Posts Tagged ‘community knowledge worker’

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…)

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!

(more…)

Panel Explores the Power of the Mobile Phone in Fighting Poverty

May 14, 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 first met Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy and Director of the Civil Society, Markets and Democracy Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations, through one of our greatest Grameen Foundation Board members, Lucy Billingsley.  When Isobel and I were introduced to each other, she was running a small program at the Council focused on women’s issues.  She has since grown it into a flagship initiative of this prestigious institution, and her reputation as a researcher and thought-leader has naturally grown along the way.

I was therefore very pleased when she invited me to speak as part of her Women and Technology series last week, alongside Ann Mei Chang, senior adviser for women and technology, Office of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State (and formerly with Google), and Scott Ratzen, Vice President for Global Health at Johnson & Johnson.  The title of the session was “mDevelopment: Harnessing Mobile Technology for Global Economic Growth.”  We had a planning call with Isobel, Scott and Ann Mei the week before and I realized I was joining some extremely knowledgeable and articulate people.  To prepare, I read up on all of Grameen Foundation’s many programs that work to alleviate poverty by leveraging the mobile phone revolution, as well as some related research on inclusive business models.

Alex Counts makes a point while (from left) Isobel Coleman of the Council for Foreign Relations, Ann Mei Chang of the U.S. State Department and Scott Ratzan of Johnson & Johnson listen.

Alex Counts makes a point while (from left) Isobel Coleman of the Council for Foreign Relations, Ann Mei Chang of the U.S. State Department and Scott Ratzan of Johnson & Johnson listen.

The event was kicked off with remarks by Suzanne McCarren of ExxonMobil, which sponsors this speaker series.  Suzanne, whom I sat next to during lunch, explained why women’s economic development is a high priority for their company’s foundation, which has made more than $50 million in grants so far, according to my notes.  Then Cherie Blair, the former first lady of the United Kingdom and the founder of a foundation that bears her name, spoke.  She announced the release of an important new report titled, “Mobile Value-Added Services: A Business Opportunity for Women Entrepreneurs.”  I had met Cherie several times through Meera Gandhi, whose book Giving Back features the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, as well as Grameen Foundation.

(more…)

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…)

A Farmer Milks His Smartphone to Help His Cow

August 23, 2011

Dani Limos is a Marketing and Communications Intern at Grameen Foundation’s Seattle office.

The dairy cow needed more calcium.

When Gonzaga Kawuma’s cow collapsed and could not stand up, Gonzaga was away from his farm. His wife called him on his smartphone with the disheartening news. Without seeing the cow in person, without conducting expensive tests, without being an expert in agriculture, Gonzaga was able to conclude that the cow needed more calcium.

Why was this cow having trouble standing up? Gonzaga relied on his smartphone to diagnose its illness.

This cow’s fall could have been caused by a number of ailments – muscle fatigue, arthritis, foot rot – but a shortage of calcium in a cow that produces milk? How could Gonzaga ever come up with such a diagnosis?

As a Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) in Uganda, Gonzaga has access to a wealth of farming knowledge through mobile phone technology. He helps other poor farmers every day find solutions to their problems, providing them with information about weather, crop and animal diseases, market prices, and the like. Now, as a poor farmer himself, he was his own client. He took out his smartphone, typed in the symptoms of his dairy cow and pored through databases of information. The verdict? “Milk fever.”

Caused by a sudden shortage of blood calcium, milk fever causes the cow to stagger, experience difficulty rising, and finally become unable to stand at all. It often occurs when the cow gives birth, and the demand for calcium to produce milk exceeds its ability to do so. Gonzaga’s cow had given birth just three days ago.

Gonzaga was able to save his cow – and his livelihood – thanks to the information he found using his smartphone.

The information that Gonzaga had found suggested contacting a veterinarian for help. Taking advantage of his smartphone once again, he called a vet, who prescribed a calcium injection. The treatment was administered and the cow successfully recovered. Thanks to Gonzaga’s CKW access, the cow is healthy and currently produces between 18 and 20 liters of milk per day!

Learn more  about our Community Knowledge Worker program in our previous blog posts, or read more at Grameen Foundation’s AppLab website.

Celebrating 10 Innovative Years Fighting Poverty with Technology

June 1, 2011

Georgina Allen is a marketing and communications intern, based in our Seattle office.

David Edelstein, Director of Grameen Foundation Technology Center, speaks about the poverty-fighting potential of the mobile phone.

