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Archives for Mobile Solutions

The Power of Mobile to Improve Women’s Health

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 1-10, we will be featuring the role that Science, Technology & Innovation plays in Global Health.

Last month, I had the chance to visit a clinic in Nigeria just outside of the Federal Capital Territory where approximately 70 pregnant women were waiting to receive prenatal care. Being a big fan of impromptu focus groups, I asked the women to raise their hands if they had a cell phone. Hands shot up around the outdoor meeting space, many of them proudly clutching mobiles phones of all shapes, sizes and varieties. This was an exciting moment for me, a clear representation of just how ubiquitous mobile technology has become in low-income countries. The GSM Association estimates that the mobile penetration rate in developing countries is now 89%.

There is no doubt that the pervasiveness of mobile technology has made possible innovative new ways to deliver health information and services. mHealth projects throughout  the world are harnessing the power of mobile to do everything from registering births to supporting health workers to raising awareness about disease prevention (and a great deal in between!). Mobile phones have also become valuable tools for empowering women: more than 1 billion women have access to a mobile phone in developing countries, and 9 out of 10 women who use mobile phones say they feel safer and more connected with friends and family.

With a mobile phone, this mother has access to health information and services. Photo credit: VillageReach

Women, as mothers and health workers, are commonly the beneficiaries of mHealth projects. But even as we acknowledge the potential power of mobile phones to improve their health and wellbeing, it’s important to recognize that they are rarely equal participants in the development of these interventions or the policies that govern access and use.

I believe firmly that mHealth projects, especially those related to reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, must take into account social, cultural and gender norms in order to produce improved health outcomes. This belief led me to work with my colleague, Madhu Deshmukh, who is seconded to the mHealth Alliance from CARE – a leader in the movement to promote the empowerment of women and girls – to develop a Gender Analytical Framework (PDF). Through this framework, mHealth implementers can better understand the nuances and implications of gender issues, and then design or modify their projects accordingly.

When developing the framework, we interviewed a number of organizations working on mHealth projects, including VillageReach, one of our grantees bringing a toll-free maternal health hotline to scale in Malawi. What VillageReach told us is that they have experienced first-hand the challenges of taking gender into account when designing mHealth programs, for instance when they realized men were calling into the service on behalf of their families. By creating this framework, the mHealth Alliance is providing mHealth implementers like VillageReach with a powerful tool that will help ensure women and men not only have access to mobile technology but that it is being harnessed in a way that truly benefits the health of pregnant women and their families, as well as the male and female health workers that serve them.

Returning to my unofficial Nigerian focus group, my second question to the women was how many had used their phone to obtain some sort of health information. Remarkably about half of the hands went up. When I probed, many shared that they used their phones to either call a family member or a health worker to seek advice about their pregnancy, though it wasn’t necessarily through a formal service.

In Nigeria, the government has recognized this power of mobile phones to empower citizens, health workers, and the health system through the Saving One Million Lives initiative.  They have also highlighted equity and gender, specifically, as key to ensuring that the full potential of mobile is realized to reach targets for significant reductions in maternal and child deaths and improvement in health and wellbeing.

As more services to provide access to health information are implemented by programs such as VillageReach and the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), I fully anticipate that more women will be empowered to better care for themselves and their children. On my next visit to Nigeria, I hope to see the number of raised hands rise dramatically, due in no small part to mHealth implementers and designers applying a gender lens to their work.

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.

VIDEO: Twitter Chat on Mobile Money on May 9

Join Nandini Harihareswara on Thursday, May 9th at Noon EDT for an #AskUSAID Twitter Expert Hour.  She will answer all your questions about USAID’s work with mobile money and electronic payments. Tweet @MSolutionsUSAID your questions using the hashtag #AskUSAID.

