Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Attitude Change Is a Slow Process but Vital for Rural Communities to Adopt New Technologies

June 27, 2012

Hosea S. Katende is the Training Coordinator for Grameen Foundation’s Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) initiative. We have included an excerpt of this blog post below followed by a link to the full post on the Applab blog.

A farming household in rural Uganda.

Resources, both human and financial, are  being committed to reaching the bottom-of-the-pyramid communities. To contribute to this cause, Grameen Foundation’s AppLab Uganda came up with the Community Knowledge Worker initiative. An information and communications technology-driven model to accelerate knowledge and information uptake by rural farmers as part of its mission to reach out to the poor, especially the poorest, the CKW project builds a network of peer-nominated farmer leaders across Uganda who are trained to use mobile phones to share agricultural information with smallholder farmers living on less than $2 a day. This initiative demonstrates the power of the mobile phone in the agricultural space, leading to such benefits as improvement of food security and incomes for rural population (see Grameen’s model of business in a box).

Funders of initiatives such as the CKW project usually set timelines to see results and impact within three to five years. Though these monitoring and evaluation goals are important, the bigger question is: How long does it take a person at the bottom of the pyramid to adapt to changes, let alone to new technologies?

From my experience working with the CKW project, I have observed that despite the potentially positive impact of any project, rural communities have a lot of social, cultural, political and historical baggage that tends to slow down the pace of adoption. Consequently, visible impact may not be realized in a short time. Community attitude is one of the biggest challenges associated with slow adoption of technologies. A number of people at the bottom of the pyramid feel marginalised and think that there is nothing much that they can do to change their living conditions. On the other hand, such people feel that physical handouts are what will help them, which is not sustainable. As a result, most of these people seem to have settled for their status quo.

Continue reading the full post on our Applab blog >>

A Productive Week in Asia

June 21, 2012

Shannon Maynard is Director of Bankers without Borders®, Grameen Foundation’s skilled-volunteer initiative. Maynard has more than 15 years of experience in nonprofit management and volunteer mobilization. Before joining Grameen Foundation, she served as Executive Director of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, and managed strategic initiatives for the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency. This post is the second in a four-part series; you can read her first post here.

While in Hong Kong, I start my days with the “international breakfast buffet.”  In my travels, I have actually grown fond of this tourist and business traveler’s treat. I can have a hybrid breakfast of dal and danish in Bangalore, pad thai and pancakes in Bangkok, or dim sum and doughnuts in Hong Kong.

The international breakfast buffet is particularly appropriate in Hong Kong, a truly international city to which everyone’s path seems to have spanned several global cities. As I begin the next leg of my travels, I leave Hong Kong reflecting on the many social-change agents I met. Just as my hybrid breakfast blends the best of multiple food traditions, these folks blur the lines between the social sector and corporate sector when it comes to fighting global poverty.

On Monday, I spent the day with the dynamic women of Grameen Foundation’s Hong Kong office – Sonia, Christina, Dilys and Sharada. Their careers have zig-zagged from banks and consulting firms to social enterprises and Grameen Foundation. They are all equally effective in their roles – which largely focus on cultivating corporate partnerships and donors for our work in Asia – because they know how to make Grameen Foundation’s work accessible to different audiences. They take the time to explain microfinance, social enterprise and other terms that we take for granted, and can do this easily because they truly understand how we are trying to improve the lives of the poor and poorest.

Shannon Maynard (left) meets with Grameen Foundation staff in Hong Kong.

Shannon Maynard (left) meets with Grameen Foundation staff in Hong Kong.

On Tuesday, I had the chance to kick off the Bank of America Merrill Lynch(BAML) CSR Lunch and Learn series.  I impressed by the sheer turnout (including a waiting list for the event!) as well as by the diversity in the room. Some of the most senior people in the Hong Kong office attended the event and were the first to inquire during Q&A about how their teams could get more involved with Bankers without Borders. I have no doubt we will find a way to put their commitment and skills to work in the near future. Melissa Moi, who recently left a prominent post with a well-known NGO in Hong Kong to join BAML’s Corporate Philanthropy team, has a clear vision for how skills-based volunteering can help further the Bank’s philanthropic objective of helping women and children in the Asian-Pacific region.