It’s been 10 years since Grameen Foundation established its Technology Center in Seattle to empower poor people through information and communication technology. On Tuesday, May 17, we hosted an open house to celebrate this milestone and thank the donors and supporters who help make our work possible. Almost 200 people attended!

Upon arrival, guests were invited to make their way around the space where different “stations” were set up to highlight each of the Tech Center’s projects and demo some of the accompanying mobile phone technology.  Photographs of microfinance clients, farmers and pregnant women who have benefited from our work lined the walls, with a story behind each photo that demonstrates the potential of communications technology in economic development.  Our staff was excited to welcome our supporters to explain more about our work and connect with people in the Seattle community.

Just when the office felt like it was at capacity (or over), Alex Counts, President and CEO of Grameen Foundation, took the stage to share some reflections on our work.  After welcoming and thanking supporters, Alex recollected the birth of the Tech Center 10 years ago.  At that time, Craig and Susan McCaw, long-time philanthropists with a background in telecommunications technology, generously partnered with Grameen Foundation to finance a replication of the village-phone program that Grameen Bank had pioneered in Bangladesh.  This seed then grew into the idea to establish an entire technology center devoted to the field of information communications technology for development.

Susan McCaw recalls the early days of Grameen Foundation Technology Center, while (from left) Alex Counts, Peter Bladin, David Edelstein and Craig McCaw look on.

Susan McCaw recalls the early days of Grameen Foundation Technology Center, while (from left) Alex Counts, Peter Bladin, David Edelstein and Craig McCaw look on.

Following Alex,  Susan McCaw briefly discussed her and Craig’s long-time belief in mobile technology as a solution to economic development.  She commented on the importance of dignified solutions like the Village Phone program, where individuals get the opportunity to earn income for themselves while offering a valuable service to individuals in their community.  She also drew on her experience as an ambassador, implying that “micro solutions,” like those supported by Grameen Foundation, actually have the potential to help solve “macro problems” like global security.

To conclude, Peter Bladin and David Edelstein, founding and current directors of the Tech Center, went through a list of the Center’s major accomplishments over the years, including proving the value of technology to microfinance institutions, delivering relevant and actionable agricultural and health information through the mobile phone, and creating microbusinessses.  Both acknowledged that Grameen Foundation’s mobile phone-related work would not be possible without the ability to partner with private mobile phone companies – whose work is the reason why 4 billion phones are in the hands of individuals in the developing world.  Both Peter and David also attributed our success to enduring core values – empowerment, sustainability, scalability and collaboration.

After nearly three and a half hours, the last of the guests trickled out, full of cheese, donated wine (courtesy of Vehrs Domestic and Imported Beverages) and interesting Grameen Foundation tidbits.  If the success of this event is an indication of how the rest of our anniversary-event series will go, be sure not to miss the next one!

Be sure to check out our photo album as well as a video of the program.

AppLab’s Initial Social-Impact Measurement Efforts Pay Off

February 8, 2011

Eric Cantor has led Grameen Foundation’s AppLab efforts in Uganda for the past three years, and continues to serve as an advisor on the project.

Grameen Foundation takes outcome measurement seriously.  We want to make sure that our programs and services are effective, and that we can demonstrate their benefits before implementing programs or practices on a wider scale or urging others to replicate them.

With this in mind, we recently completed one of the first randomized control trials designed to assess the impact of a mobile phone-driven health service aimed at improving the lives of the poor.  The service we sought to measure was Health Tips, part of the Google SMS suite launched throughout Uganda in 2009 with our partners Google and MTN Uganda.  Our social impact partner Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) performed the study.

Preliminary findings from the study are substantial, supporting some of our initial hypotheses and refuting others, and informing our approach to building pro-poor, mobile phone-driven solutions going forward. In short, findings indicated that when people learn of such services, they use them. People also seem to learn from this particular text-message query-based product.  But we also found that, because of the limitations of human motivation and barriers like language and literacy, we have a lot more work to do.

The Health Tips study was conducted in Uganda over an 18-month period. Before the launch of Google SMS in June 2009, IPA conducted a baseline survey of 1,800 people in 60 rural communities, assessing demographic profiles, attitudes, and knowledge and behavior regarding sexual and reproductive health, and collecting data from local clinics.  When we launched the service, we initiated a marketing campaign that randomly targeted half of those communities (the “treatment” areas) and did not reach the other half (the “control” areas).

