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Archives for Mobile Solutions

Mobile Agriculture: A Lifeline for Pakistan’s Farmers

A ‘connected’ farmer is sharing information with a ‘non-connected’ farmer in his community. / USAID/Pakistan

A ‘connected’ farmer is sharing information with a ‘non-connected’ farmer in his community. / USAID/Pakistan

Spend five minutes on any busy street in Pakistan and you will think that you are in one of the most connected countries in the world. Most people, regardless of economic class, have a mobile phone, and farmers are no exception. Most of these farmers live in isolated remote communities which can be prone to major natural disasters and violence from militants. These communities have extremely poor infrastructure, almost no public transportation, and little access to basic financial services. Mobile phone coverage, however, penetrates into some of the most remote areas of Pakistan, reaching otherwise isolated rural communities.

For these communities, mobile phones are a lifeline. Recognizing this, USAID Pakistan has partnered with the regional government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Telenor, an international mobile network operator in Pakistan, to create and deliver tailored mobile solutions to get information to peach and potato growers as well as fisheries in Swat Valley.

By delivering real-time information about market prices and new techniques, weather forecasting, and diversified financial services via mobile technology, the service helps Pakistani farmers and hatchery managers improve productivity and get better returns on their investments. As their incomes increase through more informed decision making, they are able to invest in better quality inputs and equipment.

Around 1,500 people are included in the pilot project, which is focused on testing and scaling up what works to ensure that the program’s digital development tools meet participant’s needs.

A farmer participating in the USAID pilot program is reading a text alert on best farming practice. / USAID/Pakistan

A farmer participating in the USAID pilot program is reading a text alert on best farming practice. / USAID/Pakistan

The project provides two basic services. First, it sends alerts to mobile phones to provide farmers with tips and advice in their local language, helping them to increase the quality and quantity of their production. Participants can also use their mobile phones to access recorded advisories from an interactive voice response (IVR). In a country where the literacy rate is low, voice-based services address the difficulties faced by those unable to read or write.

These text and voice services provide a wide range of information. Weather forecasts help them decide when to plant, irrigate and harvest. Information on market prices and consumer trends help them understand which products will yield the highest returns for their efforts. Farmers also receive technical advice on how to fight pests or diseases, improve farming practices for more sustainable agriculture, and apply processing techniques that reduce food wastage. They can learn about regulations, available subsidies and local fairs.

Fresh potatoes from the farms in Swat / USAID/Pakistan

Fresh potatoes from the farms in Swat / USAID/Pakistan

Initial feedback from the pilot is promising. More than 90 percent of the participants who received the messages said that they were well-timed and useful, and three quarters have adopted the service’s recommended practices. Subscribers also reported that they shared the information with non-subscribed farmers, underscoring the value of the information and quadrupling the project’s reach.

As a corollary to the project, mobile financial services, including remittances, mobile banking and value-added services like crop insurance are also being introduced. This will help boost food production, improve livelihoods and incomes and introduce technological solutions to improve efficiency in the agricultural supply chain.

By analyzing calls Pakistani farmers place to the IVR service, agricultural specialists and research organizations can build an accurate picture of the challenges rural farmers face and the evolving trends in Pakistani agriculture.

At its core, mobile agriculture is about putting information into farmers’ hands and empowering them through sustainable and scalable solutions. The hope is that the success of this partnership will encourage and enable other private sector players to enter the market, contributing to a well-informed and more prosperous farming community throughout the country. It is also expected that these innovations will create new economic opportunities in this politically sensitive region, where financial stability is an essential factor in the region’s overall resilience.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shehla Rizwan is Development Outreach and Communications Specialist for USAID/Pakistan

Mobile Persuasion: Can mobile phones and cutting-edge behavioral science improve lives?

An agri-economist we know starts his talks by being provocative:

Actually, the world doesn’t need to spend one more dollar on agricultural research. The truth is we have all the information we need to feed the world. What we don’t know is how to get people to use the agricultural products we already have.

We might not fully agree, but it has a key insight. All of us- including people living in poverty- have complicated, demanding lives. So simple availability doesn’t mean that even life-changing services like vaccines and HIV tests stay at the top of our minds.

