not just a problem in the developing world. In my home country of Canada, over 25% of its population doesn’t have a smartphone, including my Dad. In my adopted home country of the UK, its over 17% of the population. And yes, this can be broken down into demographics and needs to account for people who have more than one smartphone, etc. However, the point still remains, that when we create public health solutions for one technology, we have dismissed lots of people.

Public Health is not and can not be just for the majority. It must be for all. And while pandemics like COVID19 affect us all, the impact is far greater on those already vulnerable in our communities. Building an app won’t save us, in fact our belief in it will magnify the vulnerability of those impacted by the pandemic the most.

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev


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