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Cloudy, Clear and a Chance of Thunderstorms

June 20, 2012

Chris Smith and Gillian Evans are a husband-and-wife team volunteering in Uganda with Grameen Foundation through our Bankers without Borders® volunteer initiative. As Strategy Manager, Chris is responsible for business planning and Grameen Foundation’s relationship with MTN Uganda.  Gillian is an Education Specialist, responsible for developing and applying training best practices in the field and helping build the training center of excellence in Uganda.  Chris and Gillian live in Kampala with their two children and will complete their one-year volunteer term on July 31.  You can read about their experience as a family living and working for Grameen Foundation in Uganda on their blog at www.smithsinuganda.com.

It doesn’t matter where you live – people love to talk about the weather.  You may think that citizens of a country like Uganda, which comfortably straddles the equator and where people are generally unfamiliar with terms like “zero visibility” and “whiteout conditions,” would not be fussed whether it is 25 or 28 degrees Celsius on any given day of the year.  However, as we’ve found out, there is an unmet need for accurate and advanced forecasting of daily and seasonal weather, and extreme weather alerts.

It’s taken me the better part of 10 months to figure out that when you wake up, look out the window and see sunny, crystal-clear blue skies that this is a sure sign it will rain the rest of the day.  If it starts off raining then it’s most likely going to be a beautiful day.  I used to leave the house in the morning and ask Omara (our gardener, and a highly accurate weather forecaster) what the weather would be like.  He would scan the clear blue horizon, think for a moment and forecast rain. And he was almost always right.  No amount of searching the skies or wind direction would give me any indicator other than the obvious lack of clouds.

Every day, the independent newspaper, the Daily Monitor, runs a four-day weather forecast feature on page 2.  In an attempt to understand the secret to Omara’s uncanny forecasting ability, I used to try to match the Monitor’s forecast to what would actually happen on a given day.  There is no correlation – I might as well have been using a Magic 8 Ball.  I now believe that the Monitor editor knows this and attempts to cover all weather eventualities by having no (or at least an indecipherable) relationship between the weather graphic and the text description of the weather that day.  Here’s a pretty typical example:

The Daily Monitor, a newspaper in Kampala, has an interesting -- and inconsistent -- way of showing its predictions of  the Ugandan weather.

The Daily Monitor, a newspaper in Kampala, has an interesting — and inconsistent — way of showing its predictions of the Ugandan weather.

Why does “Today” have a thunderstorm graphic and a text description of “Day partly cloudy and night clear,” yet Friday is the only graphic that looks like cloudy and no rain, yet says “Thunderstorms in the day, clear at night” – but then that exact same text description is used with the thunderstorm graphic for Saturday?  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah … I don’t understand!

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Are You Thinking Wider than Technology when Thinking about Mobile Money?

June 19, 2012

Lee-Anne Pitcaithly is Program Director for Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Financial Services Accelerator initiative, based in the organization’s AppLab Uganda offices. Lee-Anne’s key role is to demonstrate that there is a full business case for delivering tailored financial products to the poor via mobile money channels. We have included an excerpt of her post from our AppLab blog with a link to the full blog post below.

Over the last few months, I have spent a lot of hours meeting with different financial services organisations discussing their planned mobile money integrations. In every instance, the financial institution was primarily addressing the integration only as a technology project. Thinking this way can set you up to fail as a business – and, more importantly, to fail your customers. Here are some other areas that you need to address when thinking about integrating with a mobile money operator.

Customer Service.  How do you service the customer – and deal with disputes – when their only engagement with your institution is through a third-party agent? If your driving reason for integration with mobile money is to extend your reach, then your branch network cannot fulfill the role of servicing customers. Do you have a call centre that can help? Do you have the ability to trace all transactions back to the point and time of sale? What query-based solutions do you have with the mobile money provider to get your customers the answers they in the timeframe required?

Continue reading this post on our AppLab blog >>

Can trust and reciprocity within social networks play a role in rural financial systems?

May 2, 2012

Julius Matovu is the Research and Program Coordinator for Grameen Foundation’s AppLab Money Incubator.

Let me introduce two interesting petty traders based in Owino market – the busiest market in downtown Kampala. They are Akim, a secondhand-shoes trader, and Patrick, a secondhand-clothes dealer.

Last weekend I visited this market for a variety of reasons – including buying some “new” secondhand clothes to revamp my wardrobe. As I wandered through the market I came across these two different petty traders; because each of these individuals had something that I may need at some point, I had a good entry point for an in-depth interaction with each of them, to understand what they do. During my interactions, I observed a huge business potential based on the high number of people who visit Owino market every day. I also realized that for someone to tap into this opportunity, they must have sufficient capital. Most petty traders do not have adequate capital and can not turn to formal financial institutions because they do not meet current requirements to access credit.