Some real examples from Mozambique:

Farmers tell us they want to use fertilizer, but it’s a hassle because the dealer is 35 kilometers away and by the time planting season comes they have no cash.

Farmers and community members in Morrumbala, Mozambique. Photo by Bita Rodriguez

Farmers and community members in Morrumbala, Mozambique. Photo by Bita Rodriguez

People living with TB know they need to take their medicine. And they do, but as soon as they start to feel better- even though their treatment isn’t complete- many stop.

Jerome has multidrug-resistant TB, he has been undergoing treatment for over a month at the East Avenue Medical Center, Philippines. WHO/HM.Dias

Jerome has multidrug-resistant TB, he has been undergoing treatment for over a month at the East Avenue Medical Center, Philippines.
WHO/HM.Dias

We know this gap between our intentions and actions exists because we live it out ourselves. Who doesn’t have a medical appointment they’ve been avoiding or an antibiotic regimen they gave up the moment they felt better? In the developed world, we design programs like automatic retirement enrollment to make decisions as easy as possible. Yet, in development we often fail to design programs with simple human behavior in mind.

What’s Possible

A growing body of evidence demonstrates that leveraging behavioral science can significantly improve our impact. Slight changes in the way we offer services can matter. A study in India showed that offering women an appointment with a family planning counselor while not in the presence of their male partner significantly increased use of family planning services.

Mobile Persuasion

At the same time as these advances, the mobile phone is revolutionizing our ability to communicate. With more than 500 million phones in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, there is a tremendous opportunity to combine behavioral science with the power of the mobile phone, or mobile persuasion.

Kenyan students play a mobile game. Credit: Ed Owles, Worldview

Kenyan students play a mobile game. Credit: Ed Owles, Worldview

Using mobiles to change behavior increases our reach, our knowledge, and makes services more accessible. We can remind people in rural areas to take their medicine, digitally track performance, and make follow-up information as easy as receiving a text.

So What Are We Doing?

In Mozambique, USAID is testing and applying mobile persuasion with a few key studies.

 Helping Farmers Save: Poor farmers have a shock of cash after harvest but very little at planting season, the critical time to buy inputs like fertilizer. We’re supporting a study on offering farmers the chance to save for fertilizer right after harvest with mobile money. The ultimate goal is to increase farmers’ crops and income. To do that, the study will answer critical first order questions: can we increase farmers’ use of mobile money (a new and under-used technology in Mozambique)? Would small incentives encourage farmers to save and keep those savings until planting season? Would offering their friends and families the chance to save via mobile money increase use of mobile money by introducing a new social norm? Would that use translate into decreased demands on farmers’ savings?

Helping People With HIV/TB: Sometimes we learn from good work that’s already on the ground. Absolute Return for Kids (ARK) and Universidade Eduardo Mondlane in Mozambique ran an SMS study that reminded people living with HIV to come to appointments and take their medicine. In 12 months, this increased appointment adherence for new patients in urban areas by 10 percentage-points. USAID is supporting the continuation of these messages and sending messages with innovative personalization to a new group of patients, those co-infected with TB+HIV.

We’re excited to learn what works and what doesn’t. We’ll have results on the farmer study next month and will post the second part to this blog.

Our challenge is to take these insights and apply them to other thorny development challenges.  And, of course, to turn them inward to help USAID create the systems that make applying good science and user-centered design quick, easy, and transformative.

 

Empowering Moms Through mHealth

This blog post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

My heart smiled the moment the four women entered the meeting room where I had been waiting. I stood to greet them and the babies they carried, eager to hear their stories. The young mothers sat in the chairs across from us and soon the babies were all up on the table, their proud moms making certain that we could see their precious little ones. The youngest baby was 4½ months old, the oldest 14 months. They were all adorable.

USAID harnesses the power of mobile phones to achieve results.

