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Archives for Innovation

The Question is King – Turning Princely Investments into Practical Solutions

“The question is king,” states the Implementation Research in Health: A Practical Guide (PDF), a new World Health Organization resource from The Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research/Implementation Research Platform. Launched this month, the guide strives to answer a critical question facing public health today: As we invest increasingly princely sums for health interventions throughout the world, why do we continue to stare down statistics such as an estimated 2.5 million people getting infected with HIV and over 7.6 million children succumbing to preventable deaths each year?ImplementationResearchInHealth

For some, terms such as implementation research, implementation and delivery science are the language of the day. Many more, we suspect, use the terms with a degree of hesitation. The basic underlying principle is clear. Promising programs and research – those with exciting results from a proof of principle study or small stage implementation – may not be readily replicated on a larger scale, or demonstrate similar impact in a different location.

Implementation Research in Health provides a rigorous approach to addressing these gaps. The guide offers researchers and program implementers the rationale for implementation science, and an introduction to its practical mixed methodological approach – drawing from epidemiology to market research, health services research and even political science. Some may recognize much of the content – the guide updates the 2003 Implementation Research in TDR: Conceptual and Operational Framework, for example. But, the easy-to-use-format (key points are summarized for each chapter; helpful graphics summarize everything from implementation science strategies, outcome variables and the research continuum) makes the guide a welcome new addition.

At a recent Investigators’ Meeting for USAID partners supporting implementation science studies to improve PEPFAR programs, participants discussed the importance of publishing not only on the results of these studies, but the rigorous approaches used to generate the results. We applaud such efforts. We encourage more researchers to publish on the rigorous implementation science methods they’ve used – it can only help build a common understanding of the underlying rigor that is the hallmark of quality implementation science research (read a description of USAID’s implementation science portfolio to support PEPFAR programs and on USAID’s implementation science related to maternal, newborn, and child health).

Implementation science can look beyond the impact of individual interventions to evaluate interventions aimed at improving broader health systems. As we ask questions in our increasingly complex global health world – from “how to best integrate previously separate programs?” to “how do we measure impact as we increasingly work through and with our partner governments and donors?” – implementation research plays a critical role in helping us address these issues. We encourage future editions of this and other implementation science resources to share how rigorous implementation science has helped address these broader questions.

Implementation Research in Health calls its subject “new” and “neglected.” Yet, people have been doing implementation research (or variants of it) for decades. The guide is a promising resource to bring implementation research into the spotlight where we think it belongs – we encourage you to read the guide and decide for yourself.

Harnessing S&T for Global Development

This originally appeared on the White House Blog

Recently, I interviewed Dr. Andrew Sisson, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission Director in Indonesia, who is leveraging science and technology (S&T) and innovation to help tackle development challenges in Indonesia.

Why is USAID focusing on S&T and innovation in Indonesia? What are some of the economic and societal challenges that S&T can help address?

Science, technology, and innovation have the potential to solve important global development problems. S&T can help communities and governments control the impact and spread of infectious diseases; protect marine environments; strengthen resilience to natural disasters and climate change; and much more. In just one example, we are working with the Indonesia National Tuberculosis Program (NTP) to test a new, simple and rapid tuberculosis (TB) diagnostic called GeneXpert. The goal of this technology is to increase the rapid detection and treatment of TB in HIV patients. The results of pilot testing in 17 locations across Indonesia will be published soon and, with support from the Global Fund and TB REACH, the Indonesia NTP has already expanded  use of the new diagnostic to private-sector hospitals.

Indonesia Laboratory technical at Hasan Sadikin Hospital in Bandung (West Java) performs multi-drug resistant TB tests using GeneXpert as part of a pilot project supported by USAID. Photo credit: Roni Chandra

Indonesia Laboratory technical at Hasan Sadikin Hospital in Bandung (West Java) performs multi-drug resistant TB tests using GeneXpert as part of a pilot project supported by USAID. Photo credit: Roni Chandra

What is the mission’s strategy around S&T over the next few years?