A Mobile Midwife counselor talks with a client

Our studies have shown the value of "trusted intermediaries" -- such as the Mobile Midwife counselor in the photo above -- as a way to make mobile phone-based communications to the poor more effective.

Through randomization, IPA chose two sets of communities that were uniform in every relevant respect – except that one was exposed to the product through targeted marketing campaigns, while the other was not.  Nine months later, they began a follow-up survey of 2,400 people to detect changes.  They looked at data from surrounding clinics, conducted qualitative interviews and assessed the information provided to the communities. Because the targeted marketing in treatment villages was effective – we saw more than four times as much usage in the treatment areas as in the control – we were able to assess the effect of the service on attitudes, knowledge and behavior relating to sexual and reproductive health.
(more…)

Lessons Learned from AppLab’s First Three Years in Uganda

January 21, 2011

Eric Cantor has led Grameen Foundation’s AppLab efforts in Uganda for the past three years, and continues to serve as an advisor on the project.

More than three years ago, I landed in Uganda to establish Grameen Foundation’s “Application Laboratory” – a program conceived to explore the potential of mobile phones to improve the lives of the poor.  In our quest to test, develop and expand mobile services that are useful for the most often-ignored people on the planet, our team spent (and spends) extensive time talking to our users, in the places they work and live, to hear about the good and the bad of the methods we are testing to empower them.

We sit under the mango tree at the rural health clinic, hearing about how people learn to avoid and treat common and devastating diseases like malaria and HIV.  We walk the banana plantations of farmers in the West, trying to gauge how they can best control banana wilt, using locally available resources and techniques.  We observe the effects of the rapidly growing “mobile money” phenomenon – essentially digital currency delivered through a mobile phone network – and assess how it can improve the lives of villagers.  We see how people interact with the Internet and other unfamiliar services available through the few laptops and smartphones in a community.  And we listen to farming groups, led by Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs), as they plan and prepare to bulk their crops for sale to the highest-paying buyers.  As white winter washes over the US, and the rains wind down and planting season approaches in Uganda, we share some lessons learned through this work in the hopes that our growing body of work, as well as that of other practitioners in this field, will benefit.

In AppLab’s early work, we tested a number of information services, leading up to our launch, with MTN (one of the primary mobile phone services providers in east Africa) and Google, of Google SMS Tips, the product that won the award for “Best use of Mobile for Social and Economic Development” at the 2010 GSM Mobile World Congress.  It was rewarding to sit on a farm and hear how making organic pesticides using local chemicals or even waste products found on the farm helped save a farmer money, and increase her yields and incomes.

Community Knowledge Workers act as valuable local intermediaries, bridging the "last kilometer" to bring essential information to other rural farmers in Uganda. Here, a CKW uses her high-end mobile phone to check for information on banana wilt.

Community Knowledge Workers act as valuable local intermediaries, bridging the "last kilometer" to bring essential information to other rural farmers in Uganda. Here, a CKW uses her high-end mobile phone to check for information on banana wilt.

But what became quickly apparent was that information alone is not a complete solution.  A reference pointer or a tip about maternal health techniques may be useful to an expectant mother, but creating deep, impactful behavior change – what information-driven development initiatives seek – requires a context in which that information has a value. People certainly have a hunger for knowledge and a willingness to embrace the mobile phone to search for answers, as shown by all the questions they asked from the beginning about family planning, and HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, which affect them directly and for which few reliable, anonymous sources are available.  But we require several things to make this information actionable and impactful: specific information, a context in which to make it useful, and relevant services and resources.

(more…)

A Day in the Life of a Community Knowledge Worker (CKW): Part 2

October 23, 2010

This is part two of of a two part blog series. If you haven’t yet, we recommend you read Part One of his blog post series. In part 2, Jason Hahn describes his day with Esther, a kind-hearted Community Knowledge Worker (CKW), as she asks farmers to register for the CKW program, where they will be able to use smartphones to access CKW Search to access information about the current market prices for crops as well as ask questions about best farming practices.

After setting up my tent in her well-kept yard, I headed out with Esther on her afternoon round to register farmers for the Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program. Registering farmers allows us to track how frequently they use our services and see if they change their farming practices based on the information we provide. Part of the registration also involves conducting a baseline poverty survey. We can use the baseline data to see whether or not farmers we are working with are moving out of poverty.

 

Jason Hahn’s tent in Esther's yard

 

After a few registrations, it quickly became apparent why Esther’s community chose her to be a CKW. She gave advice and solicited information in a very friendly manner and it was clear she had a good rapport with her fellow villagers. It would be easy to see her on the city council in a small American town.

