USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Mobile Solutions

Visa Joins Global Partnership

This post originally appeared on the Better Than Cash Blog

Today, Visa joins with six partners from government, the private sector and the international development community to launch the Better Than Cash Alliance. Working together with our other founding members – the United Nations Capital Development Fund, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Citi, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and Omidyar Network – the Alliance will help bring many of the world’s 2.5 billion unbanked people into the financial mainstream by providing them with resources that are safer and more useful than physical cash.

Around the world, governments, the development community and the private sector are making billions of dollars in cash payments to the poor – in salaries, pensions, emergency relief, social aid and more. Making these payments in physical cash or in-kind goods costs poor people time and money and can be unsafe.

To begin with, people in developing countries often have to travel great distances just to collect cash payments. That can mean days away from work and their families and, worse, the risk of being robbed on the journey back. Delivering cash to poor recipients often involves several couriers – and if any of these intermediaries pocket part of the amount, cash is impossible to track.

For anyone without a bank account, cash also is hard to save. Shifting payments to electronic or mobile payments offers more security and convenience – and, more importantly, an onramp to financial inclusion by providing easier access to accounts they could use to save, get a loan or make payments of their own.

At Visa, we are proud of the work we are doing already around the world to help governments enable the electronic delivery of social benefits and other disbursements. For example, in Mexico, Visa works with the government-owned Bank of National Savings and Financial Savings (Bansefi) to distribute social program benefits via Visa debit and prepaid cards to 6.5 million people, giving recipients opportunities to use financial services to save, budget and improve their lives.

In the Dominican Republic, Visa and the government teamed up to boost the national financial inclusion rate and address theft and delay issues of government benefits by distributing reloadable Visa Solidaridad cards. Today, more than 800,000 people in the Dominican Republic receive their aid via Visa card—which also helps provide customers for local merchants as those citizens use their cards to pay for food, fuel and medicines.

Through this innovative partnership, Visa and our partners in the Alliance aim to provide governments, the development community and the private sector with the inspiration, technical expertise and financial support to commit to making the transition to electronic payments and unleash new potential to reduce poverty and promote economic development.

Learn more by visiting the Better Than Cash Alliance website.

Designing for Women: The Mobile Challenge

Imagine if you picked up a smartphone and didn’t know how to use it. What must it be like to have such a powerful device in the palm of your hand and not be able to utilize it? For many technically illiterate women in the developing world, navigating a smartphone or even a more basic feature phone is a real challenge.

Based on research performed in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda, as part of the GSMA mWomen Program, we know that on average, resource-poor women are 22% less likely to want a mobile phone because they would not know how to use it.  Yet we also know from other GSMA research that mobile phones afford women critical entrepreneurial opportunities, security, and a greater sense of family connection.

Mobile phone use in the developing world is exploding, yet women are at risk of being left behind, missing out on opportunities and services from education to healthcare.  Making the user experience easier would open up a multitude of possibilities. So what if there was a more intuitive way of navigating your phone?

The GSMA mWomen Program, as part of USAID’s mWomen Global Development Alliance, has set out to do just that by launching the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge: Redefining the User Experience at the third annual Social Good Summit in New York. 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.

At the Social Good Summit, USAID, GSMA, AusAID, Qtel Group and the design firm Huge, shared possible approaches to solving this issue, by making the mobile user interface and experience more intuitive.  Mobile phones are a real game changer when it comes to tackling global challenges around the world but if the design does not change, hundreds of millions of women risk being left out in this next mobile revolution.  That is a risk we cannot afford to take.

What’s Better than Cash?

“We are excited to be joining our partners in announcing the Better than Cash Alliance today. Committed to moving the global community onto electronic payments in place of physical cash, the Alliance will help the world’s poorest families join the modern economy and realize the benefits of a more transparent, inclusive, cash-light world. I’m optimistic that this Alliance will help usher in a new era of opportunity for some of the most vulnerable people on earth.”

– USAID Administrator Raj Shah, September 19, 2012

As surprising as it may sound, physical cash can undercut many development objectives. From improving aid effectiveness to promoting transparency, cash gets in the way. That is why I am excited about the launch of the Better than Cash Alliance, a global public-private partnership dedicated to accelerating the use of electronic payments in place of physical cash. I am proud to have USAID stand alongside forward-thinking partners like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi, the Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, Visa Inc., and the U.N Capital Development Fund to move the world toward a more transparent, efficient, inclusive, cash-light society.

