Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Rural Poor Women in Focus at the Mobile World Congress 2013

March 4, 2013

By Sean Paavo Krepp, Uganda Country Director

In Indonesia, “mobile microentrepreneurs” like the one pictured here are already helping other poor people in their community find jobs and get information on market prices for their goods.

Last week the mobile and internet world converged on Barcelona for its own Oscars: the Global Mobile Awards.  Hosted annually by the GSMA – the umbrella organization for mobile operators worldwide – it’s the place to preview all the new apps, services and devices coming on the market.

I had the honor of participating as a judge for the mWomen Best Mobile Product or Service for Women in Emerging Markets award. The GSMA introduced the award in 2012 to address the staggering gender gap in mobile phone use (PDF), especially for rural poor women. The mobile industry responded with a growing number of new services – tapping a business opportunity the GSMA estimates to be about $13 billion.

As Bill Gates rightly points out in his Annual Letter: “setting clear goals and finding measures that will mark progress toward them can improve the human condition.” And the mWomen Initiative at the GSMA has done exactly this to measure and draw the industry’s attention to the barriers to uptake as well as recognize trailblazers.

M-powering Women

Women play a fundamental role in poor households. They are often the largest contributors to farm production and food security, and they often act as the custodians of healthcare, education and financial planning in the family. So reaching them with vital information and financial services can be a key catalyst in alleviating and reducing poverty.

In our 10 years of product and service user-centered design work with the rural poor, Grameen Foundation has identified some key barriers to uptake. There are three important barriers that guided my votes for this year’s mWomen nominees.

Power Relations

The most striking observation pertains to power relations in the household. In rural households, men often control the assets in the home and do not welcome mobile phone usage. In fact, 74 % of 2500 women surveyed by the GSMA in four developing countries found that women did not own a phone because their husbands would not allow it. Furthermore, 82% of married women who did own a phone said it made their husbands suspicious.

The key learning is that a segmentation strategy needs to address both men and women when discussing mobile uptake. In our work with PT Ruma and Qualcomm in Indonesia we made it mandatory for men to sign the micro-franchise agreement and encouraged cross gender dialogue on the benefits of starting a Ruma business.

Confidence and skill

Many women also lack self-confidence and, in many cases, they also lack the literacy and numeracy skills needed to operate a phone. Those that own phones often use only voice with little use of SMS and almost no usage of smartphone services.

We have found that using intermediaries – whether mobile enabled MFIs, mobile health workers or Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs) – helps to overcome these barriers to access.  Technology alone is not enough and having an early adopter or role model train others and contextualize products or services can form an important bridge to the rural household.

It is also important for operators to design marketing campaigns and collateral that focus not only on what they are offering but also how it works. Educating the market needs to be balanced with building awareness in this emerging segment.

A recent Grameen Foundation case study on a collaboration to reach women savers over the mobile phone through Cashpor, found that – especially with sensitive financial services delivered over the phone – a microfinance institution can play an important role in helping women overcome barriers to access. Interestingly, it noted that the children in the households were earlier adopters of the technology and could support women as they learn to use new products and services.

Furthermore, we have found that the best recruiters of women are themselves women. It builds confidence when women see a community leader – someone like me – become a role model.  PT Ruma recruits only women, our MOTECH work in Ghana focuses on midwives and our CKW program has built a strong gender strategy to encourage women micro-entrepreneurs to take up our micro-franchise business in a box.

Cost

Finally, the affordability, relevance and ease of use of products and services are key drivers for uptake.  Sometimes counter-intuitive gender differences exist, making research and user-centered design absolutely important.

For example, I recently participated in a user-centered design co-creation workshop for a mobile commitment savings product in Uganda.

When men and women were asked about the service both were very sensitive to price and concerned about the fees. But, when it came to liquidity, women wanted greater access to their savings and fewer penalties for early withdrawal.

When we probed further, the men said it was hard to hold on to money especially on weekends, while women said they often needed fast access to cash when their family or children fell sick.

And the winner is….