Video of the Week: Animating M-PESA

Public-private partnerships are a critical way that USAID is doing business differently and maximizing our impact.  USAID is a global leader in building public-private partnerships for development. In the past eleven years, USAID partnered with over 3,000 private sector entities to build over 1,600 alliances leveraging more than $19 billion in combined public and private resources. Across this portfolio, USAID on average leveraged $4 for every $1 of USAID funding.

And it’s more than just dollars leveraged, private sector partners provide expertise, technologies and innovations which, when combined with USAID’s technical expertise and in-country knowledge, can result in high-impact development projects that can be sustained long after public funding ends.

This month we are highlighting innovative public-private partnerships and this 6-minute animation tells the story of how M-PESA, the popular mobile money transfer program, came to be in Kenya. It’s narrated by Michael Joseph, the managing director of mobile money at Vodafone and the program’s founder. The animation was produced as part of a series of online courses designed and delivered by the USAID Mobile Solutions Team, QED, and TechChange, a DC based organization that specializes in online training for international development.

Charley Johnson is a former Presidential Management Fellow with the USAID Mobile Solutions Team. Nick Martin is Founder and President of TechChange.

Digitizing Education

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields. Below is an interview with Catherine Oliver Smith, COO and Co-Founder of Urban Planet Mobile.

How would you describe the work of Urban Planet?

Urban Planet Mobile develops and distributes digital education worldwide, primarily through basic mobile phones that provide English language education. The Urban English™ program design – simple SMS with an embedded audio file – creates the potential of reaching 95% of mobile phones worldwide with life-changing educational content. An English-speaking taxi driver in a tourism-based economy, for example, has the opportunity to earn a greater income than one who can’t speak English.

Students play a mobile game in Kenya. Photo credit: Ed Owles, Worldview

We believe access to quality education is a human right so our focus is to make education readily available to people, with little or no other access, on a device they already own and use. We also ensure affordability by charging micro-payments. Free programs are hard to scale and sustain because there is always a cost to developing and deploying the content. By providing quality, in demand content, people are more inclined to make the small investment for the tangible results education brings.

Urban Planet started with the goal of reaching the most basic phones and helping bring mobile education to the world. Today we are successfully reaching hundreds of thousands of people with our scalable and affordable technology. And this is only the beginning. Through the support of USAID, Urban Planet is testing and evaluating the effectiveness of MobiLiteracy, our 90-day mobile literacy program in Uganda. The intervention is an out of school supplemental program for pre-literate children. It introduces letters, sounds, and common words, and works on developing both listening comprehension and encouraging storytelling and sharing.

Why is language learning critical for development? Is there something about this modality of education that disproportionately benefits women?

Literacy is the basis for learning, but it’s more than that. According to the UNESCO (PDF), in the developing world, the children of literate mothers have a 50% greater chance of surviving past the age of five. Literate communities are generally healthier, less violent, more civically engaged, and more economically strong.

Mobile phones are very personal devices, more so than any other technology device. MobiLiteracy lessons are sent as a basic SMS daily lesson with an audio link. Mothers can open the audio lesson at a convenient time, which could also mean a safe and private time. The lesson can be deleted from the phone, saved, and also shared privately.

While the lessons are generally meant for children, mothers with limited or no literacy can certainly benefit. Parental involvement in education is a proven precursor to success but parents with limited education feel inadequate and ashamed. This program empowers mothers to take an active role.

Where do you see this technology ultimately going over the next several decades? 

The cost for tablets and smartphones will continue to decrease as the competition increases and the capacity of the technology expands. Also, areas with limited or no connection will get connected.

Right now, simple programs that provide for supplemental education make a tremendous impact, but the future is more robust educational programs, widely accessible and available to people currently limited from such programs due to lack of technology and the requisite infrastructure. More and more formal curricula will be created for this digital world.

While censorship and repression inhibit the spread of certain ideas, information, and education, through the use of mobile technologies, marginalized members of society will have unprecedented access to education. It is through education that a more peaceful, healthier, and better world will emerge.

