Posts Tagged ‘mobile’

Turning Insights into Products: Gambling on Applab Money

March 19, 2012

Our Applab Money initative focuses on researching, prototyping and testing innovative financial products to reach poor people who don’t typically have access to these resources. Project Manager Olga Morawczynski and Operations and Strategy Manager Lisa Kienzle recently wrote on the CGAP blog about the need to develop creative products that focus on existing customer desires, use patterns, and needs. One example: using the idea of gaming and gambling to create a helpful product for poor people.

Arthur plays a popular board game called Ludo.

What follows is one example of an interesting insight that emerged on a recent field visit that could be translated into a product that poor customers could find exciting: on our trip, we noticed that everyone loves gambling.

While visiting a village in East Africa, we met a farmer named Arthur who enjoyed gambling in his spare time. We watched him spend $2 as an entrance fee to join three other players in a popular board game called Ludo (see photo). Arthur lost this round, and the entire pot of $8 was handed over to his neighbor. When asked why he played if there was a risk of loss, Arthur explained that the potential returns were very high – in fact, it would take him one week of intensive labor (such as digging on his neighbor’s farm) to earn what he could win from one round of Ludo. If he won the pot, he would set aside half as an “emergency fund” for his family to protect against shocks – such as an unexpected illness – and reinvest the rest into the game.

Imagine, they said, what would happen if Arthur had access to a formal financial product that provided a safeguard against emergencies, but the sensation of a game.

Read the full post on the CGAP blog.

Delivering New Services for the Poor

March 8, 2012

The Mobile World Congress has ended, but the excitement generated by discussions of helping the poor through mobile phones remains high. For those of us working in international development, it was heartening to see this issue no longer relegated to “corner discussions” or side conversations in the hallways between sessions. As noted by Heather Thorne, Grameen Foundation’s Vice President for Information Solutions, this time the valuable role of mobile phones in global development was front and center. Telecom operators and others are now seeing the opportunities for developing products and services for the poor.

One highlight for Grameen Foundation was the announcement of our collaboration with MTN Uganda and CGAP to research and develop mobile financial products for the poor. The need is clear: 2.7 billion people – most of whom live in developing countries – still do not have a bank account. This is largely because many low-income communities are underserved by financial institutions, which typically offer products that are more suitable for higher-income clientele.

Though the growing number of mobile money services is helping to address the access issue, we still need products that are appropriate for low-income consumers. Our goal with this new initiative is to drive innovation that can yield a full array of services that are affordable and accessible for poor clients, while being commercially viable for the financial service providers involved.

Ensuring that Healthcare for the Poor Is Just a Call Away

March 6, 2012

The annual Mobile World Congress is the place to see the latest mobile phones and applications before they hit the market. But that’s not why Tim Wood is there. As director of Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Health initiative, he’s more interested in how the mobile industry can help improve health outcomes for people who can barely afford a $20 phone.

Tim was part of a panel discussion on mobile health for development – the first of its kind to be held at a Mobile World Congress. He hopes this will galvanize even greater awareness of, and support for, the life-changing opportunities that a simple phone can provide to poor people around the world.

Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Health solutions focus on improving patient care for the poor by helping healthcare providers become more efficient, and by making modern medical information easily accessible and relevant to the poor themselves. In Ghana, we have been working through our MOTECH initiative with the Ghana Health Service on a “Mobile Midwife” service that sends weekly messages to pregnant women and new mothers reminding them of appointments and providing health tips that reinforce advice from their local nurses. In addition, nurses can update their clients’ data on their mobile phones and access their records as needed. Since 2010, we have registered more than 11,000 pregnant women and families in the country’s remote Upper East Region.

Be sure to follow our coverage of the Mobile World Congress 2012 to learn more about how we can deliver products and services to poor, rural communities through the 4 billion phones that are already in developing countries and emerging markets.

Dialing up new businesses for the poor

February 29, 2012

This week, mobile phone makers, operators and developers are converging at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Hosted by the GSM Association (GSMA), it is the largest gathering of its kind.

Mobile phones play an integral role in the way Grameen Foundation helps poor people get access to the financial services, business opportunities and vital information they need to improve their lives. We’re at the conference to help build even greater awareness of, and support for, the life-changing opportunities that a simple phone can provide to poor people around the world.

Over the next few days, our team will share insights from the conference. Today’s highlight comes from Sean DeWitt, Director of our AppLab Indonesia initiative, which is helping to create new technology-based businesses for poor people in Indonesia, in collaboration with Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach initiative™ and Ruma, a local social enterprise.

Through this initiative, the “microfranchisee,” typically a woman, sells mobile airtime minutes to local customers. The microfranchisee can also use the phones to provide customers with additional services, such as access to job listings. Since 2010, we have created a network of more than 10,000 microfranchisees (85 percent of whom are women) serving more than 1 million customers. On average, they earn $1.10 per day – a significant sum in a country where 75 percent live on less than $2.50 per day.