Credit: USAID

The conversation was lively. One young mother, Letty, described her pregnancy. Living in Johannesburg, she was far from her home country, Zimbabwe, and far from her mother,aunts,grandmother or anyone she trusted to give her the advice and information she craved.The cost of phoning these trusted relatives was prohibitive, so Letty found support when she enrolled to receive text messages via her mobile phone from MAMA, the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action. “I’m here. I’m alone. The SMS messages helped me a lot. They helped me feel that someone is there,” Letty told me.

MAMA South Africa was launched with the support of global partners USAID, Johnson & Johnson, the United Nations Foundation, the mHealth Alliance, and BabyCenter. In addition, Vodacom joined the South Africa partnership, offering MAMA’s mobile website, askmama.mobi, free-of-charge to its 25 million customers. The goal of MAMA is to deliver health messages that moms need at specific milestones during pregnancy and during the first year of their baby’s development.

An existing South African mHealth partnership helped bring MAMA South Africa to life: Cell-Life, Praekelt Foundation and WRHI at the University of the Witwatersrand. Through MAMA, new and expectant mothers receive messages that address important topics such as nutrition during pregnancy, how to prepare for childbirth and recognizing signs of trouble which, if unheeded, can lead to difficulties in labor and delivery.

I sat across from these four women who had benefited from the MAMA partnership and listened carefully as they described their experiences. For these mothers, the SMS messages calmed their fears. One of the women, Faith, said that she had enrolled in the program when she was five months pregnant and had found reassurance in the MAMA texts. “The messages sometimes tell you, ‘This is normal’ and then you don’t worry,” she said. Letty added that when her baby was up all night, she received a message that said “Your baby may be teething” and this convinced her that nothing was wrong with her baby.

Another mom, Ntando was seven months pregnant and already had one child when she enrolled in the MAMA program. On the day of our meeting, her baby boy was already five months old. “The way we raised the first one is different from the way we raise this one.” She looked at her son and then added a comment about MAMA. “They’ll help me raise this one,” she said.

The third woman, Memory, signed up to receive MAMA messages when her baby was five months old. She said that she appreciated the help in “how to say ‘no’ to my son.” Memory also told us that she found the messages so helpful that she shares them with a friend who does not have a phone.

Faith visits the MAMA website with her husband and they learn together. Her praise for MAMA struck a particular chord for me – “I like them because they don’t just take care of the baby, they also take care of the moms.”

As our time together drew to a close, I thanked Letty, Memory, Faith and Ntando for taking the time to meet with us. Many of their comments have stayed with me, but none more than this one: “You feel like you are alone, and these SMS messages make you feel loved.”

The MAMA partnership is based on the power and promise of mobile phones in empowering mothers to make healthy decisions for themselves and their babies. What a wonderful added – and unexpected — benefit that MAMA also makes moms feel loved.

Critical Mass? How the Mobile Revolution Could Help End Gender-Based Violence

This is an excerpt from a blog post that originally appeared on New Security Beat.

The past three years – and more pointedly the past 12 months – have laid witness to monumental, if not heartbreaking, incidents of gender-based violence. The gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi last December; the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl left for dead in a pit latrine in Western Kenya last June; the mass sexual assault of women in Tahrir Square during the 2011 revolution in Egypt and since; all were high profile atrocities that ignited outrage around the world.

Photo credit: Adek Berry / AFP

Photo credit: Adek Berry / AFP

In the aftermath of each of these, mobile technology solutions and internet-based advocacy campaigns surged. It’s almost like clockwork: violence happens, a technology response follows. And 2013 has seen an explosion of new efforts.

This isn’t by coincidence. These web- and mobile-based technological retorts, from applications that make it easy to report and view information about attacks to “panic buttons,” are made possible by the mobile revolution and increased internet adoption, which bring stories of gender-based violence to more people than ever before and give us the ability to fulfill our visceral need to react, to do something, to drive change.

Much has been written about the power mobile phones wield for interacting with people from every corner of the world, at a magnitude never before experienced and perhaps even imagined. Mobile handsets are on pace to surpass the global population sometime in the next few months. Quite simply, the mobile phone is the single most common denominator for sharing information and for connecting individuals at scale.