Video of the Week: Women Mobile Phone Users in Indonesia

Todaythe United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with partners Qtel Group and AusAID, announced the winners of the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge, which aims to redefine the smartphone user experience for resource-poor women in emerging markets.

The GSMA mWomen Design Challenge was created to simplify the smartphone user interface to help overcome reading and technical literacy barriers for women. Twenty-two per cent of women surveyed in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda who do not use mobile phones say it is because they do not know how to use them. Watch this video with women mobile phone users in Indonesia review the winning submissions to the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge.

Empowering Women with Mobile Money: The Tanzania Report

This originally appeared on Mobile Payments Today

Tanzania’s first mobile money service, M-PESA, was launched less than a year after it started in neighbouring Kenya, but adoption has been much slower in Tanzania. Consumers, especially women, face a myriad of barriers to mobile money uptake and regular usage.  During my fieldwork in Tanzania, I met with a number of women, both mobile money non-users and users, to learn more about these barriers. I also explored opportunities for the mobile money industry to overcome these challenges and develop a compelling case for women to use mobile financial services.

A message confirms the deposit of a new customer who is signing up for mobile banking. Photo credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

The women users I spoke with were using mobile money mainly for remittances of under TSH 20,000 (approximately US$13). Some used the service for business, but most transactions were personal.  Many of the women who reported receiving remittances had married men from other towns or villages and had thus moved, and were receiving money from family at home. The frequency of mobile money usage varied from every two months to as many as seven times a month.

The women I spoke with suggested that using mobile money has improved their lives because of its ease and convenience. However, they also shared stories about agents charging more than the commission rates set by the operators, forcing users to pay more than they should to withdraw and deposit their money.  For some, this extra cost was acceptable because it was still lower than the costs of travelling to obtain the money by other means; for others, they did not have agents nearby so they incurred this fee on top of the time and cost to reach the closest agent.

In rural areas, respondents suggested that families live so close together that there is less need for remittances. However, learning more about women’s lifestyles and money management practices still highlights the potential role of mobile money in this context. For example, nearly three quarters of the population relies on agriculture-related activities for income; people keep crops such as maize as savings, liquidating only when there is an immediate financial need. One group of women acknowledged that they may not get the best price when they sell their crops like this, but they also feared the money would be misspent if they sold sooner.

Key questions we are continuing to probe include: How could mobile savings impact the families in these areas? What would be the best way to structure such services and how could mobile operators best communicate about the service to potential users? The answers to these questions – and more – will be reflected in the final report to be released later this month.

Kristy Bohling, an associate with Bankable Frontier Associates, conducted qualitative fieldwork in Tanzania. A video of Ms. Bohling discussing her research is also available.

Empowering Women One Mobile Phone At a Time

This originally appeared on Mobile Payments Today

Today, half the world’s adult population — 2.5 billion people — lacks access to basic financial services and the majority of them are women. Being financially excluded means relying on cash, where a simple task like paying a bill or receiving money from a family member can be risky, costly and time consuming. This exclusion from financial services also reinforces the cycle of poverty and slows economic growth.

From Kenya to Haiti to Indonesia, mobile phones already have begun playing an important role in expanding access to financial services, including ways to send, receive and save money. At the end of 2012, an estimated 1.7 billion people in the world will have a mobile phone but not a bank account, but thanks to advances in mobile banking technology, these are no longer mutually exclusive.

Mobile banking saves women time and money. With mobile services, women no longer have to make all-day treks to and from the bank. Photo credit: USAID

Mobile technology in the hands of women can help enable entry into the financial mainstream and provide access to life-enhancing services such as savings, payments, healthcare, education, and entrepreneurship. But as research has shown, there’s a gender gap in mobile phone ownership and usage, in part because of the lack of products designed for the wants and needs of women. In order to achieve the full potential of the role mobile technology can play in women’s empowerment globally, it is critical that service providers understand what women need and design products that effectively reach this audience.