However, my newfound friends have found a solution to this problem. They have developed a network of people who run similar businesses within Owino, and rely on people in these networks to extend quick credit to each other in times of deficits.

Read the rest of this post at our AppLab blog >>

The Power of Microbusiness

April 30, 2012

Shannon Maynard is the Director of Grameen Foundation’s skilled volunteer program, Bankers without Borders®. Maynard has more than 15 years of experience in nonprofit management and volunteer mobilization. Before joining Grameen Foundation, she served as Executive Director of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, and managed strategic initiatives for federal agency the Corporation for National and Community Service.

One of the books that has been on my reading list for a while but I haven’t gotten to yet is The Coming Jobs War, by Gallup CEO Jim Clifton.  As a busy working mom, I’ve read reviews and excerpts, and have promised myself to read the entire book by the end of the summer.  I do know that the premise of the book, which is based on the findings of Gallup’s World Poll, is that what people in the world want most is a good job.

Here in the United States that typically translates to a formal job and steady paycheck. In the developing world that includes informal jobs, but the message is the same – people want steady, reliable pay in return for a hard day’s work.  Clifton argues that over the course of the next 30 years, economic force will trump political and military force in terms of determining which countries have power and influence and which do not.  The top U.S. cabinet position will be the Secretary of Job Creation – not the Secretary of State or Defense.

Shannon Maynard, Director, Grameen Foundation's Bankers without Borders volunteer initiative.

Shannon Maynard, Director, Grameen Foundation's Bankers without Borders volunteer initiative.

At Grameen Foundation, we focus our time on creating ways to give the poorest people, in some of the world’s poorest countries, access to information and financial services that will help them improve their livelihoods, most often through the creation of informal jobs.  In the United States, there is a similar effort afoot to provide greater access to financing and technical assistance to help microbusinesses – those businesses with between one and five employees – grow and create more jobs.  The Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO), the voice of microenterprise development in the United States, argues that if just one-third of these microbusinesses were able to hire one new employee, the United States would be at full employment. (more…)

Last-Mile Mobile Money Agents Bridging the Gap

April 20, 2012

Ali Ndiwalana is Research Lead for Grameen Foundation’s AppLab Money Incubator. Below is an excerpt from our AppLab blog, followed by a link to the full post.

Agents are critical for the success of a mobile money (MM) ecosystem; they provide an avenue for cash-in (converting cash into “e-value”) and cash-out transactions. Grameen Foundation’s AppLab Money team has been to many rural villages in our quest to better understand the needs of users, and have often encountered mobile money users, but no agents in the vicinity. When users told us they made regular transactions, we asked how they managed to do this. In many cases, it was via unofficial agents or “last-mile agents,” as we refer to them. So we started looking out for last-mile agents.

We did not have to wait long. Our next research assignment took us to Luweero, to interview individual users and learn more about their financial flows and sources of income. As luck would have it, we encountered two registered mobile money users who were also operating as last-mile agents – providing mobile money services to people in their village as a side business.

The first individual – for privacy’s sake, let’s call him John – was serving a community of unregistered users by sending and receiving money using his mobile money account. The bulk of his customers were villagers receiving money sent by relatives working far away. Because his customers dealt in low-value transactions, he made a profit by aggregating multiple small transactions into one large transaction, while charging for each separately. For example, if three villagers received money via his MM account and he had no cash on hand to clear them, he would aggregate all their money and just make one single withdrawal from his MM account.

Read the full blog post at the AppLab Blog.

Power for CKWs in Uganda

April 3, 2012

Chris Smith and Gillian Evans are a husband and wife team volunteering in Uganda with Grameen Foundation through our Bankers without Borders® volunteer initiative. As Strategy Manager, Chris is responsible for business planning and Grameen Foundation’s relationship with MTN Uganda.  Gillian is an Education Specialist, responsible for developing and applying training best practices in the field and helping build the training center of excellence in Uganda.  Chris and Gillian live in Kampala with their two children and will complete their one-year volunteer term on July 31.  You can read about their experience as a family living and working for Grameen Foundation in Uganda on their blog at www.smithsinuganda.com.

As part of its Mobile Agriculture initiative, which leverages the power of the mobile phone to help fight “information poverty” among poor, rural farmers, Grameen Foundation has deployed more than 800 Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs) across Uganda in 20 districts, serving almost 62,000 farmers. Our CKWs use simple Huawei IDEOS smart phones that cost about $80 and run the Android software platform. This is a cost-effective and easy-to-use solution to get agriculture tips, market prices, weather forecasts and lots of other information to poor farmers deep in rural villages.