When it comes to gender-based violence, this mobile explosion has particularly great potential. Mobile phones offer a level of autonomy and emancipation never before enjoyed by many women, leading to greater empowerment for those who possess them. And they give voice to victims, survivors, and bystanders, permitting healthy dialogue around what is sometimes an extremely taboo subject.

From Mapping Attacks to Safety Circles

One of the most immediate ways that NGOs and other organizations are helping women avoid danger is through new mobile applications. Most follow a similar format; they offer users multiple options for alerting family and friends in times of danger via SMS (“short message service,” or texting), automated phone calls, e-mail, and/or social media platforms, like Facebook. They use online forms for submitting reports, pinpointing locations of attacks, and uploading photographic evidence where feasible and appropriate. They enable GPS functionality to aggregate and map real-time locations of violence. And many of them employ the free and open source visualization and information collection platform, Ushahidi.

SafeCity India is a leading example. Its 1,600 reports, collected in under a year, have helped identify hotspots and “no go” zones around Mumbai and Delhi. “Panic button” and self-populated smartphone apps Circle of 6 and FightBack have also seen mass appeal in the country. India is clearly a front-runner in the adoption of these applications, speaking both to its tech savviness and unfortunate widespread need for such tools.

HarassMap also rises to the top, designed as a means of reversing the tide of pervasive sexual harassment of women in Egypt. Through SMS, online and e-mail reporting, its efforts center around the visualization of crowd-sourced maps showing areas for women to avoid and, in theory, for authorities to increase security measures. HarassMap has since expanded to 8 other countries, with another 11 in the works. Similar crowd-mapping has also been employed by the Open Institute in Cambodia and by Women Under Siege in Syria.

The magnitude of incidents over the past year has also sparked an uptick in sponsored, domestic violence-themed competitions and “hackathons,” in Nepal, Central America, and the United States. The winning entrants each possessed many of the same features discussed above, though they are tailored to local geographies, demographics, and conditions.

These mobile- and internet-based tools are but a mere sampling. Yet they beg the question, have we hit a critical mass? Yes and no.

To continue, please see the full blog post at New Security Beat.

Christopher Burns is the senior advisor and team lead for mobile access in the Office of Innovation and Development Alliances/Mobile Solutions at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

A New App Puts Tariff Codes at Traders’ Fingertips

Smartphone enthusiasts can find just about anything on the app store to entertain, connect with friends and learn new things that make our lives more enjoyable and productive. And this month, a new app is out that will make it easier for traders to do business in Vietnam.

Most of us have never had to look up an HS Code.  But there is one for just about every item used in daily life. Your coffee cup, your pen, your office furniture — maybe even what you had for lunch — all have a code in the Harmonized System (HS).

A woman tries the STAR Plus app. Photo credit: USAID Vietnam

A woman tries the STAR Plus app. Photo credit: USAID Vietnam

These internationally standardized classification codes cover 5,300 articles or commodities organized under headings and subheadings, arranged in 99 chapters, and grouped in 21 sections. Sound overwhelming? It can be. Because HS codes inform tariff rates, choosing the correct one is not only required by international law, but it can mean the difference between competitive or noncompetitive margins of cost for entrepreneurs who move goods across borders. Not long ago, HS classification information was hard to find and hard to navigate. Misclassification of HS codes is a common complaint of businesses in Vietnam. But now, thanks to our USAID STAR Plus Program, there’s an app for that.

The new Mã HS Việt Nam app, developed by USAID STAR Plus and available for free on iTunes, links traders directly to the Vietnam Customs website and places HS Code data at the fingertips of importers and exporters with iPhones or iPads. If and when Vietnam successfully joins the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, or TPP, having easily accessible HS Codes with new tariff rate data will be very advantageous.

The Mã HS Vietnam app is just one example of the innovation and adaptability of our program in Vietnam. USAIDSTAR Plus and its predecessor projects date back to 2001 and are credited with helping Vietnam implement a Bilateral Trade Agreement with the United States and accede to the World Trade Organization — two achievements acknowledged by many to be the foundation of Vietnam’s dramatic economic rise from developing to middle-income country status in less than a decade. The secret to USAID STAR’s success has been agility of program design combined with responsiveness, particularly to long-standing relationships of trust and mutual interest established over time with the people and Government of Vietnam.

