Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Day Two: A Ghana Field Officer’s Story

November 12, 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.

Williams Kwarah, 32, comes from Navrongo, Ghana. He joined Grameen Foundation in June 2010 as the Technical Field Officer on our MOTECH (Mobile Technology for Community Health) project, and is now a Field Lead/Coordinator.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate that there are simple ways of addressing the causes of most of the health problems that rural communities encounter. In addition to the vicious circle of poverty, some of the true causes are lack of access to information and services. I have always had the passion to help bridge this gap, to make health information more accessible to our rural folks – my people!

Williams (left) helps a pregnant woman register for our Mobile Midwife service so that she’ll receive regular messages on her mobile phone about how to have a healthy pregnancy.

Mobile technology is evolving in my part of the African continent, and it is a promising way of addressing most of our public health issues. The best part of my work is listening to our clients talk about how the Mobile Midwife messages have improved their lives, because they can now access quality health information and services readily at their homes on their mobile phones. Our health workers also tell us how the system helps them easily track their patients and give better care, helping them manage client health data efficiently.

The flip side of this is lack of funds to implement other activities that will enhance our services. Because MOTECH is a single project and budgets are limited, it becomes quite difficult to incorporate auxiliary programs that also help rural families. For example, phone ownership among pregnant women in rural communities is relatively low. But we can expand our reach by equipping a trusted community agent with a mobile phone to help women without phones listen to helpful messages regarding good health practices. In addition, providing portable solar charging devices for charging mobile phones in those communities off the national grid power would help many more women access this life-saving information.

Overall, when I lie down at the close of the working day, and I am able to say I have successfully trained 50 nurses on the use of a phone application, helped register 50 clients into Mobile Midwife, and installed two agents to assist clients get the messages – it’s a wonderful feeling.

We hope that our supporters share this “wonderful feeling,” knowing that you are truly making a difference in the lives of poor women. Please consider helping us reach more poor women in rural Ghana 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

Day One: A Ghanaian Mother’s Story

November 11, 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.

Mariatu Manafo, of Ofaakor, Ghana, is thankful for Grameen Foundation’s donors and their support for our Mobile Health initiative in Ghana, known as MOTECH. Through its “Mobile Midwife” service, poor pregnant women and new mothers receive vital care information to help them have a healthier pregnancy and to better care for their baby during the first year of the child’s life. Here’s her story, as told to Grameen Foundation staff in Ghana.

I registered for the Mobile Midwife service when I was in my first trimester. Before the introduction of the messages in Ofaakor, I had lost two previous pregnancies. This was partly because I had to rely on recommendations from some friends and extended family members about the use of herbal medication that they felt was helpful. I hardly ate any fruits or drank enough water during my earlier pregnancies.

Mariatu listens to messages on her mobile phone about how to have a healthy pregnancy and raise a healthy baby.

Listening to Mobile Midwife messages every week of my third pregnancy really made a big difference, and now I have my beautiful daughter Salamatu. A message that was really helpful was on nutrition. My husband Nuru took interest in the messages and most often listened to the content with me, perhaps because of the previous miscarriages. With both of us listening to the messages, he realized the importance of eating more fruits during pregnancy, and he often brought home fruits for me.

I am a living testimony to how Mobile Midwife has really helped. Previously, I was more susceptible to the complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth. I did not have the necessary information to make decisions regarding my unborn child – I simply did not know the right kinds of food to eat, or how I should care for myself. I did not know when – or if! – to go for medical checkups. Before, I took certain symptoms during pregnancy lightly, but Mobile Midwife empowered me with the right information about pregnancy and childbirth.

Mariatu credits our Mobile Midwife service for helping her stay healthy during her pregnancy, and now she has her beautiful baby daughter Salamatu.

Her husband, Nuru Manafo, added:

As a family, we are now able to save some money – we do not have to visit the health center because of malaria and other common childhood diseases. Some of the messages advised us to always use insecticide-treated mosquito nets to prevent malaria. My wife always insisted that we use the nets and she regularly visited the clinic for her malaria drugs when she was pregnant. I am always thankful for Mobile Midwife in our community, especially because, before, my family knew very little about pregnancy and child care.. The messages encouraged my wife to go to the health facility for delivery and now I am a proud father of a beautiful daughter whom I have christened the MOTECH baby!