Jane Kapsandi was the first woman that we called on. We found her outside her house made of mud bricks and a tin roof. Using CKW Search, a program on Esther’s phone, Esther answered Jane’s question about what foods will help her cow give good milk. Jane was happy with the advice and agreed to be registered for the CKW program. Chatting with Esther after our visit to Jane, she told me that the easy access to information the phone provides was a real improvement on other sources of information. Before, they would have to wait for an infrequent visit from an agricultural extension agent. Now, they have real-time access to a large body of useful information.

After leaving Jane, we walked along a footpath through a field interspersed with banana and coffee plants to call on Godfrey Mwanga. After registering Godfrey for the program, Esther answered his questions about coffee rust disease. This disease, which appeared endemic in Kewel, markedly diminishes the harvest from a coffee plant. Again using CKW Search, Esther told Godfrey that to cure the disease, the coffee plant can be sprayed with a copper based fungicide. As coffee is one of the chief cash crops of this region, information on protecting the plants is very useful.

 

600 shilling container of coffee

 

During my two days in Kewel, I learned a great deal about coffee, including seeing it for the first time on the branch and watching traditional coffee roasting. What I found amazing was the difference in price between what raw coffee costs, 600 shillings or .30 cents for an amount that would fill a large yogurt tub, and the $3.50 a latte sets me back in Seattle. As the CKW program grows, we will introduce new software and partnerships to enable farmers to capture more of the value of their goods. Learning the price of coffee here brought the reasons we are doing this into sharp focus for me.

 

Jason Hahn picking coffee in Kewel

 

As we moved from house to house, I asked Esther how she found using the smartphone. She told me it was a useful but she had recently been asked by the program managers in Kampala to update the software on her phone, but did not know how. When Edward, our field officer, came back the next day, I asked him to update her software. I took the need for automatic updates back to our tech team to look at. By constantly examining how we best serve our end-users, CKWs and their farmer neighbors, we are improving the services that we offer.

While I left Kewel tired in body, as those roosters sure do start crowing early, I was energized about the work we are doing. Easy access to actionable agricultural information can change the life of a farmer. While we have a great deal to learn as we deliver it, I am convinced the CKW program is a viable way to bridge “the last mile” of providing that information to rural farmers living at the base of the poverty pyramid.

A Day in the Life of a Community Knowledge Worker (CKW): Part 1

October 21, 2010

Jason Hahn describes his initial impressions of Uganda upon his return to the United States. Jason is the Information and Communication Technology Innovation (ICTI) Development Manager at Grameen Foundation. The ICTI team develops, tests and advances mobile phone products and services in Uganda, Indonesia, and Ghana to improve health care, farming, banking, and more. This is the first part of a two-part blog series on “A Day in the Life of a Community Knowledge Worker”

On the Way to Kapchorwa


I recently returned to Seattle from visiting our Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program in Uganda. This program is building a network of trusted information providers, called Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs), throughout rural Uganda who use smart phones to deliver agricultural information to farmers in their villages. While I was familiar with the program from PowerPoint, meetings, and reading reports, I did not have a first hand appreciation for the work of a CKW. From my time as a Peace Corps volunteer, I knew there could be a big difference between what Headquarters thought was happening and what was really happening at the grassroots level. To see for myself, I headed out to the village of Kewel in the Kapchorwa region of Eastern Uganda to spend two days with Esther Kibet, one of our CKWs. While there, I experienced first hand the positive effects the CKW program was having and also saw a few different ways we can improve.

Esther Looks Up Information Using CKW Search

As we approached Kewel, we began rising into the foothills of Mt. Elgon, one of Uganda’s highest mountains. It was picturesque to see these hills, with the tops hidden in fog, rise from the plains as we approached. The cooler climate makes this location ideal for growing coffee, as I soon discovered. After picking up Edward Chelangat, our hard working field officer in Kapchorwa town, we headed to Kewel where I was warmly welcomed by Esther. The Kapchorwa region is known as the land of friendly people, and Esther certainly embodied that charisma. Kewel, a very small village, is located on a dirt road several kilometers off the main road, which runs through the region. It is a village of hard working farmers who are growing, among other things, the coffee that many of us enjoy on a daily basis.

Be sure to read Part 2 of “A Day In the life of a Community Knowledge Worker.” Jason explains further how cell phones are empowering farmers in rural Uganda.