This year’s award went to Asiacell for its Almas Line, which provides mobile services to women in Iraq. It used consumer insights data to design a suite of services tailored to the women’s needs.  Of note was a free service that allows women to block calls or texts from potential harassers.

The most compelling aspect of the Asiacell service was a television campaign that targeted women but also spoke to men by portraying the services as linked to deep traditional values.  Asiacell’s women subscribers grew to 3.5 million within 16 months – just as many female customers as it had in its first 11 years of operations. This clearly demonstrates that consumer insights, a solid offering focused on women, and creative excellence can help drive usage of mobile services.

I was honored to be a judge at the GSMA Awards and to serve on the esteemed GSMA mWomen Panel. The GSMA has done an excellent job in highlighting the needs of the poor, especially women, and has shown the business benefits of bridging the gender gap, as well as the strong potential for social impact of the use of mobiles among women.

Mobile Financial Services for the Poor – What We Must Know

February 4, 2013

Originally posted on our AppLab Blog.

Fredrick Ndiwalana is Relationship Manager, Applab Money Accelerator, and Ali Ndiwalana is Research Lead, AppLab Money Incubator, at Grameen Foundation Uganda.

Members of a VSLA in Western Uganda learn about how to access market information on a mobile phone.

There is consensus that the poor (those living on less than $2.50 per day) need the same kind of financial services as their more affluent counterparts, albeit in smaller affordable units. What is not clear – especially in markets where formal financial exclusion is high and innovation is low – is whether financial institutions can design pro-poor financial products. After all, this is an area where they have not done so well for the so-called rich, despite years of experience. East Africa is such a market.

In Uganda, where Grameen Foundation’s  Applab Money Accelerator is located, financial institutions continue to offer savings products for which the interest earned by the customer is much lower than the rate of inflation. This is something that the average ”financially included” savings account holder has become accustomed to, and financial institutions have always found a reasonable way to justify it such as a low bank rate as well as high operational costs. Though such explanations may be acceptable to the economically schooled, they seem to defy logic when it comes to explaining them to the less schooled.

Read the full post at our AppLab Blog

Mobile Microfranchising and AppLab Projects Win U.S. Chamber Award

December 14, 2012

By Christopher Tan, Chief Executive Officer, Asia Region, Grameen Foundation

Christopher (“Happy”) Tan is Grameen Foundation’s CEO for the Asia Region, where he is responsible for defining and executing the organization’s regional long-term strategy and overseeing its various investments and programs there. A native of the Philippines, he has almost 15 years of experience in development finance, nonprofit management and public interest law, having worked for ShoreBank Advisory Services (SAS), the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC/Chicago) and SALIGAN in the Philippines. He holds an MPP from The University of Chicago and a JD from the Ateneo de Manila University.

I am delighted to announce that Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Microfranchising and AppLab initiatives in Indonesia were recognized at the 2012 Citizens Awards, sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC) and held on December 6 in Washington, D.C.  Our project partner, Qualcomm – through its Wireless Reach initiative ™ – received the “Best International Ambassador” award for its collaborations with Grameen Foundation and our local partner, the social enterprise Ruma, on these projects.

The award identifies a successful social, community or environmental initiative that positively impacts one or more developing countries.

Through our project with Wireless Reach and Ruma, we have enabled poor entrepreneurs, most of whom are women, in Indonesia to offer a range of mobile phone-based services to people in their communities. This effort provides a profitable business opportunity to those living below the poverty line while giving communities access to information and services that can increase their income and improve their lives.

Grameen Foundation and Qualcomm believe that mobiles phones play a critical role in alleviating poverty. This recognition from BCLC highlights the growing support for that vision.

Our experience in Indonesia, a vast country of more than 16,000 islands and 234 million people, is providing important insights about the benefits of mobile connectivity. With approximately 75 percent of the population living below $2.50 per day, the lack of affordable access to telecommunications remains a problem, which places a large percentage of Indonesians in rural areas at an economic and social disadvantage. However, the availability of affordable mobile phones and a rapidly growing 3G network is enabling rural communities, through our AppLab project, to access high-value social applications via mobile phones to close information gaps and reduce market inefficiencies.

