Design Expo 2014: Online Discussion - ICT and Social Impact

This online panel discussion at 3.30 UK time on Wednesday 11 June will explore the following questions:

  1. What are some of the ways in which the huge growth in mobile phones is benefitting people at the BoP?
  2. What are some of key challenges and success factors in rolling out ICT innovations among low-income consumers?
  3. Looking ahead, what are some of big opportunties for large scale impact through ICT?

Panelists include: Paulo Mele, Esoko; Michael Nique and Kai-lik Foh, GSMA; Anna Levy, Frontline SMS; Mike Quinn, ZOONA; Doug Ricket, SVTP.

Editor's Note:

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This event is part of the Business Fights Poverty Design Expo 2014. Running from 9 to 13 June,  the Design Expo is an online celebration of products, services and business models transforming the lives of poor people.  The Design Expo is a collaboration with iDE UK and is being supported by the UK's Department for International Development.

The Expo will include a vibrant mix of blogs, Google Hangouts, online panel discussions, a Twitter Jam and a virtual exhibition zone. Each day we will focus on a different sector: Energy (9 June), Health (10 June), Communications (11 June), Livelihoods (including enterprise, finance and agriculture) (12 June) and Water & Sanitation (13 June).

From Monday 9 June, you will be able to access all the activities via the Design Expo landing page,  Participation in the Design Expo is free.  You will simply need to sign in (or sign up for free) to Business Fights Poverty.


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Brief intro to myself - I manage a programme within the GSMA across 10 African countries helping to bring together the health and mobile community in public-private partnerships to launch mHealth services focusing on nutrition and maternal/child health.  We're planning to cover Nigeria, Malawi, Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, Cote d'ivoire, Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique over a 3 year period starting from this year.

Hi Zahid

I would say from Esoko's perspective that one of the key benefits that the BoP, in our case smallholder farmers, have gained is the access to information. This gives them the ability to make better choices about what they grow, how they grow and where to sell their produce.

Here in Kenya there of course also has been the huge benefits that have arrived as a result of mobile money, mpesa.

Hi Anna - do you think the Smartphone is going to make a major impact soon - or will it be a long time coming to the BoP?  The potential seems huge. 

Thanks for the comments so far! Let's move on to question 2:

Q2: What are some of key challenges and success factors in rolling out ICT innovations among low-income consumers?

Hi Paolo - have there been many impact evaluations conducted looking at the impact of access to mobile phones for smallholder farmers? If so, what is the impact of mobile phone access on farmers' incomes?

There are many ways but here is one example that I am particularly excited about.  

1. I visited a Coca Cola micro-distributor yesterday in Malawi that literally had a garbage bag full of cash that he was collecting from all of his customers, that he physically has to take to his supplier to pay for his stock. This is very risky for him, and then creates huge inefficiencies with the supplier that has to handle the cash. By introducing mobile payment technology to him, he can receive payments from his customers and pay his suppliers instantly and electronically to reduce the cash that he needs to handle. This helps make his business more efficient and improves his margins. 

2. He can then use his mobile account with us to offer other products to his customers and general consumers that make him money - such as airtime, bill payments, cash deposits / withdrawals, etc. This enables him to have diversified revenue streams. 

3. Now that these transactions are done electronically through a mobile phone, we can offer him financial service products such as overdraft and expansion capital which we underwrite from his payment history. So a small business that previously couldn't access formal credit can receive tailored and low cost financing that meets his business needs. 

From the health perspective, what's interesting is the huge variety of ways in which the mobile channel has been used to complement traditional health interventions, ranging from health education and awareness, to medication compliance and appointments and reminders for direct to consumer applications, to staff training, evaluation, development of health registries and data surveillance and drug authentication which aid health workers / health systems.

If we add to that applications which combine mobile with medical technologies, there are a number of exciting new approaches to diagnostics and monitoring which can overcome some of the issues around access and reach that currently plague health delivery in rural, remote BoP settings.


Hi Paolo, nice to e-meet you.

I've seen incredible adoption of mpesa in Kenya, and I'm curious what you all think about how mobile money can spread to other countries.  In our work in Nigeria we've experimented with using Paga but I don't think anywhere has caught up to Kenya yet.

Hi Lewis, it's a good question. There are a few considerations here. Once smartphones become cheap enough (handsets) for BoP populations, the costs of services may still be prohibitive for a while. It is not uncommon now for most low-tech mobile phone us

If you think of the energy sector, the mobile enabled Pay As You Go model (Mobisol, M-KOPA, Off Grid Electric,..) where low income customers can afford to buy a home solar system and prepay for clean energy using their mobile phone is a revolution in many electricity deprived neighborhoods 

So cost will be a barrier for quite a while.  But where I do see the impact coming from smartphones has more to do with the apps created on smartphones as a baseline for how to reach BoP populations with lower-cost alternatives that can plug into these digital platforms.

Hi Lewis and Anna,

Sorry to butt in but I would definitely say that smart phones will change the way rural communities will use their phones.

I have already observed villages and towns where 1 or 2 people already have them and they are centre of information. Computers will be bypassed!

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