USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Mobile Solutions

Six Degrees of Mobile Money in Afghanistan

Gregory Howell is the Deputy Director of the Office of Economic Growth and Infrastructure at USAID’s Afghanistan Mission in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Traditionally, USAID Missions have man­aged development programs by segmenting activities into technical offices such as democracy and governance, economic growth, health, education, and infrastructure. Crossfertilization takes place occasionally, when mutual interests are identified; but meaningful collaboration is rare. The focus on mobile money in Afghanistan breaks out of the usual stovepipes, demonstrating how dynamic teams bringing expertise from different disciplines in partnership with host-country counterparts can contribute to a collective goal—even in a difficult operating environment.

Ten years after the introduction of mobile-phone technology to the country, more than half of all Afghans have mobile phones, and more than 80% have access to a mobile-phone network. But only 7% of Afghans have a bank account.

By leveraging the mobile-phone network to provide financial services to the unbanked, key public- and private-sector services can be improved to serve hundreds of thousands of women and men across the country. With mobile money, a teacher can receive her salary in full and on time in a remote district; a police officer can transfer funds to his family back in his home village; and a  business­ woman can repay her microloan without having to spend valuable time away from her business. Once customers have registered for the ser­vice, they can visit a local mobile-money agent to withdraw actual cash that had been deposited in their mobile wallet. The agent serves as the ATM, exchanging mobile money for cash once the customer inputs a PIN number into the phone. Mobilemoney service provider bank accounts pool funds from all clients in at least four banks to diversify risk.

Mobile money can fundamentally transform the lives of Afghans, just as it has in Kenya, the Philippines, and a growing list of countries around the world. USAID’s strategic approach focuses on three main areas of intervention:

  • Engaging with key stakeholders, including government ministries, private-sector companies,
    and international donors
  • Ensuring an appropriate legal and regulatory environment and support from relevant host country government agencies
  • Encouraging innovation through public-private partnerships that could lead to greater inancial
    inclusion and development results

Read the full article in USAID’s Frontiers in Development Publication.

Celebrating Girls in Information and Communication Technology Day

As Featured on State Department’s Dipnote Blog

Ann Mei Chang serves as the Senior Advisor for Women and Technology in the Secretary of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.

With the global shortage of skilled professionals in Information and Communication Technology, or ICT, why are so few girls pursuing careers in this lucrative and fast-growing field? This is not only a question of equal opportunity, but one of economic necessity. We will not be able to compete effectively in the increasingly global and technologically sophisticated economy if we do not harness the full human potential of all our people.

Today, we are pleased to be joining the ITU (International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency) in celebrating Girls in ICT Day. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, will be joining UN Women Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet, and many others in New York City today to discuss ways we can encourage young women around the world to play a greater role in the technology revolution. By raising the awareness among girls about the many rewarding aspects of a career in ICT and awakening companies to this under-tapped talent pool, we hope more and more girls will be drawn into ICT-related careers.

Although significant issues remain for high-income countries, in developing countries both the opportunities and challenges for girls in ICT may be even greater. ICT will certainly be an integral element of these countries’ growth stories through improved efficiency, access to new markets, and the creation of new IT-related jobs. And, with the sector still in its infancy, there is an opportunity to recast the IT profession in gender-neutral terms. In many ways, ICT jobs may be ideal for the complex demands women face, as the possibility of flexible hours and remote location can accommodate other responsibilities women may have in the home. Further emphasizing the potential impact, research recently published by the World Bank indicates that the wage gap between men and women is more significantly impacted by the lower-paying job sectors women pursue than wage differences between similar jobs.

Read more on the State Department’s Dipnote Blog

MAMA Bangladesh – Connecting Health Information and Services to Mothers Through Mobiles

Kirsten Gagnaire is the Global Partnership Director of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA).

IDEA/Mobile Solutions is an office at USAID that champions the use of mobile technology for development issues. Mobile Solutions provides support to mobile technology initiatives implemented by USAID pillar bureaus, such as mAgriculture and mHealth. One of the most prominent mHealth initiatives, launched by Secretary Hillary Clinton on Mother’s Day last year, is the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA).

MAMA is a Global Development Alliance founded by USAID and Johnson & Johnson, with support from the mHealth Alliance, United Nations Foundation and BabyCenter. In March, MAMA board representatives visited Bangladesh to meet with MAMA country partners and conduct field visits to meet pregnant women, new mothers and family members who have subscribed to the MAMA mobile phone service, which is called ‘Aponjon’ in Bangladesh. This blog post comes from MAMA Global Partnership Director, Kirsten Gagnaire, and is part of the “blog tour series” reporting on the site visits and experience in Bangladesh. Read how USAID is helping women connect to health services in the developing world.

In Bangladesh, as in so many low-income areas across the globe, pregnant women and new mothers don’t have access to timely, reliable and culturally relevant information about how to best care for themselves and their babies.  Although there has been some improvement over the past ten years, it remains a fact that death due to pregnancy, childbirth and infancy-related causes are high in Bangladesh. And these deaths are often preventable with basic knowledge and care.

A young mother in Bangladesh using a cell phone. Photo Credit: MAMA

The Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) was created to provide new and expectant moms with vital stage-based information via mobile phones. Subscribers who register indicate their expected due date, or the birthday of their recently-born child, and receive weekly messages timed to the stage of pregnancy or the age of their newborn. MAMA’s first in-country program is an initiative catalyzed by USAID and local partner D.Net. Catalyzing the support of a public-private coalition in country, with strong support from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Health, MAMA Bangladesh has developed and piloted an mHealth service called Aponjon, the Bengali word for “trusted friend”. Aponjon works as a mobile-messaging based service, providing moms and the gatekeepers within their families (usually spouses, mothers, and mothers-in-law) with information about how to take care of themselves and their babies, and includes an entirely separate service for husbands that reinforces messages that their wives are receiving and includes information on how to best care for their loved ones during pregnancy and early childhood.