Ruma Client

On average, these entrepreneurs have increased their income by $1.10/day by providing mobile-based services in their communities.

As of November 2012, more than 15,000 Ruma entrepreneurs have served more than 1.5 million unique customers. More than 82 percent of the businesses are owned by women and 100 percent of Ruma entrepreneurs are profitable. We have also found that, on average, the entrepreneurs increased their income by $1.10/day, which is a substantial increase in their livelihood (63% of the portfolio lives on less than $2.50/day).

These results have been more than encouraging. We have seen a steady increase in overall living conditions for micro-entrepreneurs such as Ibu Nur Zanah, who operates a home-based business that sells used clothes, while her husband sells soup on the street. Their household lives on approximately $2.00 per day, which barely provides for their two children, aged seven years and 15 months. As a Ruma Entrepreneur, Ibu increased her household income by 100%, earning an additional $2.00 per day, moving her family above the poverty line. The ultimate goal for the Mobile Microfranchising and AppLab projects is to empower more entrepreneurs like Ibu Nur Zanah.

We are honored that our program has been recognized by BCLC, and proud to be working with Qualcomm and Ruma on projects that demonstrate the significant impact that mobile technology provides for people who were previously technologically isolated. We look forward to expanding these projects to further help, encourage and move more people and communities above the poverty line.

Day Twelve: An Indonesian Entrepreneur’s Story

November 22, 2012

For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.

Ibu Marni, a 44-year-old mother of two, lives in the village of Kunciran, outside the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. She joined Grameen Foundation as a Village Phone operator in late 2009. Grameen Foundation operation manager Ellen Sasha shares her story:

Ibu Marni spent years creating businesses out of her home, ranging from selling groceries to renting out video games, only to watch each one fail due to rising costs, increased competition and complaints from neighbors. Each failure put her deeper into debt, and when her husband lost his job as a construction worker, she struggled to find new ways to support her family. As an optimist with an entrepreneurial spirit, however, she never gave up.

In 2009, through Grameen Foundation and its social-enterprise partner, Ruma, she finally found a sustainable business model: selling airtime for mobile phones. With the money she makes, especially now that her husband has found work again, she has been able to pay for her son’s college tuition and to expand their tiny house, so that he no longer has to share a room with his sister.

Ibu Marni’s hard work and entrepreneurial spirit have helped her provide a better life for her children.

What makes Ibu Marni special is her friendly character, mature attitude and ability to mingle with new people, especially in poor communities. As an older woman, she can easily start a conversation with a group of ladies, who may not be as comfortable talking to a male field officer. She can also approach customers in very poor neighborhoods where strangers are usually not welcome, because people are less suspicious of someone like her.

As her technological and financial literacy continue to improve, she plans to create her own cooperative to help provide capital to other poor entrepreneurs, such as coffee vendors. She has learned that by helping others start up small home businesses, they can rise up together from poverty.

Ibu Marni has grown from humble beginnings to become a successful entrepreneur who now helps others in her community. When you support Grameen Foundation, you can also give a hand up to poor people around the world and help us break the generational chains of poverty.

Our 12 Days of Thanksgiving series stories were collected and edited with the help of Bankers without Borders® volunteer Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

You can read the rest of our series here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5| Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Day Eleven: Helping People at the “Bottom of the Pyramid”

November 21, 2012

For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.

Ellen Sasha, of Makasar, Indonesia, began working for Grameen Foundation as a field officer in March 2010. She had previously worked for the American Red Cross, researching avian-human influenza prevention in Indonesia, and has written a book about conflict and consensus in Bougainville – Papua New Guinea. She is now Operation Manager of a pilot project for a new mobile application that Grameen Foundation is developing for poor entrepreneurs.

After studying politics and working with several other nonprofit organizations in Indonesia, I was excited about joining Grameen Foundation, where I work to highlight the usefulness of mobile technology for the poor. This mission really caught my interest, since it was really rare finding a non-governmental organization with that focus here in Indonesia; I was eager to do something unique while helping others.

Ellen Sasha, Operation Manager for Grameen Foundation in Indonesia, is regularly inspired by her interactions with the poor women she meets.

