Tag Archives: mobiles

Mobile Money: Development’s New Banking System?

One of our classes this week focused on mobile phone case studies and some of the impacts of mobile phone implementation in rural populations. One of the studies, “Mobile Phones and Economic Development: Evidence from the Fishing Industry in India” by Reuben Abraham, was about Indian fishermen using mobile phones to check market prices of fish, coordinate with buyers, etc. The study concludes that there is some positive effects on reduced waste of fish, and a small increase in profits for fishermen, but overall the impact of the phones in the studied community was nothing super amazing. Abraham also asserts that information gaps in markets can be remedied by the creative use of technology, which inspired me to find some creative uses of mobile phone technology that might have a serious impact on development.

When I found the Mobile Money for the Unbanked program from the GSMA, I thought there might be some real potential in it. The basis of the program is to support mobile providers in rural and undeveloped areas to offer banking services to their subscribers. The reason that this is such an intriguing idea is that it uses the mobile platform to provide a service that is already so established in its standard form. The banking system in the US has adopted credit cards, debit cards, and even apps that allow you to check your accounts, but this program is a form of banking that is very new in is conception.

Mobile Money allows subscribers to load money onto their SIM card and use the money to pay for things like taxis or groceries. They can also withdraw cash from it at one of their provider’s locations. This is a great solution to the lack of banking in rural areas, and because of mobile provider recognition many people already trust these companies. The program also gives GSMA great data measuring tools for financial indicators, which is otherwise very hard to collect from people without any documented transactions. The website provides a really cool tracker tool that shows where they have employed the program and where they are planning to.

The Mobile Money for the Unbanked program is one of the really cool and successful examples of taking an existing technology and using it in a non-traditional way to improve ICT4D. I am really excited by the potential for mobile banking, and though there are now apps like Venmo, which allows people to make quick bank/credit transfers, making the mobile providers the bank is a very different approach all together. I will be interested to see if this catches on in the West, or remains in the developing world.

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SOS via SMS

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“I want to draw your attention to a gap that exists today between the public’s use of social media in a disaster and the ability of disaster response organizations and relief agencies to act on that information.” In a testimony to Congress in 2011, Suzy DeFrancis, Chief Public Affairs Officer of the American Red Cross, brings to light a key issue area in current disaster relief strategy. The potential value of social media during disaster situations is enormous, more and more often people are using social media outlets such as Twitter or Facebook to alert others of their well-being (or not) and whereabouts immediately after a disaster. While social media may not be accessible to some in lesser developed countries, mobile phones and texting is almost an universal function that is available globally. The 2010 Emergency Social Data Summit at the American Red Cross identified key benefits and challenges associated with the use of texting in a disaster situation. Their report identified texting as the most accessible technology across socio-economic groups. Furthermore, texting costs less and requires less bandwidth then say a phone call, a tweet, or a Facebook post.

A priority of disaster response is making the situation less chaotic. By encouraging citizens participation and empowering people to contribute to the relief effort on the ground, a sense of order and accomplishment can be achieved. Using text messages to send out information about shelters, food and water resources, or first aid stations could save precious time and help agencies efficiently distribute their resources. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate emphasizes the importance of enabling people to see themselves as survivors, not victims, of a disaster. Social media and text messaging could be a viable means for empowerment. Citizen reporting can be extremely useful and is sometimes the only information aid agencies have available, yet presents the following challenges: (1) Misinformation (2) Overwhelming the system (3) Language (4) Platform Failure. In order to overcome these challenges the public must be educated on the appropriate manner in which to contact aid agencies before a disaster, so as to manage the response expectations. Furthermore, one single agency or social media platform should not be responsible for all requests; a collaborative effort is much less vulnerable to shocks and unprecedented failures. The potential technology has to coordinate relief efforts and save lives is astounding, aid agencies simply must keep up with technological advances while staying in tune with public use. 