This Alliance wouldn’t have been possible five or ten years ago.  But with the rapid rise of new technologies in the developing world, we can now leverage growing payment systems powered by electronic cards and mobile phones to reduce the presence of cash.

With electronic payments, people can store money safely and securely, a game-changer for the 2.5 billion people around the world without access to basic financial services.  With electronic payments, companies and governments alike can improve transparency in their operations.  You cannot track cash or see the hands it moves through, but it is possible to track how money flows when it is transferred electronically.

With electronic payments, organizations making payments or collecting fees can save money. Paying teachers their salaries or issuing social transfers is expensive. In some of the most distant areas of the world it requires couriers to lug big bags of cash around, and leakages are inevitable.  For example, a World Economic Forum says that developing country governments can realize more than a US$ 100 billion in economic benefits by 2015 by making major payment streams digital.

The benefits of electronic payments are widespread and underpin so many of our development objectives.  I’m not suggesting that it will be easy to realize a cash-light world. It won’t. Over the last year, USAID has worked tirelessly to use our payments and presence as a force for good by promoting the use of safe, accessible, affordable electronic payments systems in place of physical cash.

But we know that we cannot do it by ourselves.  This is a movement that should matter to all of us.  It should matter to any company or NGO trying to save money or protect their employees.  It should matter to any donor organization or government trying to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of development programs.  It should matter to anyone who cares about the plight of the poor.

This vision will take time.  But I’m excited about the steps we’ve taken and I wholeheartedly believe that we must do better than cash. We coined the term “Better Than Cash” because that’s actually what we believe – electronic payments, when introduced in a secure, equitable way, can offer enormous benefits for hundreds of millions of poor families trapped in a cash world.

To learn more about Better Than Cash Alliance, visit www.betterthancash.org, and follow @betterthan_cash. #epayments #progress.

For more about USAID Mobile Solutions efforts, visit www.usaid.gov and follow us @msolutionsUSAID.

New Issue of Frontlines: Youth and Technology

frontlines banner graphic

Read the latest edition of USAID’s FrontLines to learn more about how the Agency is engaging youth around the world and how it is embracing mobile technology. Some highlights:

  • Looking to young minds for new ideas to old development challenges is producing fresh solutions. Just ask the young woman who is helping save newborns in Malawi with a jerry-rigged aquarium pump.
  • They’re opening small businesses, building environmental awareness and learning the ins and outs of politics from the village council to Parliament. Through youth-led community groups, more than 700,000 of Kenya’s young people are preparing to become their country’s next generation of savvy citizens and influential leaders.
  • SaysChris Locke: “The last two or three billion people in the world to access the Internet will do it via mobile phone.” Locke is the managing director of GSMA Development Fund, the development arm of the world’s largest mobile industry association. Read what else he has to say about the evolution of mobile technology in the developing world.
  • Before mobile banking came to rural areas of the Philippines, customers might take as long as six hours to journey to a bank branch to conduct business. Now it takes minutes and only their fingers do the traveling.

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

Welcoming to USAID: White House Presidential Innovation Fellows

“Our Agency must serve as a platform that connects the world’s biggest development challenges to development problems solvers – all around the world. We recognize that talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. – USAID Administrator Raj Shah, August 1, 2012

Credit: Justin Grimes
This Thursday, the White House launched The Presidential Innovation Fellows Program (PIF), which pairs top innovators from the private sector, non-profits and academia with top innovators in government to collaborate on solutions that aim to deliver significant results in six months.   USAID is proud to be part of two pillars of the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program: the 20% Initiative, and the Open Data Initiative.

The Mobile Solutions Division at USAID is excited to welcome fellow Karl Mehta for the 20% Initiative.  A Silicon Valley based entrepreneur, engineer and inventor, he has built and sold three businesses, and has worked in the intersection of media, technology and payments for years.

The 20% Initiative will create a system that supports foreign policy, development assistance, government operations or commercial activities to seamlessly move from making cash payments to electronic payments, including mobile money. The Initiative aims build greater transparency and significantly reduce fraud, and to provide cost savings for both institutions and end beneficiaries of programs through a 20% transition from cash to electronic payments by 2016. USAID is committed to supporting the integration of electronic and mobile payments in our programs and operations and starting within USAID the goal is to include as many U.S. government agencies operating overseas as possible.

