Posts Tagged ‘Technology’

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.

Reporting from Hong Kong

June 14, 2012

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

The summer after I joined Grameen Foundation to run Bankers without Borders (BwB), I had the pleasure to travel to Shanghai, China, where we had amassed a significant pool of advocates for our work – the “Shanghai Volunteers.” I met with these inaugural members of our BwB community (organized by uber-volunteer Susan Place Everhart) and joined Jennifer Meehan, our Regional CEO for Asia, in meetings with potential corporate partners for Grameen Foundation’s work in the region.  After spending time in Shanghai, I then traveled to Bangalore, India, where BwB was undertaking one of its first corporate collaborations and field-based projects in Asia, with Grameen Koota and a team of volunteers from Accenture, Dow Chemical and Citi.

It’s now three years later, and I am headed to Hong Kong – Grameen Foundation’s regional headquarters for Asia – to spend time with Sharada Ramanathan, the extraordinary woman behind BwB’s presence today in Asia. Working with Grameen Foundation’s regional staff, we’ll brainstorm how to continue to deeply integrate volunteers into the way Grameen Foundation does business – from helping us fundraise and addressing our own capacity gaps, to creating standard roles for volunteers in delivering our programs and services in Asia. We’ll also look at how we continue to share the skills and expertise of volunteers in our database – more than 20% of whom are based in Asia – with other social enterprises that have a market-based approach to improving the lives of the poor.

BwB Regional Program Officer for Asia, Sharada Ramanathan, and Director Shannon Maynard are spending a week meeting with volunteers and supporters in Hong Kong.

BwB Regional Program Officer for Asia, Sharada Ramanathan (left), and Director Shannon Maynard are spending a week meeting with volunteers and supporters in Hong Kong.

As I prepare for this trip, I think it’s worth reflecting on some of BwB’s successes, failures and insights from our three-year history in Asia.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

Grameen Foundation and Microsoft Join Forces to Accelerate Impact of Technology for Microfinance

December 2, 2009

George Conard is the Executive Director of Technology for Microfinance at Grameen Foundation

technology

Advancing the use of technology across the microfinance industry

Over the past decade, technology has played a key role in Grameen Foundation’s mission to alleviate poverty.  From equipping microfinance institutions with the capacity to manage technology to building and delivering industry-wide solutions like our Mifos software platform, our goal is to advance the use of technology across the microfinance industry.  The driving force is our Technology for Microfinance Initiative which seeks to transform technology from a barrier into an accelerator for the growth and impact of microfinance.

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