Working successfully with Vietnam’s General Department of Customs to streamline processes, create business-to-government partnerships and align operations to international best practices in trade compliance are just a few of the project’s contributions. Similar progress is evident through other counterpart relationships, such as work with the National Assembly and the State Audit of Vietnam. Rule of law, banking and finance, fiscal transparency, and civic participation are all areas improved during the USAID STAR Plus era of informed cooperation. By remaining committed to innovation and adaptability the U.S.-Vietnam partnership will continue to achieve more inclusive, sustainable, and transformative growth long into the future.

Download and try out the Ma HS Vietnam app.

Learn more about what USAID is doing in the area of mobile solutions

USAID at UNGA 2013: Day Two

This year’s United Nations General Assembly focuses on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and inclusive development goals for persons with disabilities. 

UNGA Day Two: September 24, 2013

Highlight:

President Obama delivered an address to the United National General Assembly. A number of outlets are reporting on the President’s announcement of an additional $339 million in humanitarian assistance to Syria.

Announcements:

  • As a part of the Better than Cash Alliance anniversary event, USAID announced that it is on a path to incorporating language into all grants and contracts to accelerate the use of electronic and mobile payments into its programs across the world.

Recap of Tuesday’s Events:

  • Yesterday afternoon Administrator Shah and DFID’s Justine Greening hosted the “MDG Countdown 2013 – Women & Girls” event. The event highlighted the progress made against the MDGs and focused on the work needing to be done over the next 828 days. The event included Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, Geena Davis, actress and UN Special Envoy for Women and Girls in the field of Technology and was moderated by NY Times reporter Nicholas Kristof.

Happening Today:

Learn more about this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and its focus on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and inclusive development goals for persons with disabilities.

Follow @USAID and @RajShah for ongoing updates during the week and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtags #UNGA and #UNGA2013.

Coordination Counts: Fostering Mobile Money in Malawi

One year ago, USAID joined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi, Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, United Nations Capital Development Fund and Visa Inc. to launch the Better Than Cash Alliance.

This summer, the Government of Malawi joined those organizations in their work to lift millions out of poverty through electronic payments. Citing opportunities for transparency and reduced costs, the Government will begin by shifting $3 million of its existing payment streams away from cash. That may sound modest, but it’s a truly dramatic shift for Malawi.

Just a few days ago on September 13, Malawi Budget Director Paul Mphwiyo was shot because of his leadership to fight graft in the public sector by replacing cash payments with electronic, and thus transparent, payment methods. It is a sobering but incredibly important reminder of just how much this work matters.

A customer checks the details of a text message received after transferring funds via mobile money. Photo credit: Manpreet Romana/AFP

A customer checks the details of a text message received after transferring funds via mobile money. Photo credit: Manpreet Romana/AFP

When I first learned about mobile money, many people were working on it in Malawi but no one was doing it well. The mobile network operators, banks, government, and donors were focused on their own incentives rather than supporting the ecosystem in a coordinated way that would accelerate the creation of products Malawians could use. But to me coordination was critically important because I believe mobile money can have significant impact on the people we target in our programs in agriculture, education, health, and governance.

In Malawi, roads don’t reach many areas and are often in rough shape. Poor access to electricity and low incomes make brick-and-mortar banking too expensive to deliver to rural areas. However in just 10 years, more than half of Malawi has obtained access to a mobile network. In this expansion, we saw an opportunity for reaching financially excluded groups. But Malawi isn’t a country where we could immediately start using mobile money. So what did we do?

We started simple. We started with a demand assessment. This helped us understand the local champions, people’s needs, and how USAID could help bring mobile money to scale.

Our stakeholders were interested in mobile money, but they were fragmented, and no one could do it on their own. So we created a working group of mobile network operators, banks, the government, and donors. The working group allowed us to hear and understand each other. Through the group, we are solving common challenges and compromising where incentives conflict. For example, mobile network operator Airtel used this foundation to launch its mobile money platform in 2012 with its competitor TNM following in 2013.