USAID is partnering with the Government of Indonesia to use new and innovative approaches to achieve Indonesia-specific development goals. We’ve also decided together to focus part of our investment on developing components of Indonesia’s “scientific ecosystem,” including by developing merit-based research systems and strengthening the scientific evidence-to-policymaking cycle. Our joint work also includes scholarship opportunities, joint research between Indonesian and American scientists, and private-sector partnerships to adopt advanced technologies for development goals.

What are some opportunities to strengthen collaboration between Indonesian and American scientists?

Indonesia and the United States have many overlapping scientific interests: climate change, marine conservation, healthcare diagnostics, renewable energy, disaster risk reduction, and more. And so we’d like to open more doors for scientific collaborations to take root in these areas. The State Department has established an official dialogue with Indonesia on making scientific exchanges a top priority. But, it can’t only be a government-to-government effort. For scientific collaboration to flourish we’ve got to place it in the hands of our top scientists and students – and so networking among students and universities in both countries has also been a promising area of partnership.

Can you give an example of an individual or project that exemplifies USAID and Indonesia’s collaborative work in S&T?

What’s been incredible to see is how quickly an international network of scientists can come together to create something big when given the opportunity. One great example is the broad network for biodiversity research that has been created by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Udayana University in Bali, and the State University of Papua through the support of USAID and the National Science Foundation. Some of the researchers that are part of this network converge at the Indonesian Biodiversity Research Center – a facility in Indonesia where American and Indonesian students come together every summer to get trained in the latest genetic techniques for applications in marine biodiversity and conservation.

What advice do you have for other USAID Missions that are interested in elevating S&T efforts?

We’re still on the early part of the curve so there is a lot to learn, but we’re eager to share as we move forward. What’s been very important in our strategy development are the ongoing conversations and consultations with Indonesian counterparts who are helping define what areas of science and technology we can work on together. For this to be a successful and sustainable part of the U.S.-Indonesia long-term relationship means that Indonesia will be an equal partner each step of the way, as a collaborator and co-investor – and I believe we are making good progress down that path together.

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at OSTP

FrontLines: What is Open Development?

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Read the latest edition of USAID’s FrontLines to learn how the Agency is embracing open development to further its work. Also in this issue, read about some of the places where USAID’s interests intersect with those of the U.S. military. Some highlights:

 

  • “What we are trying to do is be a global one-stop shop for a good idea.” Jeff Brown has more to say about the projects USAID’s three-year-old Development Innovation Ventures is backing and how those projects are faring in countries around the world.
  • Diving for lobster in Honduras’s Miskito Coast has left more than 1,000 divers disabled or dead since the 1970s and 1980s when the crustacean became popular on dinner menus. However, a large American restaurant chain is doing its part to ensure that practice ends alongside more than 80 local and international groups, businesses and government agencies
  • What’s next for USAID’s Saving Lives at Birth million dollar winners? Four inspired doctors talk about the innovations they’ve helped devise and their hopes for saving new moms’ lives as a result. 
  • A bustling secondary school farm in Jamaica can trace its roots of success to a collaboration between local police, U.S. soldiers and a group of determined parents and educators.
  • With half of Afghans living in a disaster belt studded with earthquakes, landslides and flooding, USAID and the U.S. military are helping the country’s citizens acquire the skills they need to survive natural disasters and save the lives of their neighbors.

If you want an e-mail reminder in your inbox when the latest issue of FrontLines has been posted online, subscribe here.

Knowledge-Sharing in MHealth is Critical to Providing Life-Saving Solutions for Moms

This originally appeared on the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action Blog

Every minute at least one woman dies from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth and every year 6.6 million children die before the age of five. We know what interventions make a difference on maternal and infant mortality. We now know that one billion women in low to middle-income countries own a mobile phone – a tool that can be used to engage, educate, and empower mothers. In order for mobile to be scaled to address health issues, global communities must come together to openly share lessons learned, failures, best practices and introduce new solutions to help underserved populations – women in developing countries.

Participants looking pleased with access to health information on their mobile phones. Photo credit: Living Goods

Participants looking pleased with access to health information on their mobile phones. Photo credit: Living Goods

Mobile health (mHealth) is a solution for women, providing immediate, life-saving services to address dire maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH) challenges. This emerging field – a global movement – is reaching mothers, who need health services the most. No one organization, ministry of health, or company can do it alone, which is why knowledge-sharing through a global, mobile community is needed more than ever.