Today, there are more than 5 billion mobile phones around with the world, with 4 billion of them in developing countries and emerging markets, where they are often shared by several people. Be sure to follow our coverage of the Mobile World Congress to learn more about how these phones are being used to deliver products and services to poor, rural communities.

David Roodman Does His “Due Diligence,” and Gets it Mostly Right

February 16, 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.

David Roodman, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development, the country’s leading think tank on overseas aid and international development, has written Due Diligence: An Impertinent Inquiry into Microfinance, a remarkable book about microfinance.  It is, quite simply, the best book I have ever read about microfinance among the many I have gone through.  He analyzes the history, track record, recent developments and future of microfinance, and though I do not agree with all of his judgments, I agree with the vast majority of them and admire how he went about deconstructing such a diverse arena of human endeavor.

Most impressive is how he carries the reader through his rigorous thought process.  He repeatedly poses important questions, weighs the evidence, assesses whether there is enough information to make a definitive judgment, presents alternative answers and their implications, admits to a degree of uncertainty, and then does his best to provide an answer – all in plain language.  The hallmarks of his writing are nuance, detail-based distillations of publicly available information, fairness and dispassionate analysis.  If I had to keep one book on my desk for easy access to guide my writings, conversations, analysis and decisions, it would be his.  (Due Diligence is the culmination of research and writing process that played out on his blog, which has evolved to become a leading online source for microfinance information and analysis over the past couple of years.)

Cover of David Roodman's "Due Diligence"

Alex Counts, Grameen Foundation's president and CEO, calls David Roodman's new publication "the best book I have ever read about microfinance."

After some introductory remarks, Roodman sets the modern microfinance movement in a historical context, and does this better than I have ever seen before.  His survey also provides some important lessons for those working to expand and improve microfinance today.

The bulk of the book addresses the question “Does microfinance work?” in distinct ways. Does microfinance reduce poverty, does it improve the control the poor have over their lives regardless of whether it leads them to a poverty-free life and, thirdly, has it become a vibrant new industry that strengthens societies by enhancing ecosystems (in the broadest sense) consistent with long-term socio-economic development?  I admire how he has given equal weight to the three dimensions of “working” – I strongly agree with him that all are important and the latter two (especially the third) have been comparatively neglected by microfinance advocates and critics alike.

Due Diligence deserves to be read by anyone involved in microfinance, including those who volunteer their time or contribute and/or invest their money.  Let me summarize how he answers the main questions he asks, as well as his recommendations, and then distill how I believe someone involved with Grameen Foundation – or any microfinance network or institution – should feel about their past and future involvements, given his judgments and recommendations.


Tackling the Challenges of Offering Voluntary Savings to the Poor

December 23, 2011

Leo Tobias is Grameen Foundation’s Technology Program Manager of the Solutions for the Poorest Microsavings Initiative.

Offering savings programs for the poor can be challenging. First, the microfinance institutions (MFIs) that want to offer these services are competing with a variety of alternatives, such as home-based savings (under mattresses, in strongboxes, etc.), or keeping money with relatives or neighbors. Second, offering savings products fundamentally changes the relationship between the MFI and its customers.  When clients only want loans, making that the primary purpose for their interactions with the MFI, there is a standard process. Taking voluntary customer deposits radically changes that relationship, to one that is initiated by the customer and that involves varying amounts of deposits or withdrawals. In other words, the customer interaction is less predictable.  At any time of the day or night, the customer can ask for her balance and withdraw from it.

A loan officer from CASHPOR in India processes loan payments on her mobile phone.

A loan officer from CASHPOR in India processes loan payments on her mobile phone.

Grameen Foundation’s Microsavings team has found that poor customers all want to have easy and convenient access to their funds.  The MFIs we work with face common technology challenges involved with providing such access.

In this post on the CGAP Technology Blog, Leo Tobias, our technology program manager for the Grameen Foundation Microsavings Initiative, discusses two of the major technology challenges facing MFIs.

Collaborating to improve productivity and the quality of life in Colombia

November 30, 2011

Mobile phones can transform the way rural farmers in developing countries get information to better manage their crops and animals. Today, Grameen Foundation announced a new collaboration with MasterCard Worldwide that will develop new mobile applications for rural farmers in Colombia.

With these solutions, a smallholder farmer will be able to know the specific prices for his crops and the best weather conditions for planting and harvesting, without even having to leave his land.

The pilot will start in Urabá and Santa Marta, areas that were hard hit by Colombia’s internal conflicts. Over the next year, we will begin using research that was conducted earlier to test applications that will enable farmers to access information more easily and provide the organizations that serve them with tools to do so more effectively.

In addition, we will be tapping volunteers from MasterCard to work on this project and other global initiatives through Bankers Without Borders®, Grameen Foundation’s volunteer program.

