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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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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