In a new report, Sparking a Global Movement with MAMA (PDF), commissioned by Johnson & Johnson, a partner of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), over 230 organizations, from almost 60 countries downloaded MAMA’s free, adaptable vital health mobile messages. Organizations continue to use these messages to guide mothers through pregnancy and now up to their baby’s third birthday.  As a result, more organizations using these messages are sharing back their key findings and translated the messages in 20 languages. Because of these organizations, which include social enterprises, health organizations, and governments, we all have a new resource in the mHealth space focused on MNCH. MAMA, founded by USAID, Johnson & Johnson, UN Foundation, BabyCenter and mHealth Alliance, is getting critical health information out to mothers through partnerships around the world.

Having access to these culturally sensitive, vital health mobile messages is like “having a hospital at home,” said Nahura Sharon, a new mother in Uganda, receives mobile messages through Living Goods, an organization that empowers women and operates networks of micro-entrepreneurs, who provide life-changing products and services.

Other organizations like Liga Inan in Timor-Leste translated mobile messages in Tetum, a local language and are reaching mothers, family members and community health workers. In Tanzania, Wazazi Nipendeni, a national multi-media campaign on health pregnancy, is using vital health mobile messages in partnership with the Ministry of Health. In less than six months, Wazazi Nipendeni reached 150,000 active subscribers and delivered over nine million text messages.

The desire for knowledge-sharing continues to grow as well as the need for mobile content like messages for family planning and for mothers with children ages 1-3 years old.

This report and other knowledge-sharing resources help foster global learning and build alliances with a growing community interested in working together, aiming to save lives through mobile technology.

Kirsten Gagnaire is the Global Director of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA). Prior to MAMA, Gagnaire was the Ghana Country Director for the Grameen Foundation and led the initial implementation of MOTECH.  She was the Founder of the Social Enterprise Group (SEG) and Sustayne, and has a depth of experience and passion for addressing social and environmental issues through profitable business ventures. Gagnaire was a consultant with KPMG Peat Marwick, specializing in management, technology, and organizational development consulting for health and human service agencies.

Meet the Experts: New Fellow Helps Feed the Future Apply Lessons Learned in Scaling Health Care Innovations to Agriculture

This originally appeared on Feed the Future.

Meet Jon Colton, a new Jefferson Science Fellow with USAID. While at USAID this year, Jon will support the Feed the Future initiative’s work to scale up promising technologies that help smallholder farmers improve global food security.

We talked with him to learn more about technology’s relevance to agricultural development, and how innovations in one field can end up helping others in unexpected ways.

Tell us a little about your research and academic interests.

As professor of mechanical engineering and of industrial design, I’m interested in how technology, specifically mechanical technology, can be used to improve people’s lives. I’ve worked on projects in the area of humanitarian design and engineering such as medical facilities, immunization equipment such as plastic hypodermic needles, cold chain equipment and facilities, farming tools, medical devices, bio-mass fueled stoves, and charcoal makers.

One of my current research projects, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is developing a refrigerated warehouse for drugs and vaccines in Tunis that will generate as much energy, via solar, as it consumes. This technology can also be used to keep food fresh until it reaches markets.

I also have a strong interest in polymer and composites processing. In fact, my colleagues at Georgia Tech and I are working with Boeing on the next generation of composite aircraft technology.

Your research involves using mechanical engineering to improve wellbeing, particularly in developing countries. What drew you to this work?

A friend from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drew me into this arena. He had spent six months at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva starting the Safe Injection Global Network to address the dangers of needle and syringe re-use and disposal in developing countries. Upon his return, he challenged me to design and fabricate a plastic hypodermic needle to replace steel needles.

Steel needles are reused in developing countries and cause 25 million cases of hepatitis each year. A plastic needle is easier to destroy, for example by placing in a flame. It can also be recycled into commercial products such as trash cans and car battery cases. We worked on the project for a number of years and now a company in Australia is commercializing plastic needles.