But working in the field is not as easy reading theories in books. A major challenge involves bridging the gaps between the diverse range of people we that we meet every day. It’s not just the differences between larger communities, but the differences in small groups that can be striking as well. Before they will consider using the products that we offer, we must earn their trust. Only then can we demonstrate the value of our product from their perspective.

The best part of my job is really helping people at the “bottom of pyramid” by directly engaging with poor women and other people in the community. I enjoy learning directly from our clients how mobile technology can really fit and be useful in their struggling communities. I love chatting with our beneficiaries, closing the distance between my life as an educated woman who works in an office and their lives as poor women who work in the home. Some of them see me as a family member now and feel comfortable confiding in me about all sorts of problems in their lives. In turn, this helps me understand their situation even more deeply, revise my theories and gain new insights for projects that we’re working on.

By understanding and addressing their thoughts and concerns about new things, we can really improve these women’s lives. Their humbleness, honest attitude, high integrity and caring are inspirational. My work with them doesn’t feel like fulfilling an obligation; instead, it feels like a kind of hobby – something I do that gives me happiness and pleasure.

You can help us reach more poor women in Indonesia – and around the world – by supporting Grameen Foundation today.

Our 12 Days of Thanksgiving series stories were collected and edited with the help of Bankers without Borders® volunteer Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

You can read the rest of our series here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5| Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Teaming up with Kiva to Empower the Poor

November 19, 2012

Community Knowledge Worker

We’re proud to announce that Kiva lenders can now support our high-impact Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program!

Through our AppLab initiative, we’ve spent more than a decade successfully exploring ways to use mobile phones to improve people’s lives through information sharing about such areas as healthcare, business opportunities, finances and agriculture. In Uganda, where we’re focusing on agriculture, we do this through a network of “farmer leaders” nominated by their local communities to become Community Knowledge Workers. (more…)

Day Six: Connecting Colombian Farmers, Amid Conflict

November 16, 2012

For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.

Lori Ospina began working for Grameen Foundation as an intern in the Washington D.C. headquarters in 2009. She is now a program in Colombia, Grameen Foundation’s newest branch office, working with local partners and farmers trained and paid to be Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs) to use mobile phones to bring information and financial services to isolated farmers.

When we began working with the farmers, I was really nervous that they wouldn’t like the program or that our incentives wouldn’t be enough to get them on board. However, the feedback has all been incredibly positive. One of our CKWs told me that this has become her “hobby” – going out and talking to the farmers about their problems and being able to help them. Another CKW told me that people now show up at his farm to get registered, and farmers call him with their questions. All of them were very willing to adopt it – I was blown away.

Lori Ospina (right) with Grameen Foundation’s Colombia Office Adminstrator, Luz. She’s inspired by meeting so many hard-working rural farmers, especially those who continue persevere amidst a dangerous atmosphere of conflict and violence.

Many farmers know the basics already, but they’re excited about the new information. The top two things they ask about are pest/disease control and crop diversification, because most of them only grow a single crop on their farms, but they would like to grow other things too. Our system updates information constantly, so we’re able to see what they’re asking, address that in real-time and add improvements. We’re helping them qualify for Fairtrade International certification, which will secure minimum prices and sustainable growing practices for them. We’re also exploring how we might be able to incorporate a mobile payment program, as well as address financial literacy.

The best part of my job is going deep into rural communities and seeing other ways of life. I’m able to meet all types of inspiring people – farmers, extension agents, families and a lot of hardworking people who deliver local services to these rural communities.

The hardest part is that we all care so much about our work, but often don’t have all the resources needed, so work can become a little all-consuming at times. There’s also a safety issue, unfortunately. Tibu, one of our program areas, is a conflict zone that’s been the location of a guerilla headquarters. We’re not allowed to go there because it’s so dangerous, so we have to do a lot of our work from the cooperative – and even getting out there is a trip. It’s only about 120 kilometers from the airport, but the road conditions are so bad that it ends up taking three to six hours, and you see military tanks and safety checks the entire way. There’s a bridge that we typically travel over, but recently we had to take a ferry across because the guerillas had destroyed it.

