Mobile Tech and the Potential for Social Impact

Insights from our 2014 survey of low-income New Yorkers

Mobile Design For Social Impact Infographic

A bit of background

At Significance Labs, people often ask us why we think building technology for low-income communities is a good opportunity. They ask about access to smartphones and computers and whether low-income users are technologically literate enough to use the products our teams produce. Some press us on the assumptions we make around behaviors, like whether low-income users will be comfortable inputting personal information into online platforms.

From our experience working with low-income communities, we knew the answers to these questions. In focus groups and home visits, we saw that many family members had smartphones and that they used apps. We heard that they relied on Facebook to communicate with family abroad and texts to keep track of family at home. But we needed a deeper look at phone use.

This survey is an effort to answer these questions more rigorously, and we hope these findings will be useful for other groups thinking about how best to reach out to, deliver services to and support low-income communities.

About the Survey

This survey was a project of Significance Labs, a program of Blue Ridge foundation and the predecessor to the Blue Ridge Labs at Robin Hood. Additional support for this survey came from a generous grant from the Redlich Horwitz Foundation. We at the Blue Ridge Labs want to ensure that this work is available to the community and will continue to host the report as an extension of our work at Significance Labs.


  • Survey conducted July 2014 through October 2014
  • 2,030 responses collected in-person by ten research assistants
  • Survey administered across the five boroughs of New York City, primarily in public locations like parks, train stops, churches, etc.
  • Caveats: Responses only collected from phone owners (~80-90% of low-income Americans), entirely urban, and slightly skewed towards 18-40 yr. olds

Find out More

For more information and analysis of our survey, including details about the methodology and limitations of our survey, please download the full report below.

Download Full Report