Though we are a small country, and maybe because we are a small country, we have made great progress since we started. We’ve learned a lot, and I want to share a few of these lessons. I hope they will help any champion in any country or organization to think about supporting mobile money in your country.

  1. Plan for sustainability: We don’t want the working group to depend on donor funding or leadership, so we’ve institutionalized it as a subcommittee under the National Payments Council to encourage local ownership. By doing so, we are convinced it will continue to exist beyond USAID’s involvement.
  2. Maximize coordination: USAID’s ability to convene different partners taps into one of its unique strengths. For example, the World Bank is working on an access to finance project and targeting financial regulations. With the working group, USAID has also helped them understand the regulatory challenges with mobile money, and they’re taking on policy work that they’re best positioned to do.
  3. Prove your case: Mobile money is still a young technology. Many people haven’t used it and don’t see its value, so USAID is helping organizations transition from cash to electronic payments. When they see increases in accountability and find cost and time savings, we gain adopters that help us get to scale.

So, what’s next?  This technology could be expanded to help government fulfill its obligations to pay civil servants in a timely manner by giving it a simple vehicle for payroll transaction; it could help public utilities increase the proportion of customers who pay their bills on time; and it can provide a mechanism for simplifying the management and operation of social cash transfer programs. Most importantly, though, it can provide the means for millions of poor Malawians to participate more fully in the economic life of the country. Sometimes, revolutions start small.

USAID, Founding Member of the Better than Cash Alliance, Pledges Deep Commitment on One Year Anniversary

Rajiv Shah serves as Administrator at USAID

Rajiv Shah serves as Administrator at USAID

This time last year, I had the pleasure of helping launch the Better Than Cash Alliance (BTCA) on behalf of USAID. The room was filled with a sense of optimism and possibility, as co-founders gathered from USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi, Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, Visa, and the UN Capital Development Fund. Together, we knew that this group of impressive organizations and companies—with their broad reach, expertise, and enthusiasm—could improve the lives of the 2.5 billion people who currently lack access to formal financial services.

Connected technologies like mobile phones are reinventing financial services—once the exclusive domain of the rich—and offering billions of people the opportunity to take control of their finances. With access to products like savings accounts, insurance, and credit, families have the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty and connect to the formal economy.

We know mobile and electronic payments can provide people with the power to protect themselves against economic shocks. A study published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2011 found that families who do not use M-Pesa in Kenya—the largest mobile money system in the world—suffer a 7 percent drop in consumption when hit with a negative income shock, while the consumption of families who use M-Pesa remains unaffected. We are starting to see real evidence that access to mobile money services can make a real difference for vulnerable communities.

Mobile mobile and electronic payments have the potential to improve the lives of 2.5 billion people. Photo credit: Adek Berry / AFP

Mobile mobile and electronic payments have the potential to improve the lives of 2.5 billion people. Photo credit: Adek Berry / AFP

Not only do mobile and electronic payments benefit billions of poor people globally, they have measureable benefits for governments, development organizations, and private sector players, including cost savings, economic growth, and strengthened transparency and security. For example, when the Afghan government started paying police officers with mobile money, the officers thought they had received a 30 percent pay raise. In reality, they were just enjoying their entire paycheck for the first time, since small amounts were getting skimmed from the top when they were being paid in cash.

As we look back on the past year, there is a lot to celebrate. Fifteen new members joined BTCA, including the governments of Malawi and Afghanistan as well as Mastercard. In addition, four of USAID’s missions—Philippines, Zambia, Afghanistan, and Haiti—have revised their procurement practices to encourage or mandate the use of electronic payment methods among USAID partners, which is not a simple feat. Across our operations, we are making bold moves to eliminate cash, because we know it facilitates corruption, inefficiencies, and security risks.

While it is important to celebrate these accomplishments, it is equally important to ask:  are we, at USAID, doing enough?

Today, we are proud to step forward with a new and stronger pledge to the Alliance. I am pleased to announce that we will be incorporating language into ALL grants and contracts to accelerate the use of mobile and electronic payments globally.