I interviewed one of our CKWs after our training and he talked about it with such nonchalance, telling me that even if you don’t want to be involved with the conflict, you indirectly are. He and his father built boats, and guerillas would buy them. Some of the farmers used to grow coca, but now they’ve switched to food crops to try to get away from the drug trade.

We’re still growing, testing and learning along the way. We currently reach about 350 farmers through a grassroots cocoa-growing cooperative and a large export company that works with banana and plantain growers. Eventually, we plan to expand to other crops and regions, and to take this model to other parts of Latin America. It’s very exciting!

You can help us connect more farmers in Colombia with life-changing information about crops and livestock by supporting Grameen Foundation today.

Our 12 days of Thanksgiving series stories were collected and edited with the help of Bankers without Borders® volunteer Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

You can read the rest of our series here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5| Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Day Five: Saving Chocolate from Squirrels in Colombia

November 15, 2012

For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.

Eliseo Gonzalez Angel – known as Angel – is a middle-aged farmer in Colombia who grows cacao, the main ingredient in making chocolate. With the help of a Grameen Foundation Community Knowledge Worker (CKW), Angel has been able to get important tips on how to take care of his crops. Grameen Foundation recently expanded our CKW work from Uganda to Colombia, using what we’ve learned previously, as well as tailoring our efforts to the local needs.

Squirrels don’t pester Angel anymore, thanks to advice he got through Grameen Foundation’s efforts in Colombia.

In July, Angel connected with his local CKW, trained by Grameen Foundation and equipped with a smartphone that can access a range of information about crop management, market prices, certification requirements and diversification. The middle-aged cocoa grower is now on track as a member of the Asocati agricultural cooperative in Tibu to become certified by Fairtrade International. Farmers who receive such certification use sustainable growing techniques – including approved methods for controlling squirrels and other pests – and typically get a better price for their harvest.

“I have used the system four times now. Each time the information has been very useful,” he says. “Two years ago, my farm was devastated by the winter flooding and I lost all my crops. Now I’m in the process of reestablishing my cacao crop, so I appreciate knowing that, if I need any information, I can get it immediately instead of having to wait for an expert to come visit me.”

And chocolate lovers appreciate that Angel’s cacao is safe from pesky squirrels!

Angel examines his latest cacao crops.

Angel’s farm is in Campo Dos in the Norte Santander Region, an area with a long history of guerilla violence, which adds to the challenges faced by farmers.  Farmers often worry about protecting their families and property, as well as transporting their crops safely to market and handling the money they earn. The 40 km journey for Angel into the city already takes four hours, due to poor road conditions, and he tries to hitchhike to avoid the additional transportation costs for the weekly trip.

As Grameen Foundation’s  work in Colombia grows, Angel hopes to take advantage of mobile banking services and small loans, as well. With a loan from family members and advice from his CKW, he has expanded to selling chickens and eggs as an additional income source. He earns about $100 a month, which is still $30 less than his expenses.

When we asked him about his willingness to use a mobile payment service should one exist in his community, he replied “Having a bank account creates credibility,” he said. “I would like to know the cost first, but if it is reasonable I would like to adopt the service when it becomes available. It seems like it would be very useful for me.”

As we expand our work in Colombia and Latin America, you can join us in empowering even more farmers when you support Grameen Foundation today.

Our 12 days of Thanksgiving series stories were collected and edited with the help of Bankers without Borders volunteer Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

You can read the rest of our series here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5| Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Day Four: Charles Grows Coffee – and Changes Lives

November 14, 2012

For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.

Charles Chebet, 45, of Uganda’s northeast Kapchorwa district, was selected by his peers to become one of Grameen Foundation’s trained Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs) in 2010. With the training and smartphone provided by Grameen Foundation, he has been able to tremendously improve his coffee harvest and connect hundreds of other farmers to advice, technical assistance and equipment loans. Here is his story, from his perspective , as shared with Bankers without Borders volunteer® Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

Before working as a CKW with Grameen Foundation, I was a farmer and I did some small business where I live. Grameen Foundation has now expanded my agriculture experience. By using the phone, I get advice to treat my animals and grow my foods. And because I am a CKW, I also get a little money for helping other farmers. I am supposed to visit more than 100 farmers every month, but I always do more.

