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. 

The mWomen program believes that mobile phones are a powerful tool for realizing dreams, and the mobile industry must first understand what drives women in this demographic to mobile ownership before products and services can be developed for them.  In other words, they must carry-out their market research in order to develop the business case for mobile operators to invest in and market towards women.   As mWomen Program Director, Trina DasGupta, pointed out to a packed room of 150+ at today’s launch, “we didn’t want to presume the social impacts.  We wanted to fundamentally understand them.”  This research closes a crucial information gap in doing so.

We, as a development community, can learn volumes from this approach, one that is both deliberate and methodical.  For starters, it allows us to weigh our investments and determine our effective rate of return.  It also ensures that we are not creating services in a vacuum.  In effect, this approach demonstrates the value of public-private partnerships such as our GSMA mWomen Global Development Alliance that apply private sector principles to development challenges.

Based on the entire set of tools released today, the development community (and mobile network operators) have the influential opportunity to expand the toolbox to best understand the hopes, dreams and aspirations of women in the developing world.  And that is a true value-added.