Photo credit: First Access

 

In the fight against poverty, microcredit has been hailed as one of the most successful tools invented to help enterprising men and women build wealth in the developing world. Access to small loans has certainly been a game changer for many low-income individuals. I have seen microcredit make a positive impact on real people through my work at TechnoServe, a non-profit committed to applying business solutions to alleviate poverty. In fact, many development organizations are dedicated to similar business-centric initiatives, helping entrepreneurs build successful businesses by connecting them with capital, networks, and skills training. This work is vital to reducing poverty, but these organizations do not have the capacity to help everyone in need. There are still 2.5 billion men and women around the world without basic financial services.

During a recent course I took with TechChange on Mobiles for International Development, I was very impressed by First Access, an SMS-based loan assessment tool. This technology has the potential to give the 2.5 billion adults without a formal bank account an instant credit history. With a credit history, these individuals would have the ability to take out a loan. First Access uses pre-paid mobile phone data to assess credit risk and deliver a loan recommendation via SMS to potential borrowers in just a few seconds. Instead of sending a financial representative to a potential borrower’s house to assess risk, the loan representative could simply send an SMS.

This technology is impressive because it uses already existing financial and demographic data registered with telecommunications companies to determine loan eligibility. It is a more objective, standardized system, unlike the current loan assessment technique in many developing nations, which can be based on the materials used to construct your house or the opinions of your neighbors. First Access benefits all parties, particularly financial institutions by saving them time and money cutting down on the cumbersome loan assessment process, as well as phone companies through increased data usage and customer loyalty.

By using the already aggregated data for the 6.3 billion active mobile subscriptions around the world, First Access is, in many ways, simply acting as a liaison between different parties. To make the technology successful, strong partnerships with financial institutions and telecommunications companies need to be established. The alignment of interests will be a huge obstacle in many markets. First Access has the most potential for success in Africa, as many African countries are already using mobile money programs, which should make borrowers less reluctant to adopt the technology. However, First Access could be dangerous in countries where political, religious, or ethnic tensions are prevalent, as the assessment process might be forced to deny some applicants and grant loans to others.

Financial institutions bear the biggest risk in using this new technology to assess credit eligibility. First Access is unclear about how the assessment process determines the loan award, simply stating it is based on demographic, geographic, financial, and social information. It seems borrowers could manipulate the process by artificially inflating their social networks or using someone else’s address. The potential for a mobile phone black-market is even more of risk. A strong mobile device fraud-assessment would need to be built into the financial assessment process. This could easily be negotiated with the telecommunications companies to help increase legitimate phone sales, as well as lowering the risk for financial institutions.

First Access could potentially connect over half of the world’s population to microcredit services through its convenient loan assessment process. It’s quick, easy to use, and it doesn’t require excessive outside intervention, or hands on training. For the first time, these billions of unbanked men and women would be given the opportunity to start a business with the click of a button. This technology is empowering people by giving financial institutions objective, standardized data. No longer will people be judged by the material of their roof, but the data stored by their phones.

 

Tessa Ruddy is a first-year graduate student at the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University. She is studying international development and conflict resolution and recently took TechChange’s Mobiles for International Development course. She is passionate about the impact of development work in pre and post conflict communities, particularly the use of SMS-based technology to connect people with financial services.

We’re excited to announce that TechChange president Nick Martin was selected as the runner-up for the 2014 Andrew E. Rice Award for Leadership and Innovation by a Young Professional in International Development.

The winner of first place for the Rice Award for 2014 was Diana Jue of Essmart, a U.S. Corporation and India Private Limited company that “brings essential, life-improving products to all people, no matter who they are or where they’re from”. Diana’s company is doing great work to create better distribution and supply channels of existing consumer goods to hard-to-reach places in the developing world.

Nick Martin 2014 SID Rice Award Honorable Mention Stage

Nick received a certificate of distinction at the 2014 SID-Washington Annual Conference, “Delivering Results in a Changing World,” on May 20th, in Washington, DC. Thanks to the team at SID-Washington for organizing the award and event.

Nick Martin SID award

Please join us in congratulating Nick!

Read more about the SID Rice Award here and consider applying next year.

By Sairah Yusuf, TC141: Mapping for International Development (Fall 2013) alumna

Before taking this Mapping for International Development course last fall, I had absolutely no previous background on mapping tools, so everything about digital mapping was new to me. For my course final mapping project, I created a digital map of the countries and locations of participants of an international training camp held by Generations For Peace (GFP) in November 2013 (Amman Camp 2013). Given my involvement in evaluating the impact of this training, I wanted a way to visualise the effectiveness of the training.

