The Finance & Rural Development panelists looked at how mobile technologies enable access to capital, information and financial services for remote rural communities.
David Edelstein, Grameen Technology Center: works with mobile phones to promote entrepreneurship, disseminate and collect information, and to provide access to products and services to benefit the poor in the domains of financial services, agriculture and health across Asia, Africa and the Americas.
Su Kahambu, iCow at Green Dreams Ltd: Voice-based agri-mobile app that acts as ‘midwife’ for cows, tracking fertility cycles and providing information to maximise dairy production in Kenya.
Rose Shuman, Question Box: range of interventions to enable dissemination of information to farmers whilst overcoming literacy, language and technology barriers; e.g. hotlines with mobile agents and push-button ‘question boxes’ in India and Uganda.
There are 4bn mobile phones already in use in developing countries – many of which are shared – and this represents an unprecedented opportunity to reach the poor at scale. 75% of the global poor are small-scale farmers whose average yield is 1/7 of the US average. Mobile phones can be used as an information dissemination tool to overcome information poverty and raise incomes, providing fast, cheap access to vital information for guidance and diagnostics. They also provide a safe place for the poor to save and transact money, e.g. 60% of adults in Kenya have an mPesa mobile money account. This allows local people to develop their own solutions using mobiles as enablers. The two-way nature of communications also allows service providers to better understand and meet needs.
Lessons from the field on making rural mobile interventions work for the poor
- Use appropriate technology (what is already being used by your target population) and keep it simple – for illiterate populations this may well be voice-based, e.g. hotlines and voice messages
- There needs to be an immediate tangible benefit on quality of life or financials
- Tailor your service to local needs – ensure you keep an ear to the ground. Take as much data as you can on your target audience and use it to improve your service
- Innovate constantly: failure is valuable – technology allows you to fail fast and learn from failures
- Think about sustainability from the outset, and measure your impact
- The poor are very price-sensitive: consider pricing options to accommodate income fluctuations – a good product at the wrong price is a bad product
- Building trust and relationships is very important.
- Use locally appropriate distribution channels – and consider multiple channels, e.g. farmer groups, rural stockists, call centres and government trainers.
- ICT are tools, and interventions should not be technology-driven – use the same criteria as with any other tool.
Lessons from the field on supporting rural mobile interventions
- Invest in market gaps or failures
- Avoid parachuting in solutions designed in Seattle or London
- Seek measurable outcomes
- Ensure rigour in the business case: if the model is not sustainable impact will be limited
- Existing businesses will not always know how to reach the base of the pyramid (BOP)
- Time is needed to test and refine innovations
- Patient capital is needed for BOP innovations – this is where grants can be helpful
- In the innovation space, dialogue with potential grantees/investees can be useful – encourage organisations to articulate the value proposition and prove that people want the product/service.
Impact: When you have a product, client retention and repeat usage are good impact data.
Look for unexpected impacts – e.g. data gathered, opportunities for education along with information dissemination.
Sustainability: For organisations which offer low-cost products and services to rural poor, reaching a certain scale should bring sustainability.
There is potential to explore possibilities for creative business models e.g. cross-subsidisation. Can your tech offer efficiencies to donor organisations? Can other services be offered through your channels? Advertising? Government announcements?
Scale: Strategic partners are often required to get to scale.
Scaling impact does not necessarily correlate with organisational growth:
- with a for-profit model, proving a concept will allow others to move into the space (e.g. Kilimo Salama)
- with a non-profit model you can provide tools for other organisations to replicate your innovation (e.g. Question Box) – support not implementation.
Open data: These interventions can provide valuable real-time data flows.
In practice piles of raw data are not necessarily useful – consider how data gathered can be useful and effective – can it be used for other purposes?
Funders are in a good position to consider how data gathered can be leveraged.
If you’d like to delve a little deeper into the issues explored by the panelists, videos of all the speakers are available to view here.
Thanks to Daisy Wakefield, Aphra Sklair and Deanna Laforet of the Institute for Philanthropy for producing these notes.