Listen to Alberto Solano, Grameen Foundation’s regional CEO for Latin America and the Caribbean, discuss this initiative.

Read more at the MasterCard Worldwide blog.

You Can Support Mobile Microfranchising in Indonesia with Your Vote

July 26, 2011

Susana Escudero is an intern for Grameen Foundation, based in our Washington, DC, office.

Grameen Foundation has been selected as a semi-finalist for the Ashoka Changemakers Powering Economic Opportunity: Create a World that Works competition, for our initiative to provide mobile phone-based services and business opportunities for the poorest in Indonesia. We were selected as one of 15 semi-finalists from 873 innovations in 83 countries around the world!

The 10 projects that receive the most votes from July 20 through August 10 will proceed to the final judging round, where five organizations will be chosen to each receive a $50,000 grant to further their work. Your vote today will help us become one of those finalists, enabling us to help improve the life of Halimah and more women like her in Indonesia.

Halimah, who lives on the island of West Java, owns and operates a small shop with her husband. Though he tries to find day labor whenever possible to help supplement their income, his work is not steady, so their income is not consistent. Like most of us, Halimah’s dream is to provide a better life for her children, aged 9, 13 and 15. Despite all her hard work, for many years her family’s combined income averaged only $1.80/day.

But that was before Grameen Foundation offered her new income-generating opportunities. For the last four years, we have worked with our collaborators – Qualcomm Wireless Reach, PT Ruma, and Bakrie Telecom – to help people like Halimah to lift themselves out of poverty.  Through our Village Phone initiative and AppLab program, we offer poor entrepreneurs profitable mobile phone-related business opportunities that can help improve their lives.

When Halimah was approached by a Ruma field officer about starting a new line of business selling airtime, she was excited about the possibilities and agreed to do it, because of the existing demand and the potential of a steady cash flow for her shop. Today, Halimah is able to provide an additional income of $1.10/day for her family through her mobile phone business.

Ibu Halimah has been able to increase the income from her small store -- and provide a better life for her children -- by selling airtime for mobile phones to others in her village.

AppLab Indonesia provides the working poor with an innovative and sustainable way of meeting growing demand for affordable access to information through a microfranchising model that is easy for them to use and benefit from. To find out more about the initiative, watch a video about the project on the Grameen Foundation website.

You can be part of the team working to help poor women like Halimah – with the click of a mouse! Please visit the Changemakers competition website to learn more about our innovative project and vote for our Mobile Microfranchising in Indonesia initiative, and ask your friends and family to do the same.

You can vote once during the three-week period for each email address you use (so, for example, if you have a personal email address and a work email address, you can vote once from each account). The Changemakers site will ask you to either create a username and password linked to your email address, or log in through your Facebook account. With enough votes – and a $50,000 grant – we can continue expanding our efforts to create opportunities for women like Halimah.

Lessons Learned from Mobile Technology for Community Health in Ghana

June 15, 2011

Sandra Fernandez is a Social Media Intern for Grameen Foundation.

Over nearly the last year, we’ve been piloting our Mobile Technology for Community Health, or MOTECH, initiative in the remote Upper East Region of Ghana.  MOTECH’s two key services – Mobile Midwife and Nurse Application – provide maternal health information via mobile phones to both pregnant parents and their community nurses in rural areas. The system was launched in July 2010, and we’ve experienced many successes ever since. As is expected with any new projects, it’s also been an intensive learning process. Here’s a short overview of some of the lessons we’ve learned.

Creating the content for the Mobile Midwife service was a fascinating process. We convened focus groups to test whether our messages were clear, effective and helpful – where, among other things, we learned that we needed to be sensitive about the accent and speed of the messages, as well as the “depth.”  Mobile Midwife users strongly preferred to hear messages from a voice that sounded like an experienced “auntie”– meaning a voice that wasn’t too formal or too casual, but wise and familiar. Using voices that users felt were trustworthy was a vital step in ensuring the effectiveness of our messages.

MOTECH’s Nurse Application – designed to help community health workers track patients’ needs and care – was originally meant to utilize the nurses’ personal phones. Yet we learned that over the long term, it was cheaper and more effective to provide participating nurses with low-cost, durable handsets that were pre-programmed with MOTECH forms for data entry. As such, we could avoid the considerably high text-messaging costs associated with personal mobiles, while experiencing an easier, more cohesive training process.

These are just a couple of the findings. We’ve learned a lot since July of last year, and expect to continue doing so in the coming months. We’ve recorded more than 150 MOTECH messages (even some in song!), and we’re currently working on a replication project in the Awutu Senya district of Ghana’s central region, to assess opportunities of expanding the MOTECH initiative nationally.

If you’d like to read more about our findings, we’ve recently prepared a report of lessons learned available for download.

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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 296 other followers