A problem we encountered early in the development and deployment of the program was the lack of reliable electricity in those rural villages to charge the smartphones. When we launched the CKW program two years ago, we gave car batteries to the CKWs as a means of charging their phones – but this worked out about as well as you might imagine. We then found a partner in a San Francisco based startup called Fenix, which was designing and building solar-charging solutions for use by the rural poor. We’ve developed an excellent relationship with the Fenix team over the last year, and we are deploying the Fenix ReadySet solar-charging solution to all of our CKWs.

The Fenix ReadySet allows our CKWs to charge their phones using a solar panel.

The ReadySet is very easy to use and provides an additional income stream to the CKW, on top of enabling them to do their job delivering information to farmers and conducting surveys. With the ReadySet, the CKW can now build a side business by charging their neighbors and friends a small amount of money to recharge their phones, to run a haircutting service with electric hair clippers or enable a multitude of other micro-business opportunities that need reliable electricity. It also helps the CKWs personally, because now they can run a light bulb in their house, to enable their kids to read and do homework after the sun sets, to ensure greater security, and to reduce the use of kerosene and other fuels they typically burn for light.

Watch this video to see CKW Annette talk about how she is using the ReadySet to help her deliver information to farmers, recharge her neighbors’ mobile phones, and create a better and more secure home life for her family.

(more…)

The Future is Now

March 30, 2012

Yolanda Walker is a South African living and working in the US. She is a graduate of Oberlin College, where she studied Economics. During her college career she studied International Business in France and Mandarin in China. Yolanda also lived in Ghana, where she volunteered at an orphanage. Most recently, Yolanda volunteered with Grameen Foundation’s Capital Markets team through our skills-based volunteer initiative, Bankers without Borders®. An associate at Capital Group Companies, an investment management company, Yolanda is based in California.

Bankers without Borders volunteer Yolanda Walker (center) attends a borrower’s group meeting in Kenya.

One of the many perks of being a part of The Associate’s Program (TAP) at Capital Group Companies is having the opportunity to leave our company for four to five months and completely immerse ourselves in a non-profit organization – with the flexibility to choose any organization, in any industry. As I was contemplating my various service opportunities, a manager at Capital Group handed me a book about a group of individuals whose lives were affected by microfinance. As I perused the document, it became clear to me that this emerging form of finance fosters genuine empowerment for marginalized communities. I was hooked.

I grew up in a family of six that, for many years, survived on only $4 a day. My personal experience enabled me to closely relate to the issues that microfinance clients face. Growing up outside of Cape Town, I knew hunger, and remember often having to stand in food lines when my parents couldn’t afford to feed us. I knew about sleeping in the cold and dark. I knew, at age 10, what it meant to have a job, as I swept classrooms after school in exchange for a loaf of bread. I also knew the fear of potentially having to drop out of school – like my brothers – to take on another job that would bring extra money into our household.

These vivid and profoundly life altering elements of poverty were very real for me as a child. So, how did an individual like me end up working at one of the biggest mutual fund companies in the world? My response: hard work, chance encounters and the grace of God.

When I read about the impact of microfinance around the world, I became fascinated and wanted to know more. As I learned more about it, Grameen Foundation quickly became the obvious choice for my non-profit rotation. (more…)

Mobile Money Savings Systems: What Do Users Think?

March 23, 2012

Grameen Foundation’s Lisa Kienzle, Olga Morawczynski and Ali Ndiwalana recently co-authored a blog post with Ignacio Mas on the blog Mobile Active. Here they  introduce and user-test one concept of savings: deferred payments over mobile money. Below is an excerpt, followed by a link to the full post.

Grameen Foundation’s AppLab Money believes that mobile money is essentially a liquidity-management platform. Put differently, it could be described as LiFi: Connecting people to an electronic payment system via their mobile phones that provides Liquidity with Fidelity. What does it take to turn mobile money systems into a full-fledged savings platform? A full savings proposition would address these additional key elements:

  • Mechanisms to help people link their savings vehicles to particular savings purposes or spending goals
  • Incentives and discipline mechanisms to help customers set money aside into their savings vehicle(s), or “discipline in”
  • Incentive and discipline mechanisms to help people keep money in their savings vehicle(s) once it is saved, or “discipline out.”

The challenge is how to optimize the mobile money environment by adding these sorts of features without making mobile money so complex and unwieldy that it is difficult or impossible to manage on simple mobile phones.

Read the full post on the MobileActive blog >>


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