MAMA messages include information on self-care during and after pregnancy, as well as information on when to seek care and how to care for a newborn. MAMA Bangladesh recognizes the need for linking subscribers to local health services, and has  built strong relationships with local health providers.

“I can only visit my clients once each month,” one community health worker told us during a site visit. “But the mobile phone messages continue to provide information between visits; more information than I would be able to share during a single visit.”

The importance of the connection between information about health and information on where to seek assistance was highlighted during one of our site visits.  When asked what was the most important message they received, Shoma and Sale, new parents, beamed at their healthy baby and said that it was a message that discussed the signs of newborn respiratory illness.  They realized their baby was exhibiting the symptoms which required care, according to the message they received.  They were able to connect with their local clinic, where their baby was treated and recovered.

Messages to moms and their families are one of the first, and critically important, steps in educating people about their health, connecting them to care and changing behaviors. MAMA Bangladesh has registered 1,800 women in three districts thus far, and aims to launch nationwide later this year.

To learn more about MAMA, visit http://www.mobilemamaalliance.org/.

 

How Cell Phones Are Empowering Women in the Developing World

This blog originally appeared on the Million Moms Challenge blog.

As a mom, you’re likely to already understand the usefulness of a cell phone – from the convenience of your partner letting you know they’ll be late for dinner to the peace of mind that comes from ensuring your kids are safe and easy to find. Whereas the cell phone is one of several pieces of technology in our lives in the U.S., for many in the developing world, such as in Africa or South Asia, the cell phone is the first and only communication tool, as there are rarely computers or landlines.  And the nearest hospitals, schools or banks are often hours if not days away, making the cell phone the primary way people in the developing world can easily access critical services.

USAID is helping Haiti increase financial inclusion through the advance of mobile money. Photo Credit: USAID

However, women – particularly those living on less than $2/day — are not benefiting from cell phone technology equally to men.  Our research found that a woman in a low- to middle-income country is 21% less likely to own a cell phone than a man. This cell phone gender gap represents at least 300 million women in the developing world without access to this potentially life-enhancing tool.

To address this gender gap, the GSMA, which represents the interests of the global cell phone industry, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and many others are working together through a public-private partnership.

As part of our work, we asked women who represented the cell phone gender gap – those who did not own a phone – how they felt a cell phone could benefit their lives.  80% reported it would help them be better connected to friends and family, 58% said it would be useful in an emergency, 40% said it would cut down on travel time, 18% said it would help them with their businesses and 15% believed it would help them feel secure.

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Understanding the Wants and Needs of Women Living Under $2 a Day

As development practitioners, do we adequately understand our target beneficiaries before programs are implemented?  Are we doing our ‘market research’ before investing resources, to best comprehend the wants and needs of those we intend to assist?  Yes, but only to some extent.  The development community has a variety of tools at its disposal, developed and tweaked over decades, to give us insight and analysis into the lives of our target audiences.  But rarely do they offer a deep, deep dive.

A woman on a phone in India. Photo Credit: GSMA

New research released today at GSMA’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona offers a refreshing approach to understanding women who live at the base of the pyramid, often under $2/day.  The GSMA mWomen Program, whose overall goal is to reduce the mobile phone gender gap in the developing world by 50%, has spent much of the past twelve months carrying out quantitative and qualitative research of more than 2,500 women in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda.

The findings illustrate the lives, struggles and aspirations of women who often represent the backbone of their families and communities, yet rarely are afforded the opportunity to pursue their dreams.  The research, funded by USAID and AusAID, identifies the unique socio-economic and cultural factors that influence and shape women’s lives, framed in part by their attitudes towards mobile ownership. 

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We must do better than cash

Cash can stifle economic development.  That might seem counterintuitive.  Aid is critical to ameliorating the plight of poor people living on far less a day than we spend on a latte.  But physical cash can undercut many development objectives the U.S. government works to achieve.  From improving aid effectiveness to shining a light on corruption to unleashing the private sector, cash gets in the way.   If you care about reducing poverty, then you must also care about reducing the reliance on physical cash.

USAID is helping Haiti increase financial inclusion through the advance of mobile money. Photo Credit: USAID

We begin a movement to do just that.  USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah is announcing a broad set of reforms to use USAID’s $22 billion financial footprint as a force for good—as a way to reduce the development industry’s dependence on cash.  This includes integrating new language into USAID contracts and grants to encourage the use of electronic and mobile payments and launching new programs in 10 countries designed to catalyze the scale of innovative payments platforms.  Based on examples in Kenya, Haiti, Mexico and Brazil, we believe that our implementing partners will generate at least 15% efficiency gains in their operations by 2016.

This movement would not have been possible 5 or 10 years ago.  The infrastructure did not exist.  But the rapid rise of the mobile phone—there are now nearly 4.5 billion mobile phones in the developing world—in tandem with electronic cards makes it possible today.   We cannot afford to let this opportunity pass—this movement cannot be a movement of one.  Indeed, USAID’s assistance is a big drop but still a drop in the development bucket.   This must be a movement that crosses sectors and borders—private companies with extensive supply chains and governments with large disbursements must join together to leverage electronic payments platforms.  Here’s why we must do better than cash.

First, cash costs money.  It is ironic, but paying teacher salaries or issuing social transfers is expensive.  You need money to hire couriers to lug big bags of cash around—and leakages are inevitable.  Think of electronic or mobile payments as the functional equivalent of epoxy paste—they seal the cracks in the payment edifice and prevent leakages.

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