Thanks to the support of our donors, Mariatu and  Nuru were connected to vital information that helped them theirr healthy baby daughter, Salamatu. You can help more families like theirs 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

The Rise of Mobile Microentrepreneurs

September 14, 2012

A simple and widely available tool – the mobile phone – is creating substantial impact in the developing world, changing the lives of low-income individuals, especially in rural communities. Today, 6 billion mobile phones are being used throughout the world, with approximately 75 percent of users living in developing countries.

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.

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

Recognizing the opportunity offered by this technology, Grameen Foundation and eBay Foundation began working together this summer to build solutions that address market challenges facing microentrepreneurs in Indonesia. Our joint effort will support Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Microfranchise initiative, which currently works with a network of more than 10,000 women microentrepreneurs, heavily concentrated in the West Java region.

This network, which is managed by Ruma – a social enterprise that Grameen Foundation helped to incubate and grow – currently reaches more than 1 million customers.

In this piece on The Huffington Post, Alex Counts, President and CEO of Grameen Foundation, and Lauren Moore, Head of Global Social Innovation for eBay Inc., and President of eBay Foundation, discuss our new collaboration.

Are You Really Getting Your Share? Revenue Protection in Mobile Money

September 13, 2012

Ali Ndiwalana is Research Lead for Grameen Foundation’s AppLab Money Incubator and Lee-Anne Pitcaithly is Program Director for Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Financial Services Accelerator initiative. Both are based in our Uganda office. This blog post originally appeared on the CGAP Technology Blog. We’ve included an excerpt here with a link to the full post below.

Mobile money has had bad press lately for fraud-related cases. Most of the reported cases were either the result of internal employees misusing the system to cause operator losses or fraudsters trying to scam unsuspecting users. There is another angle that rarely gets any press—when users or agents abuse the platform and use it in rogue ways that it was never intended.

Across East Africa, most mobile money transactions are primarily between registered users. Registered users get free cash-in (convert cash into mobile money, steps 1), pay fees to make transfers to other registered users (step 2) and registered recipients pay fees to cash-out (convert mobile money into cash, step 3). Most transactions are single loop (from sender to receiver and then converted into cash) and the operator automatically deducts and shares fees with agents as summarized in the standard scenario.

Agents are critical for success of any mobile money platform, but they may also offer its weakest link. Let us consider a few examples. Agents may charge additional fees to customers, they may bypass the platform for withdrawals, they may perform over the counter transfers for customers to other agents if they have ability for P2P amongst agents or they may split transactions to take advantage of the pricing model. I am sure others can easily add to this list.

Continue reading the full post >>

“Financial Vandalism” in India, and a Way Forward

August 15, 2012

Alex Counts is president, CEO and founder of Grameen Foundation, and author of several books, including Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World.

I was invited to give one of the closing keynote addresses to the Sa-Dhan conference, something I had been preparing for at least since I travelled to India in early July to work on an upcoming book about the latest trends in microfinance.  I had intended to arrive in time for the inaugural session on August 7, but travel delays prevented that.  (Word to the wise: when travelling to India on the non-stop flights from Newark, plan to arrive in Newark long before your onward flight is due to depart.)

Upon arrival, I was told that the conference’s mood on the first day alternated between “somber” and “angry.”  Just a few days earlier, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had announced new regulations affecting microfinance.  Though these policies rolled back some harmful policies announced a few months back and helpfully clarified others, they also introduced a controversial new rule saying that microfinance institutions over a certain size would be subject to smaller margins than they were currently allowed between the rates they borrowed and lent at.  The whipsaw nature of Indian microfinance policy at the national level, coming on the heels of the debilitating and draconian law passed in the state of Andhra Pradesh in late 2010, had justifiably enraged many of the practitioners in attendance – particularly as there had been no warning or explanation for many of the policies announced over the last 12 months.