As a rural farmer and CKW, not only does Charles learn new farming techniques though his mobile phone, but he is also able to share them with hundreds of other farmers nearby.

I have bought some equipment, which helps me have a bigger harvest and teach other farmers about these practices. We want to help farmers get better fertilizers, chemicals, seeds and tools. Maybe a shop can open here that sells those things. Maybe I can do that in the future.

Now I am growing coffee and bananas, cabbage and vegetables. I also have sheep, goats, cows and pigs. I learn many things by using the phone. We had a banana disease, but we learned that we can use ash mixed with urine to treat the plants. So now we don’t have that problem anymore.

We are six people in my house: me, my wife and four children. My 23-year-old daughter has finished university and is working for an agricultural organization to develop some programs for small households. My 18-year-old son is studying agriculture. My 15-year-old daughter is sitting for exams. My 14-year-old son wants to become a priest, and is going to join a seminary.

I like my work, and I like the farmers that I’m helping in my country. Grameen Foundation is good.

Thanks to your support, Charles and hundreds of other rural farmers near him are able to grow more crops and better support their families. You can help empower more rural farmers in Uganda when you support Grameen Foundation today.

You can read the rest of our series here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5| Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12

Day Three: A Ray of Hope for Rural Farmers in Uganda

November 13, 2012

For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.

Sarah Mugisha, of Masaka, Uganda, joined Grameen Foundation in January 2009 to help recruit, train and oversee Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs). She is now a network and training manager, overseeing a team of 14 people supporting a network of more than 900 CKWs in 30 districts. This network is expected to grow to 1,200 CKWs in 36 districts by next year.

After 10 years of working with organizations to alleviate rural poverty in Africa, I joined Grameen Foundation because it addressed the missing link: empowering small farmers, who make up 80 percent of Uganda’s population, to improve their livelihoods through effective and scalable innovation. By equipping a local intermediary with up-to-date information and cutting-edge technology, we offer a rural development solution that broadens the knowledge base of poor households.

Sarah believes that the vital information provided to rural farmers by CKWs is a ray of hope, letting them know “they have not been forgotten.”

Our smartphones enable farmers to access information on planting, post-harvest handling and fair market prices. We also have information on animal care, weather, service providers and all sorts of advice to help them make profitable decisions. This technology has given rural farmers a ray of hope that they have not been forgotten, and that someone is seriously thinking about their challenges.

Initially, there were some limitations with using the phone in rural areas, but we’ve found ways to overcome them. One of the major problems we still contend with is sporadic network connectivity. We’ve made much of the information we need permanently available on the phone, so it can be accessed without a network connection. But when the CKWs are submitting surveys or getting more updates, they need to find a place where connectivity is good.

The best part of my job is training CKWs and making a difference in people’s lives. When I see the radiant glow in a farmer’s eyes because a piece of information has helped them, that makes my day. Organizations are now approaching our CKWs because of the skills they have acquired, and many want to help them do community mobilization and promote different activities. We are advising them on whom to engage with and whom to be cautious with.

We would like to have a 50-50 mix of male and female CKWs, but it’s difficult, because not many women out there are literate enough to join our program. In Uganda, we have more than 50 ethnic groups and languages, and we can’t translate everything, so the content on the phones is in English. We need someone who is educated enough to be able to look at the content, understand it and then translate it for the farmer. That’s what limits the participation of women.

The sky is the limit for what we can make available to the unreached masses, via the smartphone. That said, we always keep in mind that though we can still reach out and offer support remotely through technology, it can never replace the impact of human touch.

Thanks to your support, our CKWs have helped more than 100,000 farmers in Uganda. Help us reach even more by supporting Grameen Foundation today.

Our 12 Days of Thanksgiving series stories were collected and edited with the help of Bankers without Borders® volunteer Nicole Neroulias Gupte.

You can read the rest of our series here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5| Part 6| Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12