Mobile Phones in Rwanda

This week we discussed the use of mobile phones in developing countries. We read this article about how fishermen in India used their mobile phones to predict demand and anticipate which types of fish would be in demand. While reading more about this topic I found this article also from the ITID Journal that discussed how mobile phones impact “microoentrepreneurs” in Rwanda. Rwanda is one of the most underdeveloped nations in the world but even in this difficult situation in Rwanda mobile phones made a difference. Microoentrepreneurs are people who start businesses with 5 of few employees. In the developing world one household may be the site of multiple microenterprises. My article discussed the story of a baker in Kigali who credited his purchase of a mobile phone with the rapid expansion of his business. He claimed, “business increased 30% due to the mobile, so much so that he had been able to move his family into a larger more comfortable home.” Since buying his phone customers can call him to place orders, he can call his suppliers to buy materials, he can take orders from all over the city and not only his neighborhood, as well as constantly communicate with this employee. He has also been able to expand his business into wedding cakes orders, which are phoned in from throughout the country.

His mobile phone had the added bonus of allowing him to keep in close contact with his wife and children while at work.

Mobile phones expand the market place and make business owners better able to respond to the needs of their area. Microoentrepreneurs, like the baker in Kigali, can save time by calling suppliers and customers rather than having to visit them in person and increase productivity by expanding their customer base by taking phone orders.

There are countless uses for mobile technologies in the developing would but better technological infrastructure needs to be created to fully utilize all the possibilities of mobile technologies.


Mobiles, Markets, & Methodology

Reuben Abraham on Markets from the Economist Magazine October, 2011

*An ICT4D student has commented and posted about this specific article previously; my goal is to provide an alternative critique of this article, and demonstrate the major flaws with Abraham’s article

This week in class, we continue our presentations and discussions of the various sectors that contribute to ICT development. Today, we had an active dialogue about the state of multi-national firms and businesses, as well as whether or not certain industries and business practices were positively or negatively influencing the developing countries that we focus on.

As part of this week’s dialogue, we read Mobile Phones and Economic Development: Evidence From the Fishing Industry in India from 2007 by Dr. Reuben Abraham, whom posits that mobile phones add an overall increase to the livelihoods of those actively involved in the fishing industry in India. Abraham recognizes previous research by Forestier, Grace and Kenny from 2002, whom found that inequality in the short term increased as a result of disparate access to capital between those at the marketing end of the supply chain and those at the production end. However, Abraham nonetheless attempts to show that individuals actively involved in all facets of the production chain of fishing have experienced an increased sense of safety and security, a closer connection to their loved ones and family, as well a benefit during times of emergencies or illness. This empirical evidence no doubt proves that the mobile, at least as a mere object of daily consumption, plays an integral and treasured role in the lives of fishermen, middlemen, and other players.

Unfortunately, Abraham’s article is initially positioned to determine specific quantitative results proving that the integration of mobile phones reduced risk as well as losses, resulted in less wastage of time and resources by fishermen, as well as aided in the decrease of price dispersion and fluctuation in the marketplace. Not only are these economic conclusions proved misplaced by the empirical and quantitative evidence that Abraham conducts, but also the actual methodology that Abraham uses to conduct these surveys renders any assumptions from his work unfounded and inconclusive.

The first of these market assumptions that he seeks to explore is the notion that mobile phones result in “less wastage of time and resources” by fishermen and middlemen. Abraham notes that the “exploratory data” implies that fishermen should be able to be out at sea for longer periods of time due to the use of mobiles, but unfortunately 50% of those surveyed in the Kerala, India fishing industry did not respond to this question. This lack of conclusive data does not aid his assumption in the least. Additionally, the assumption that mobiles “increased fishermen’s ability to sell their goods in the highest priced markets” was completely undercut by the mere hierarchy within the Indian fishing industry. Due to the relationship between fishermen and the middlemen whom control the commissions from the fish, the fishermen were forced to sell their fish in the markets where the middlemen were able to achieve the highest gains. Unfortunately, this left a gaping hole in the idea that a greater awareness of market prices due to communication from the mobiles would result in a net profit increase by fishermen. Theoretically, this assumption could prove valid in a region where this relationship provides more freedom to fishermen, but as far as Kerala, India and this survey is concerned it is rendered false.