The Office of Innovation and Development Alliances (IDEA) is thrilled to welcome open data fellow Nathaniel Manning. Coming from Ushahidi, a non-profit tech company specializing in free and open source software for information collection, visualization, and interactive mapping, Nathaniel has been leading the business development strategy on making the organization market sustainable.

The Open Data Initiative is part of a greater effort for the U.S. Government to serve as a platform for information and engagement to foment innovation and entrepreneurship.   The term “Open Data” can include making information public, transferring information into machine-readable format so that it can be sorted and analyzed on a large scale, or cleaning up data that could be available but needs back end work. Open data has a direct benefit to individuals abroad and domestic and stimulates a rising tide of entrepreneurship, whether helping farmers share information on best practices, tracking trends in global weather patterns, monitoring elections for fraud, finding the right health care resources, or keeping families safe by knowing which products have been recalled.

The Open Data Initiative includes USAID’s Food Security Open Data Challenge. Food security experts, data scientists, technologists, and other skilled volunteers are convening to use public data sets to build innovative solutions in the field of food security and agriculture. Join us in unlocking data so people everywhere can effectively eliminate hunger for their families and their communities. All are welcome to participate!

Sign up for email updates and follow @ProjectTwenty and @ProjectOpenData.

Celebrating Girls in Information and Communication Technology Day

As Featured on State Department’s Dipnote Blog

Ann Mei Chang serves as the Senior Advisor for Women and Technology in the Secretary of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.

With the global shortage of skilled professionals in Information and Communication Technology, or ICT, why are so few girls pursuing careers in this lucrative and fast-growing field? This is not only a question of equal opportunity, but one of economic necessity. We will not be able to compete effectively in the increasingly global and technologically sophisticated economy if we do not harness the full human potential of all our people.

Today, we are pleased to be joining the ITU (International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency) in celebrating Girls in ICT Day. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, will be joining UN Women Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet, and many others in New York City today to discuss ways we can encourage young women around the world to play a greater role in the technology revolution. By raising the awareness among girls about the many rewarding aspects of a career in ICT and awakening companies to this under-tapped talent pool, we hope more and more girls will be drawn into ICT-related careers.

Although significant issues remain for high-income countries, in developing countries both the opportunities and challenges for girls in ICT may be even greater. ICT will certainly be an integral element of these countries’ growth stories through improved efficiency, access to new markets, and the creation of new IT-related jobs. And, with the sector still in its infancy, there is an opportunity to recast the IT profession in gender-neutral terms. In many ways, ICT jobs may be ideal for the complex demands women face, as the possibility of flexible hours and remote location can accommodate other responsibilities women may have in the home. Further emphasizing the potential impact, research recently published by the World Bank indicates that the wage gap between men and women is more significantly impacted by the lower-paying job sectors women pursue than wage differences between similar jobs.

Read more on the State Department’s Dipnote Blog

MAMA Bangladesh – Connecting Health Information and Services to Mothers Through Mobiles

Kirsten Gagnaire is the Global Partnership Director of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA).

IDEA/Mobile Solutions is an office at USAID that champions the use of mobile technology for development issues. Mobile Solutions provides support to mobile technology initiatives implemented by USAID pillar bureaus, such as mAgriculture and mHealth. One of the most prominent mHealth initiatives, launched by Secretary Hillary Clinton on Mother’s Day last year, is the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA).

MAMA is a Global Development Alliance founded by USAID and Johnson & Johnson, with support from the mHealth Alliance, United Nations Foundation and BabyCenter. In March, MAMA board representatives visited Bangladesh to meet with MAMA country partners and conduct field visits to meet pregnant women, new mothers and family members who have subscribed to the MAMA mobile phone service, which is called ‘Aponjon’ in Bangladesh. This blog post comes from MAMA Global Partnership Director, Kirsten Gagnaire, and is part of the “blog tour series” reporting on the site visits and experience in Bangladesh. Read how USAID is helping women connect to health services in the developing world.

In Bangladesh, as in so many low-income areas across the globe, pregnant women and new mothers don’t have access to timely, reliable and culturally relevant information about how to best care for themselves and their babies.  Although there has been some improvement over the past ten years, it remains a fact that death due to pregnancy, childbirth and infancy-related causes are high in Bangladesh. And these deaths are often preventable with basic knowledge and care.