Toward that goal, the GSMA mWomen Programme and Visa Inc. have partnered with Bankable Frontier Associates (BFA) to conduct groundbreaking research in five key countries: Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and Tanzania. Building on the results of GSMA mWomen’s Striving and Surviving, which was prepared as part of Visa and GSMA’s partnership with USAID and AusAID, the BFA research will provide a deeper dive into how best to reach these women and what services and products will directly meet their needs – offering important lessons for mobile operators, financial institutions, governments, and other partners.

Consider Pakistan, where field work already is underway. In Pakistan, only 12 percent of the total population has a bank account — and those who do are primarily men. However, mobile phone penetration hovers around 70 percent, offering a unique opportunity to provide access to more formalized financial services via mobile phone. Our early field work indicates that while Pakistani women are remarkably sophisticated and adept at managing their household finances, they don’t have access to formal financial tools. Instead, they save in money boxes in their homes or via savings groups, both of which can carry significant risk. Given the increasing presence of mobile phones in the country, mobile financial services – if designed properly – can provide an accessible and convenient avenue for women to enter the financial mainstream.

To hear more about the work underway in Pakistan, please click here to view a video from one of the field researchers, the first in a series that will highlight the work being done in all five countries.

“Through this research, we aim to uncover the challenges women face in their daily and longer term financial management and to suggest ways of easing those burdens with mobile money,” says Daryl Collins, co-author of the seminal work, Portfolios of the Poor, and a director at BFA. “Poor people of both genders manage their money with a complex portfolio of financial instruments. However, the evidence suggests that women are doubly burdened, given that they are often responsible for making ends meet, yet are less empowered to make full use of the options available.”

Our hope in this effort is to help women realize the promise of mobile financial services. In order to do that, we need to learn more about women’s attitudes towards mobile services, including barriers to frequent use and whether mobile financial services offer an entry for women who previously did not value or know how to use mobile technologies.

As our research continues over the next few months, we look forward to sharing with you the voices of these women from around the world.

Aletha Ling is chief operating officer for Fundamo, a Visa company. Chris Locke is managing director of GSMA Mobile for Development Department.

Thai Students Win Mobile App Contest

A group of five first-year Thai engineering students won the USAID Asia Students with Solutions 2012 Mobile App Contest last week. The contest challenged Thai university students to create mobile applications (“apps”) to help solve development issues.

The winning group, Team Optimo from King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT), received a cash award of 50,000 Thai baht (equivalent to $1,625) and tablet computers. The team designed an app called “FloodFinder” that provides real-time data on water levels by using a smart phone’s built-in capability for high-quality photos, GPS and 3G connection, to be available on the market by next April. They were inspired to create the app by the historic flooding that occurred in Thailand in 2011 “to help save people’s lives and improve the quality of life,” said Nuntipat Narkthong, of Team Optimo.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Kristie A. Kenney, USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia Director Michael Yates, and KMUTT Vice President Assistant Professor Bundit Thipakorn posed with the Students with Solutions 2012 winner, Team Optimo, and members of six finalist teams after the final presentations at Hitech Digital Live Studio, Digital Gateway, Siam Square. Photo credit: Jakkapong Mangmool

Team Vana, consisting of four computer engineering students from KMUTT, won the contest’s popular vote with more than 2,900 “likes” for its deforestation app called “A-Eye” on Facebook, which available on the market next year. The app is designed to capture details of illegal logging and report the information to park officials, and to provide helpful information to park tourists.

Organized by USAID Asia, the Students with Solutions 2012 Mobile App Design Contest launched in June and focused on encouraging university students to think of creative ways to address disaster resilience and response, deforestation and forest degradation, and human trafficking. Six teams were chosen from the original applicants for the final round of the contest. U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Kristie A. Kenney announced the top winning teams at the final event, based on a decision by an expert panel of judges.

“The Students with Solutions contest looks to Thailand’s brightest to develop answers to their country’s most pressing development challenges,” Kenney said at the event. “Realizing that mobile phones have transformed our lives, apps like these can provide easy ways to share information and create greater access to services.”