Here are the steps that I took for my introductory experience in creating a map for my work at Generations For Peace:

Step 1: Define the purpose of your map

Throughout the course, the importance of defining the purpose of your digital map as a first step emerged with debates regarding representation and privacy concerns. My aim with this map is to understand the cascading effect over time of these Generations For Peace volunteers, who will be passing on their skills to new volunteers in their home countries in the Middle East. By maintaining this map from November 2013 to November 2015, I hope that it will be possible to visually demonstrate the geographical impact of this training.

Step 2: Select your dataset

I used data from Amman Camp 2013, including the home country of each individual trained and the geographical reach of the training. I felt that this data was simple enough to work with, given that this was my first exposure to mapping. That said, I had to create the dataset from scratch, entering street addresses/locations for each participant.

Geocoding data in the MENA region proved to be the biggest challenge because geocodes for most street addresses (which were predominantly in Arabic) could not be found in the APIs I used. In addition, we had trainees from the occupied Palestinian territories at the GFP Camp. I struggled with pinpointing their locations on the map since the occupied Palestinian territories did not show up as a country option in many of the geocoding tools I tried. I had to get around this by tagging individuals from this region as hailing from Israel and then manually changing the name later to reflect their location. This issue was important to deal with because I did not want any of these trainees to view the map I had created and feel like I had misrepresented where they were from in any way due to geo-political sensitivities.

Step 3: Select your mapping tool or software

The Mapping course featured a variety of tools including Google Maps Engine, MapBox, Ushahidi, OpenStreetMap, CaerusGeo, and Palantir. I chose the Mapbox/TileMill combination over other options because I felt it allowed me to customise my map more – I could colour in different countries and introduce different levels of interactivity within the map.

Step 4: Choose your design

My design choices were partly shaped by wanting to keep my map easily readable, using block colours and simple labels, and also to keep my map customisation as simple as possible since this was my first mapping exercise. I also wanted the countries in question to stand out quite clearly.

By introducing dots in different colours for new individuals these volunteers train in their own countries, over the course of 2 years, for example, this would show how much of a geographical “spread” the training from Nov ’13 had. It would also help distinguish between volunteers with different levels of training. For example, as time goes on and individuals complete GFP programmes and further training, it is possible to change the colour of the dots representing those who were trained at the original Camp to red, demonstrating their status as a GFP “Pioneer.” Any new volunteers they train can be represented in “blue.” The idea is therefore to improve this map and maintain it over a period of time to represent these changes.

Filling out more details in the second click feature can provide relevant information about each individual – what they’ve done in the past and what programmes they are working on now, for Generations For Peace.

Takeaways:

Basic mapping software can actually be quite accessible, even with very little technical training. However, there’s definitely something of a “glass ceiling” in its use, after which more technical expertise is required. Overall, Mapping for International Development was a really great course, and I’ve already recommended it to others! This online course covers debates in the field in some depth, but also focuses on mapping tools in the field in enough detail to have a platform to build on afterwards.

Are you new to digital mapping as well? Would your work benefit from geographically visualising projects and impact? Register now for our online course on Mapping for International Development.

Posted by Arjen Swank from Text to Change, guest speaker for TC105: Mobiles for International Development

Since 2008, Text to Change (TTC) has been working to provide and collect real-time and accurate information using mobile devices in relevant and meaningful ways to people in developing countries all over the world. As the mobile phone has reached even the most remote places across the world, we have seen how mobiles can empower citizens of developing nations.

Through our experience in partnering with development bodies, NGOs, private companies, governments and other global organizations, there are several key lessons we’ve learned in using mobile phone technology to achieve social change and work to limit continuous dependence on foreign aid.

Here are some of the key insights TTC has learned for best practices for Mobiles for International Development:

1. Keep it simple

One of our Text to Change’s guiding principles is to maintain simplicity in the services we develop and the technologies we use. Our campaigns can reach everyone who has access to a mobile phone, approximately 80% of the developing world. We provide profiled databases, call centers with research capability, and text message platforms that are interactive, easy to use, scalable, and cost-effective – all supported with measurable results.

2. SMS campaigns can reach more people

When TTC worked with the Tanzanian Ministry of Health, they wanted to provide pregnant women, even in the most isolated areas, with important information regarding their health. The goal was to empower them to take the necessary steps for a healthy pregnancy and safe delivery. However, they weren’t able to reach them. TTC launched a large-scale nationwide mHealth SMS campaign targeting these women. Within three months we had 100,000 unique participants. Now the total amount of participants is almost half a million and as we speak there are 260.000 unique participants.

