Smart phones shine brightest during the slow moments in life. People can whip them out to read the news in a waiting room or play a game during a cab ride. But Vijay Kiran wants iPhone owners to fill these idle times by making a difference in the world.
So Mr. Kiran created iKiva. The iPhone application taps into Kiva, a microlending service that connects people to entrepreneurs in developing countries. The software lists businesses that need a little extra funding, such as farms, craftsmen, and community markets. Kiva shares their stories and provides an easy way to lend money.
Now, passing the time can change lives.
"Being from India and from a not-well-off family, working on an app that helped people was an obvious choice for my first [iPhone] application," says Kiran in an e-mail.
While many programs for Apple and Android devices tout their "social" features, few push a true social mission. Here are some of the best phone apps – in our view – that turn users into change agents.
Kiva: Rather than ask each member to loan out hundreds or thousands of dollars, the microlending group pools small loans, as little as $25. Kiran's app helps potential lenders sift through the many projects.
Much like KivaDroid for Android and Kiva7 for Windows phones, iKiva was not designed by the actual organization. Kiva has opened up its database so that independent programmers can create new tools and spread the word. Kiran plans to release an iPad version this winter.
VolunteerMatch: Apple's App Store lists several programs that claim to find local charities where people can donate their time. VolunteerMatch stands as one of the few that's still up to date. Thankfully, it's also one of the best.
Its database collects everything from neighborhood events that need a few extra hands to job listings at nonprofit organizations.
Pay It Forward: This iPhone app suggests a new random act of kindness every day.
UNICEF: The official UNICEF app uses the iPhone's location sensor to list nearby restaurants that support Tap Project, a program that asks diners to pay $1 for tap water in order to donate that dollar toward projects focused on providing safe drinking water to children around the world.
While there's no Android equivalent to the Tap app, both types of phones offer Momotaro, an interactive children's book that raises money for UNICEF programs.
For more on how technology intersects daily life, follow Chris on Twitter @venturenaut.
[Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article that appeared in the July 30 issue of the Monitor weekly magazine.]