Read about the Students for Solutions 2012 Mobile App Design Contest from one of Thailand’s online newspapers.

Mobile Games Bring Social Change to Developing Worlds

The Half the Sky Movement is excited to announce the release of three mobile phone games in India and Kenya. These new games are designed to educate women and girls about essential health issues, increase awareness about gender equality, and empower them to bring about social change in these areas. Family Choices game aims to increase the perception of girls’ place in and value to families, with a focus on keeping girls in schools; 9-Minutes introduces players to the key do’s and don’ts of having a healthy pregnancy; and in Worm Attack!, players work to rid themselves and their communities of intestinal worms.

Can games on mobile devices create impact in the developing world?
With support from USAID, Games for Change (G4C) set out to answer this question with a seemingly simple goal: to produce free, high-quality mobile games that reach and educate women and girls about critical social, economic, and health issues. Looking back, we couldn’t have imagined the challenges we would encounter and the many lessons that we would learn. Here are a few tips to other “game changers” out there with similar aspirations.

Children play the Half the Sky mobile games in Kenya. Photo credit: Ed Owles, Worldview

1. Involve audience and content partners to inform and iterate on design.
Early on, G4C and publishing partner E-Line Media reached out to a handful of NGOs, seeking partners who would mutually benefit from the use of these games. We worked to integrate the NGOs into the development process. Each group assisted with the game conceptualization and helped define the goals of the game. NGOs were also enlisted for their content expertise –  to align the game content with their existing programs.

Our NGO partners also connected us with local communities to solicit feedback on art, gameplay, language and instructional content. We strengthened relationships with each NGO and used their valuable feedback to enhance the games. One local partner was so enthusiastic about helping that we decided to name a game character after her.

2. Design with the technology platform in mind.
Next we explored how to get the games into the hands of our hard-to-reach audiences. Just how does someone living in a rural village access digital technology?

Recognizing this problem from the outset, we looked to mobile technology as a gaming platform. Feature phones (J2ME) offered an opportunity to reach a much broader audience and offered media consumption to communities who might not otherwise see any other form of interactive media.

3. Penetrate the market with multiple distribution channels and consider how each will impact game use.
Upon release, G4C and E-Line Media will launch the games for free on local mobile operators’ and handset providers’ app stores in India and East Africa. However, no access to mobile Internet would mean that the games would never be seen by the hardest-to-reach audiences.

To address this problem, we worked with our NGO partners to leverage existing infrastructure and distribute the games through their programs on the ground. E-Line Media developed a multi-pronged strategy, with several NGOs in both India and Kenya, to create a variety of additional channels for distribution.

Conclusions
For everyone involved, this has been an incredible journey that has created a foundation for mobile game development and distribution that we hope to build on and bring to scale in the coming years. As mobile technologies continue to penetrate and dominate emerging markets, we will continue to shape and build the infrastructure and methodology for game design and development.

We are pleased to announce that starting today and in the following weeks, the three mobile games will be made available for free download from local app stores. They will be featured on the Nokia, Safaricom, GetJar and Appia app stores for a range of operators and devices in both Hindi and Swahili.

 

Designing Smartphones For Resource-Poor Women

Mobile phone use in the developing world is exploding, yet women are at risk of being left behind.   On average, GSMA research shows women to be 21 per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone in low- to middle-income countries.  The resulting mobile phone gender gap represents as many as 300 million women in the developing world who do not have access to this potentially life-enhancing tool.

Barriers to mobile phone ownership among resource-poor women include limited technical literacy and limited understanding of the full potential of mobile devices and services.  The GSMA mWomen Program, as part of USAID’s mWomen Global Development Alliance, set out to address this by launching the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge: Redefining the User Experience at the third annual Social Good Summit in New York on Sunday. Through submissions from the global design and developer community, the design challenge seeks to increase access to life enhancing mobile services so that regardless of someone’s skill level, they can pick up a phone and maximize its potential.

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