Abraham then attempts to underscore the notion that mobiles result in “decreases in price dispersions and fluctuations”, which would result in greater price transparency along the region. However, due to the inability to collect data in Kerala before mobiles began to be utilized in 1997 (aka: create a control group), it is quantitatively inconclusive to suggest that mobiles have helped to maintain even prices and competition across the region. Abraham’s footnotes add incredulity to the inconclusive, as he post-scripts that market players “would potentially lose subsidies that they currently use” if the data showed “higher incomes than that which was officially reported”.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, the assumption that mobiles helped to reduce risk and losses, which is a valiant and worthwhile market enhancement, was proven by the data to “not translate into increased incomes” by the fishermen. With an equal number of those surveyed responding that they observed both an increase of incomes and no change in their incomes, there was no clear indication that they were reaping a greater benefit from the mobile phone, even though 75% of those surveyed stated that they felt risk had decreased. Additionally, since these phones were not part of any subsidized program or initiative, and since data plans are often paid in a ‘pay-as-you-go” system, if anything the fishermen have witnessed a decrease in income.

Adding insult to injury, Abraham astonishingly mentions in a footnote that those surveyed were “uncomfortable with answering,” honestly, since it seems that they assumed he “was a front for the mobile phone companies”. The potentially catastrophic effects of his lack of proper methodology for this article do not favor Abraham’s market assessment in any way.

What began as an attempt to evaluate the benefits of mobiles in the fishing market in India resulted in demonstrably inconclusive quantitative data, as well as troubling information from an empirical survey that seems to not have been undertaken in a responsible manner. Perhaps there is an industry in the developing world in which mobiles can make an impact, or furthermore, a way to actually increase incomes and achieve higher fishery market results without causing “the poorest of the poor” to suffer initially (better boats and fish freezers perhaps?). But one thing is for sure: it is not the fishing industry in Kerala, India.


Sometimes ICT Projects Fail

It is hard to admit when something doesn’t quite go as planned, especially when money and time are invested. ICT projects, for example, only succeed about 30 percent of the time. However, it is important to learn from mistakes and help the rest of the ICT4D community avoid the same errors. This is why it is important to say that you failed and discuss what went wrong. In December of 2012, Ben Taylor from Daraja gave a talk about lessons learned from an ICT project that had failed.

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In 2010, Ben and his colleagues set up a program in Tanzania that rallied citizens to put pressure on local authorities to fix broken water pumps by using mobile phones.  Local communities were asked to use SMS messages to report the state of the water supply to the authorities. They also informed local radio stations to observe any action that the water authorities were going to take in response to the text messages. This program received a lot of national attention before it was launched; however, after the launch only 53 text messages were received. This disappointed Ben and his colleagues, who were assuming that more than 3,000 text messages would be received.  When they looked into the reasons for the program’s failure they came up with 3 major problems. The first was for political reasons; since the relationship between the local communities and authorities was sensitive, the citizens did not feel comfortable reporting on their government. The second reason was gender-specific, as women and children were often the ones who were collecting the water and they did not have access to mobile phones. The third reason was that there was limited mobile network coverage and electricity in the villages. Ben and his colleagues shared the reasons for failure on the web and in leaflets in order to prevent others from making the same mistakes.