I encourage fellow members of BTCA, and others who are working towards financial inclusion, to also ask the question: Are we doing enough? Are we achieving our original commitment and striving to do more? How are we going to measure our results? Are we leading by example?

Learn more about Mobile Money or the Better Than Cash Alliance. Contact USAID’s Mobile Solutions team at msolutions@usaid.gov and follow us on Twitter @mSolutionsUSAID for more information.

How USAID’s Partners are Transitioning to E-payments

This originally appeared on Devex

This spring I had the opportunity to speak to 170 participants around the world in an interactive webinar the USAID/IDEA Mobile Solutions team organized, called “Demystifying Electronic Payments: Lessons Learned from Pathfinder on Transitioning Away From Cash.” I’m excited about this, because I think it’s a great example of the next step we’re taking towards transforming our Agency.

Our Mobile Solutions at USAID team is young – we started two years ago with no budget and 1.5 people. What we set out to do is really a change-management program within our agency. We’re working to make mobile technology a core part of how we do our work, including transitioning our programs from cash to e-payments.

A neighborhood shopkeeper writes down transaction details after processing a mobile money transfer. Photo: Manpreet Romana/AFP, USAID.

A neighborhood shopkeeper writes down transaction details after processing a mobile money transfer. Photo: Manpreet Romana/AFP, USAID.

With colleagues at organizations like CGAP, the Gates Foundation, and Mercy Corps, we’ve done a lot of work to help people understand what mobile money is and why it’s worth working on. It has been such a rich experience because we’ve had both grassroots support as well as that of our leadership. There’s no way we could have gotten where we are without our CFO, General Council, procurement team, and especially our field staff.

While working with these incredible champions, we’ve received many requests for tools, resources, and trainings. As our team and our experience grow, we’re helping them move from supporting the idea of mobile money to the nitty gritty of implementation. A strong demand for real world examples was the inspiration for the webinar, almost a “Mobile Money 201″ course. We wanted to take a deep look at how an organization that’s committed to going from cash to almost all electronic payments gets there.

We also really wanted to hear from the field, so we were lucky to have Mustafa Kudrati and Peter Mihayo of Pathfinder Tanzania speak to their lessons learned, challenges, and successes in transitioning from cash to electronic payments.

They answered questions such as: What are recommended standard operating procedures for payment disbursement and reconciliation? What are key considerations for others exploring the transition? Some of the things they shared really got me thinking about how all this works in the field, including:

  • Reducing cash payments: Pathfinder Tanzania went from making 30-50 percent of payments in cash to writing only 3-5 checks per month. This statistic is just stunning to me.
  • Increasing transparency and efficiency: Pathfinder could ensure that all funding for training participants went to registered accounts they could trace, making the program more transparent. This is a recurring theme we hear from our partners.
  • Reaching scale: Mustafa reminds me there was no way the program would have reached so many participants without transitioning to e-payments. Between June and December  Pathfinder trained more than 4,000 people scattered throughout 40 districts. Without mobile money, they estimate it would have taken 18 months to do this. And now, they have a vision for serving even more people with these new payment tools.

That’s amazing, and that’s what we want to see – successful projects at USAID quickly scale approaches that they’ve seen enhance people’s lives. It’s a powerful story, and it shows that mobile payments change our work in a very fundamental way.

Explore related content: 

Learn more about USAID’s mobile solutions

Photos of the Week: AID in Action: Delivering on Results

Driving human progress is at the core of USAID’s mission, but what do development results look like?

USAID is measuring our leadership in results — not dollars spent — implementing innovative, cost-effective strategies to save lives. Through investments in science, technology and innovation, USAID is harnessing new partners and young minds to transform more lives than ever before. Our new model for development embraces game-changing partnerships that leverage resources, expertise, and science and technology to maximize our impact and deliver real results.

Take a look at the Agency’s top recent and historical achievements in promoting better health; food security; democracy and good governance; education; economic growth, and in providing a helping hand to communities in need around the globe.

Read the stories behind the results in the special edition of FrontLines: Aid in Action: Delivering on Results.

Follow @USAID and @USAIDpubs for ongoing updates on the best of our results!

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