Grameen Foundation President and CEO Alex Counts (lefts) speaks about the Indian microfinance sector at the Sa-Dhan Conference held earlier this month in that country. With him on stage are Jayshree Vyas (center), Managing Director of SEWA Bank, who served as the moderator, and Sujata Lamba of the World Bank.

Grameen Foundation President and CEO Alex Counts (left) speaks about the Indian microfinance sector at the Sa-Dhan Conference held earlier this month in that country. With him on stage are Jayshree Vyas (center), Managing Director of SEWA Bank, who served as the moderator, and Sujata Lamba of the World Bank.

The second day did not get off to a good start.  Sa-Dhan executive director Mathew Titus announced that a senior government official had canceled his opening address.  However, as the day got going, the overall mood improved.  Royston Braganza, CEO of Grameen Capital India, organized and moderated an excellent panel on “Overcoming the Barriers to Resource Flows” to the sector.  (Grameen Capital India is a joint venture between Grameen Foundation and affiliates of two major banks operating in India.)

I attended Royston’s panel and then caught the end of a concurrent panel on “business correspondent” (BC) models for MFIs working in partnership with, and essentially as agents of, fully licensed banks.  Though some recent policies about the BC model have cast doubt on the viability of MFIs being able to work effectively with banks, it was an invigorating discussion.  Mukul Jaisal, Managing Director of Indian microfinance institution (MFI) Cashpor, talked about his experience pioneering this model for providing savings services (which the MFI has been able to implement with support from Grameen Foundation).

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Things Move More Slowly in Africa

June 27, 2012

Shannon Maynard is Director of Bankers without Borders® (BwB), 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 third in a four-part series; you can read her first post here, and her second post here.

“Things move more slowly in Africa” – this is a common refrain for many of us at Grameen Foundation when we find ourselves experiencing hurdles with our work in places like Nigeria and Ethiopia. In fact, African countries and the organizations we work with do often lack the infrastructure – particularly the Internet connectivity – that contributes to the fast-paced, rapid-response world that those of us based in the United States have grown so accustomed to. Slower is also a word I’d use to describe Bankers without Borders’ own presence in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Joining Grameen Foundation after primarily working with US-based NGOs, I remember my own first experiences arranging a call with a microfinance institution (MFI) leader in Sub-Saharan Africa – fumbling around with Skype to enter the correct phone number, then getting a voicemail message in a language I couldn’t understand. It might take a few weeks of trying to connect at a time convenient for us both. In those early days, Grameen Foundation did not have local offices or staff in places like Nairobi, Accra or Kampala. Cultivating relationships and managing projects is difficult to do from a different continent, which is why I am amazed we were actually able to do any work in places like Ghana and Nigeria in those first few years of BwB.

Over the past year, however, BwB has been able to gain some traction in the region, thanks to the regional leadership of Erin Conner and Steve Wardle, and BwB Regional Program Officer Martin Gitari, all based in Nairobi.

David Washer (right) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian microfinance institution, as part of Bankers without Borders' FiDavid Washer (right) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian microfinance institution, as part of BwB's Financial Modeling Reserve Corps.nancial Modeling Reserve Corps.

David Washer (right) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian microfinance institution, as part of BwB’s Financial Modeling Reserve Corps.

Grameen Foundation’s own programs, particularly our MOTECH work in Ghana and Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program in Uganda, are BwB’s biggest clients. In our early days, we had a hard time convincing Grameen Foundation’s own technology teams of the services we could provide, because Grameen Foundation’s own employees assumed BwB was only focused on connecting bankers with microfinance institutions (a fair assumption, given our name). Thanks to some education on our part and the willingness of these programs’ leaders to give us a try, we’ve been able to place volunteers such as Chris Smith and Gillian Evans (a husband-and-wife team) with CKW and Roche employee Lynda Barton with MOTECH, in year-long placements. We’ve worked with CKW to establish a local collaboration with Makere University to provide interns to our Uganda office each semester. And we’ve just finalized arrangements to engage a Glaxo Smith Kline employee with the CKW team on a six-month assignment, starting this month.