A young mother in Bangladesh using a cell phone. Photo Credit: MAMA

The Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) was created to provide new and expectant moms with vital stage-based information via mobile phones. Subscribers who register indicate their expected due date, or the birthday of their recently-born child, and receive weekly messages timed to the stage of pregnancy or the age of their newborn. MAMA’s first in-country program is an initiative catalyzed by USAID and local partner D.Net. Catalyzing the support of a public-private coalition in country, with strong support from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Health, MAMA Bangladesh has developed and piloted an mHealth service called Aponjon, the Bengali word for “trusted friend”. Aponjon works as a mobile-messaging based service, providing moms and the gatekeepers within their families (usually spouses, mothers, and mothers-in-law) with information about how to take care of themselves and their babies, and includes an entirely separate service for husbands that reinforces messages that their wives are receiving and includes information on how to best care for their loved ones during pregnancy and early childhood.

MAMA messages include information on self-care during and after pregnancy, as well as information on when to seek care and how to care for a newborn. MAMA Bangladesh recognizes the need for linking subscribers to local health services, and has  built strong relationships with local health providers.

“I can only visit my clients once each month,” one community health worker told us during a site visit. “But the mobile phone messages continue to provide information between visits; more information than I would be able to share during a single visit.”

The importance of the connection between information about health and information on where to seek assistance was highlighted during one of our site visits.  When asked what was the most important message they received, Shoma and Sale, new parents, beamed at their healthy baby and said that it was a message that discussed the signs of newborn respiratory illness.  They realized their baby was exhibiting the symptoms which required care, according to the message they received.  They were able to connect with their local clinic, where their baby was treated and recovered.

Messages to moms and their families are one of the first, and critically important, steps in educating people about their health, connecting them to care and changing behaviors. MAMA Bangladesh has registered 1,800 women in three districts thus far, and aims to launch nationwide later this year.

To learn more about MAMA, visit http://www.mobilemamaalliance.org/.

 

How Cell Phones Are Empowering Women in the Developing World

This blog originally appeared on the Million Moms Challenge blog.

As a mom, you’re likely to already understand the usefulness of a cell phone – from the convenience of your partner letting you know they’ll be late for dinner to the peace of mind that comes from ensuring your kids are safe and easy to find. Whereas the cell phone is one of several pieces of technology in our lives in the U.S., for many in the developing world, such as in Africa or South Asia, the cell phone is the first and only communication tool, as there are rarely computers or landlines.  And the nearest hospitals, schools or banks are often hours if not days away, making the cell phone the primary way people in the developing world can easily access critical services.

USAID is helping Haiti increase financial inclusion through the advance of mobile money. Photo Credit: USAID

However, women – particularly those living on less than $2/day — are not benefiting from cell phone technology equally to men.  Our research found that a woman in a low- to middle-income country is 21% less likely to own a cell phone than a man. This cell phone gender gap represents at least 300 million women in the developing world without access to this potentially life-enhancing tool.

To address this gender gap, the GSMA, which represents the interests of the global cell phone industry, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and many others are working together through a public-private partnership.

As part of our work, we asked women who represented the cell phone gender gap – those who did not own a phone – how they felt a cell phone could benefit their lives.  80% reported it would help them be better connected to friends and family, 58% said it would be useful in an emergency, 40% said it would cut down on travel time, 18% said it would help them with their businesses and 15% believed it would help them feel secure.

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Understanding the Wants and Needs of Women Living Under $2 a Day

As development practitioners, do we adequately understand our target beneficiaries before programs are implemented?  Are we doing our ‘market research’ before investing resources, to best comprehend the wants and needs of those we intend to assist?  Yes, but only to some extent.  The development community has a variety of tools at its disposal, developed and tweaked over decades, to give us insight and analysis into the lives of our target audiences.  But rarely do they offer a deep, deep dive.

A woman on a phone in India. Photo Credit: GSMA

New research released today at GSMA’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona offers a refreshing approach to understanding women who live at the base of the pyramid, often under $2/day.  The GSMA mWomen Program, whose overall goal is to reduce the mobile phone gender gap in the developing world by 50%, has spent much of the past twelve months carrying out quantitative and qualitative research of more than 2,500 women in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda.

The findings illustrate the lives, struggles and aspirations of women who often represent the backbone of their families and communities, yet rarely are afforded the opportunity to pursue their dreams.  The research, funded by USAID and AusAID, identifies the unique socio-economic and cultural factors that influence and shape women’s lives, framed in part by their attitudes towards mobile ownership. 

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