The reasons for failure in Ben’s project correlated well with the documentary that we watched in class.  For example, I do not think that sufficient research was done on the area where the project was going to be launched. The reasons for failure -politics, gender, and access- would have been noticed if time was spent researching the area. In development projects, it is common for people from the developed world to go into a country and decide what the country needs and how to do it without consulting anyone from the area. This is why many development projects fail. Without truly understanding a community, it is impossible to know what is best for them. I believe that the only way to implement a sustainable development project is to live on the ground and make yourself a part of the community. That way, you will be able to see and hear what would actually make a difference in their lives.


BRCK: A Backup Generator For The Internet

For those who live or work in developing areas, the nettlesome pursuit of connecting to the internet is, if not impossible, a chore and luxury. In an ever-connecting world where the value and need for reliable internet is becoming vital for nearly every aspect of development, the modes by which we connect–i.e. ethernet, routers and USB devices–have changed little. Thus, one’s internet connection is only as reliable as the surrounding infrastructure–which, in the context of this blog, is more prone to random blackouts and painfully dated technology than the nearest Apple store. As such, there’s a market-gap for a product that can withstand the barriers of connectivity in regions lacking dependable service.

BRCK

Meet BRCK, the latest innovation from Ushahidi. BRCK is your home router after a few years in the Peace Corps–its leaner, stronger, and more versatile. The device can connect to WiFi, 3G, 4G mobile networks and Ethernet; when one service fails, BRCK automatically switches to the next available one. Say your reading this blog in Northern Uganda using WiFi via the BRCK and the power goes out. Given that there’s a mobile network, you’ll be able to read on and on while BRCK runs off its 8-hour battery. As Ushahidi likes to put it, “it’s the equivalent of a backup generator for the net.” BRCK also has a 16 GB hard drive and can be used as file sharing source–think “cloud”–and can support up to 20 devices in multiple rooms.

Albeit a handy tool, BRCK far from solves the problem of someone trying to gain access to the internet in, say, anyplace without a mobile network. The product still relies on the surrounding technological infrastructure–if your off the grid, you’re off the internet. Moreover, you wont be seeing a lot of school children or small shop owners lugging these things around; BRCK’s currently go for $200 USD.

Nonetheless, the BRCK is a step forward in the way people connect to the internet or at the very least provides the blueprint for a multifaceted router. It’s still a temporary, limited solution for broken infrastructures that need tremendous improvement–but that kind of progress is slower than dial-up. In the meantime, grab a BRCK.


Applying Plan Int’l Strategies for Development

Plan International’s four strategies for ICT enabled development are useful when predicting the future and implementation for ICT devices in specific areas. The blog Will the Ubuntu Phone Rock the African Software Development Market? published on ICTworks.org tries to predict the future of the Ubuntu phone in Africa. The Ubuntu phone is similar to typical mobiles in the U.S. because they have computer capabilities. The phone is comparable to Apple’s iPhone and other Samsung phones. Using the following four Plan International ICT strategies allows us to gain better insight into Ubuntu’s possible success or failure:

1)Understanding the Context for ICT Work
2)Finding a Match Between Priorities and Possibilities
3)Planning and Implementing Concrete Initiatives
4)Building a Culture of Systematic, Sustained and Strategic ICT Use

Understanding the context for ICT work (strategy 1) in Africa is extremely important. Mobile phone ownership is on the rise as well as access to the Internet. There is a growing market for mobiles and an increase in competition in the mobile phone field in Africa. However the cost of mobiles vary and the Ubuntu phone is more expensive than most. If consumers are also interested in the phone component, viewing access to calls as a priority, then they will likely buy the cheaper phone (strategy 2). However if consumers find the dual capabilities important they may go for the Ubuntu phone. According to the blog, “smartphone penetration is swinging up and may actually outpace mobile. Having the ability to write not only apps but full-blown applications may be where African software developers finally get traction.” This is a great incentive for Ubuntu that gives them a leg up on the competition. Both strategy 3 and 4 are more applicable to the ICT environment and less on the specifics such as the Ubuntu phone.

Overall, the future of the Ubuntu phone in Africa is unknown until shipping begins in October 2013.