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From Subsistence Farmer to Commercial Farmer

June 22, 2012

Benson Okech is an accountant at Grameen Foundation’s Applab Uganda office. This post appeared on the Applab blog and is excerpted with a link to the full post below.

When one is traveling to the Rwenzori area, what rings in the mind of the  individual are the cascading waterfalls from the peak of Mt. Rwenzori and the presence of several species of wild animals in the national parks in western Uganda. There also are other breaking stories about this area, including a group of poor farmers who are helping others like themselves improve their livelihoods by expanding access to accurate, timely information.

(left to right) Peace, from Ernst & Young; Ibrahim, a local farmer; Benson, a Grameen Foundation accountant; and Jacob, the local CKW.

Zangura Ibrahim has been a subsistence farmer for several years in his little-known village of Kanyampara 1, Kacungiro Parish, Munkunyu Sub County, in Kasese District. His passion for agriculture was boosted when he learnt of people in his area called Community Knowledge Workers, or CKWs, who are recruited and trained by Grameen Foundation to serve farmers like him within the area.

Before Ibrahim knew there was a CKW in his area, his two-acre farm was planted with matooke and tomatoes for domestic consumption. However, with the help of Wanzalha Jacob, his local CKW, Ibrahim diversified his crops. He now also grows beans and potatoes, and uses the increased income he earns by selling them for necessities like sugar, salt and medicine.

Read the full post on the Applab blog >>

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 >>

Making Progress Through Savings

June 14, 2012

Kimberly Davies is a program officer on Grameen Foundation’s Financial Services team.

Traveling to the field and talking with clients is the favorite part of my job.  I’ve worked in microfinance for five years and think daily about the poor women and families whom we support. Working with partner organizations and meeting clients face-to-face not only reminds me of why I’m in this field – it also helps me better understand the poor’s demand for financial services and the many challenges involved in providing those services.

It has been really exciting to see the progress of our microsavings project in India.  The first time I visited our partner organization Cashpor Micro Credit – a poverty-focused microfinance institution (MFI) in Varanasi, India – it was not yet offering savings products to its clients. This was partly due to complex Indian regulations requiring MFIs to work with banks to provide savings. Since then, Cashpor partnered with ICICI Bank and Eko Technologies (a tech provider that enables savings via the mobile phone) to launch a new savings product in the summer of 2011.

Microsavings accounts provide poor parents with a safe place to save for their children's future.

Microsavings accounts provide poor parents with a safe place to save for their children’s future.

Since the launch, Cashpor has added about 250 new savers every day, and currently has more than 60,000 savings accounts. Cashpor’s clients have spoken loud and clear about their desire to save. Clients told us during my last visit that they wanted their own safe savings accounts, but I wasn’t sure what the real demand truly was. It’s also challenging to offer convenient services to clients, because some do not have cell phones, most can’t read and many are even numerically illiterate. These challenges, on top of others, were things that I knew would take time to navigate.

However, the huge demand does make sense. A safe place to save is critical for families, because it helps them smooth consumption during times of sporadic income, or prepare for an emergency or a planned lifetime event. Of course, people want convenient tools to help them better manage their lives. In the United States, we have access to so many financial tools in our everyday life – various savings accounts we can access at any time, insurance, loans, locked CDs that yield a safe and consistent interest rate, etc. You name it, we have it. The poor want these same tools.

Truly moving out of poverty is a huge task. Though tools like the Progress Out of Poverty Index® can measure the likelihood that an MFI’s client base is poor and track its movement out of poverty over time, this is a complex thing to measure, because forces such as natural disasters and family illnesses can prevent people from moving out of poverty or cause them to slip back into poverty. These uncontrollable forces make the use of easily accessible and affordable financial tools – such as savings accounts – all the more important to the poor.

Again and again, I’ve seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears how access to financial services has improved the lives of poor people and their families. I look forward to seeing Cashpor’s savings program grow even more over the next year, as they help more women and families in need.


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