This led me to work on medical waste disposal in developing countries, in support of mass vaccination campaigns. One thing led to another and I was asked to join an advisory committee for WHO as the engineering member; most of the other members are doctors, epidemiologists, tropical disease specialists, and the like. Through this activity, I met folks from WHO, UNICEF, PATH, and other global health organizations.

Ending up working with Feed the Future was a surprise. I thought I’d be working in global health or water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) at USAID, but my experience happens to apply well to the needs of farmers in developing countries.

Smallholder farmer agricultural technologies, like irrigation, increase production and productivity of crops, like bananas in Zimbabwe. Photo credit: Bill Wamisley

Smallholder farmer agricultural technologies, like irrigation, increase production and productivity of crops, such as bananas in Zimbabwe. Photo credit: Bill Wamisley

How does mechanical engineering relate to Feed the Future’s work to help the rural poor, especially smallholder farmers, increase their incomes and nutrition?

Mechanical engineering is the conversion of energy to useful work, including the design, construction and use of machines. At Feed the Future, I’ll be looking into how machines (mechanization) can help smallholder farmers: those with farms that are too small for large machinery such as tractors, but too large for hand-based agriculture. I like to use the analogy that my yard is too small for a riding mower, but too large for a hand-powered reel mower, so I need something in between.

I’m interested in both technology transfer (moving technology from research to adoption in the field) and technology adaption (moving technology from one field to another—for example cold rooms from health care to agriculture—or from one location of application to another, such as from Asia to Sub-Saharan Africa).

I’m investigating how mechanical technologies, such as seed drills, two-wheel tractors, drip irrigation, no-till farming, weeders, threshers, and winnowers, can be applied to the sustainable intensification of farming—producing more food on the same land and with less manual labor.

If farmers can produce more food with less labor, they’ll have more food to eat, they can sell the extra food to generate income, and their children will have more time to attend school and become educated. All of these will help to break the cycle of poverty. [cont.]

Read the rest of the post.

Stay tuned for future installments in our “Meet the Experts” series. 

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

Behind the Scenes: Interview with Andrew Hoell on Dryness Conditions in East Africa

This blog is part of an interview blog series called “Behind the Scenes.” It includes interviews with USAID leaders, program implementers, Mission Directors, and development issue experts who help fulfill USAID’s mission. They are a casual behind-the-scenes look into USAID’s daily effort to deliver economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world — and the results we’ve seen.

When did you first become interested in climate research?

New England snow storms sparked my interest in weather at a young age. As an undergraduate, I attended the University of Massachusetts to study Meteorology. During my second year as an undergraduate, I became interested in how weather patterns behaved over the entire globe on longer timescales, climate time scales. I attended graduate school at the University of Massachusetts and worked on projects that linked Central Asia climate to the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans. The regional atmospheric circulations of Central Asia, the Middle East and East Africa are intertwined, so those are now my regions of focus.

Can you talk a little bit about how UC Santa Barbara and FEWS NET work together to explain the broader concept of food security?

I can only speak to the climate side at UC Santa Barbara. At UC Santa Barbara, we’re interested in how rainfall has recently changed over East Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia and what climate features have forced those changes. We take the lessons that we’ve learned from the recent changes and we draw conclusions about how the climate will change in the future.

When you first began researching climatic weather patterns in the Western Pacific Ocean, did you have any idea that your work would help guide future international development decision making?

I’ve been researching the links between the tropical western Pacific Ocean and the global climate since about 2006, my first year of graduate school. Initially, graduate students, including me, are usually focused on learning or pleasing their advisor. In 2008, I met Chris Funk of the Climate Hazards Group at UCSB, and we collaborated on a paper that investigated the links between the Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures and East African climate and how those links influence food security. This was the first time I considered that my work might guide international development and decision making.

What was the motivation for writing about drying conditions in the East Africa Horn? What did you and your team seek to explain?

Our overarching goal is to understand how climate variability influences East Africa. This paper is a very brief review that links recent changes in East African climate (since the late 1990s) to an abrupt warming in west Pacific sea surface temperatures. The video below explains more.

What sorts of technology and techniques did you use in this study?

In the beginning of our study, we show how the climate from 1999 until recently has behaved in terms of East African rainfall and tropical Indo-Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures. From this, we were able to show that (at least) superficially that East Africa rainfall and tropical Indo-west Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures could be related.

In the second part of our study, we use an atmospheric model forced by observed sea surface temperatures to confirm that west Pacific sea surface temperature changes were influencing East African rainfall. The study can be found here (Article 15).

What’s next for you and your team? How will you continue to work with FEWS NET to explain climate patterns and its effects on food security?

Our team will continue to investigate what factors influence climate variability over East Africa, the Middle East (specifically Yemen) and Central Asia. We focus on a wide variety of time scales, from individual seasons to multiple decades. We are most concerned with changes on decadal time scales because they are most important to long-term food and water security. However, our understanding of climate variability for individual seasons is also very important because it is this climate variability that primarily forces short-term droughts and famines (e.g. 2010/2011 over East Africa).

Interested in learning more about one of USAID’s programs or want to hear from one of USAID’s leaders? We want to know! Please provide your suggestions below.

Donors’ Dialogue on How to Effectively Combat Human Trafficking

Want to combat human trafficking effectively? Of course you do: who doesn’t want to see modern slavery end! Well, then we need to communicate, collaborate and innovate.

Those themes emerged Tuesday in New York at a meeting USAID and Humanity United convened, in conjunction with the United Nations General Assembly. A year after President Obama’s landmark speech on combating human trafficking, we brought together—for the first time—public and private donors from Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United States to discuss the need for more data, dialogue and innovation. We had an in-depth discussion about the gaps in our approaches and discussed where we might collaborate going forward.

Click to read USAID's Counter-Trafficking in Persons Field Guide.

Click to read USAID’s Counter-Trafficking in Persons Field Guide.

USAID has been actively combating trafficking for over a decade spending about $16 million a year making us one of the largest donors in the field. One of the issues that donors were most interested in exploring was how best to integrate and link Countering Trafficking In Persons (also referred to as C-TIP) with work on, for example, food security, health and education as well as in fragile and conflict settings. Breaking down silos was viewed as critical to enhancing our work.

USAID is of course joined by many parts of the U.S. Government in this work. Today, the White House released “Progress Report: The Obama Administration’s Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking at Home and Abroad” that highlights some of our work but also what others in the U.S. Government are doing to combat human trafficking.

During the meeting on Tuesday, we followed the Chatham House Rule so we won’t be attributing the good ideas to the smart people who suggested them. But let’s just say that working together with partners from around the world, human traffickers beware; there is a global movement to combat trafficking in persons and it’s growing, building and adapting. Through these types of collaboration, as well as important investments in innovation and increased evidence of what works best to close the space around traffickers and bring dignity to survivors, we are making significant in-roads in building a community of like-minded donors that can adapt over time to end trafficking in persons.

Learn more about what USAID is doing to counter human trafficking.

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.

#TheKeyIsWe +SocialGood

This originally appeared on Social Good Summit

Astronaut Ronald J. Garan

Astronaut Ronald J. Garan. Photo credit: NASA

I launched into space on my last mission with a belief that we have all the resources and all the technology necessary to solve many if not all of the problems facing our world, yet nearly a billion people don’t have access to clean water, countless go to bed hungry every night and many die from completely curable and preventable illnesses.

We live in a world where the possibilities are limited only by our imagination and our will to act. It is within our power to eliminate the suffering and poverty that exists on our planet.

So we have to ask ourselves, “If we have the resources and the technology to solve the challenges we face, why do they still remain?”

During my half a year on the International Space Station, I spent the majority of my spare time with my face plastered to a window pondering that question.

I believe the reason our world still faces so many critical problems in spite of our ample technology and resources lies primarily in our inability to effectively collaborate on a global scale.

At the Social Good Summit this year I made the case for global collaboration. The goal of the discussion was to catalyze a global conversation about the need for sharing data. We want to continue this discussion and we want to hear what you have to say.

Please join us on October 11th at 11:00am ET for a Google Plus Hangout focusing on global collaboration and data sharing.Our hope is that the discussion serves as a call to action – disruptive action.

Please visit: http://unitynode.org/get-involved/ and tells us your thoughts on global collaboration. To join the global conversation, please join the Collaboration Community on Google +.

Resource:

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.

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