TTC programs create opportunities for people to improve their lives and have reached millions of people across 17 countries in Africa and South America. We help organizations to connect with their, often hard to reach, target groups and create meaningful dialogues.

3. Personalized interaction matters

Because this maternal health campaign was interactive, we were able to determine in what phase of their pregnancy these women were. This way, we could provide them with the right personalized message at the right time. For instance mothers are reminded that they need to visit the clinic for their third ANC visit, when and what medicine to take, or receive information on hygiene and nutrition in a specific week after the delivery. The information can be updated based on inputs from the users or clinic staff, but users can also opt-out or re-opt-in when they (no longer) want to receive the messages.

Want to learn more about Text to Change and how they’ve implemented SMS programs successfully throughout developing countries? Enroll now in mHealth: Mobiles for Public Health and the next round of Mobiles for International Development an online course that will discuss how mobile phones are being used to improve the health of new mothers, share farming best practices, and teach within and outside the classroom across the world.

 

We’re excited to have one of our top viewed TechChange animated videos featured in The Guardian! Check out our “Why Is It So Hard to Try Something New in ICT4D?” video created by TechChange animator, Pablo Leon, and narrated by Laura Walker Hudson of FrontlineSMS.

TechChange animation video in The Guardian

To view the video in The Guardian’s Impact and Effectiveness Hub, click here.

 

Is it possible to be an entrepreneur AND work for a large organization? Intrapreneurship, defined as entrepreneurial behavior within an established bureaucratic organization, is offering new graduates, young professionals and those working in the international development field a new way to drive innovation and increase social returns on investment in their work. The importance of the “start-up” mentality for aide since the recent global financial uncertainty has ignited a rapid growth in social entrepreneurship. Now large institutions such as the United Nations, World Bank and academia are hiring former entrepreneurs or those suited to become intrapreneurs.

I became an intrapreneur in early 2010. After taking a public bus ride from Kampala Uganda to Cape Town, South Africa I attempted to launch a network that would screen live World Cup games on inflatable screens and deliver educational content before, between and after matches. The process of starting up the program and getting the brand visible was incredibly difficult. Even when someone liked the concept, they questioned if we had the capacity to carry out the logistics and security of bringing hundreds of people together in rural villages without electricity.

Fatefully, I connected with a team within UNICEF New York Headquarters called the Youth Section. The Youth Section (now the Social and Civic Media Section) was filled with creative and innovative risk takers who were pushing the envelope in social media and digital engagement within the organization. The Youth Section picked up the World Cup idea and with their support and vision a version of the concept called World Cup in My Village was able to reach thousands of young people in Rwanda and Zambia

Without the UNICEF network of offices providing financial resources, security, and technical support, the project would have never been realized. Since the completion of the project, I’ve been working with the UNICEF Social and Civic Media section team to form innovative technical partnerships and helped start-up a growing youth led digital mapping initiative.

Intrapreneurship is a perfect option for international development professionals  and those aspiring to work in the field who feel the need to unleash their creative talents and satisfy their urge to create something new, but without risking everything as an entrepreneur. Intrapreneurship is also becoming more and more valuable for companies who are looking for people that take initiative to drive innovation and add to the company’s competitive edge. Accordingly, intrapreneurs are now some of the most valuable and sought after employees to an international development organization.

New and emerging technology is giving millennials, social entrepreneurs and bureaucrats the opportunity to become invaluable intrapreneurs and generate new and sustaining value for their companies. The intrapreneurs borrow from the principles of entrepreneurship and adapt these principles to fit within their organization. A limited group will have the opportunity to be a part of the first ever Tech Change Summer Mini Course which will teach the essentials for intrapreneurship and discuss about the latest strategies for becoming and working with intrapreneurs . Guest speakers will range from academic experts to practicing intrapreneurs from UNICEF and the World Bank.

To learn more about the power of intrapreneurship and to unlock your intrapreneurial potential, apply now to our Social Intrapreneurship: Innovation Within Institutions online course with Ashoka Changemakers. The course runs February 24 – March 21, 2014.

Interested in learning about Mobile Phones for International Development? Early bird registration for our next class ends on February 25, 2013! Apply Now.

Last week, the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) published an article by Linda Raftree and TechChange Founder Nick Martin about challenges we saw upcoming in this field around mobile education (What’s Holding Back Mobile Phones for Education? (2/11/2013)).  But last week also marked the announcement of the winners for The Tech Challenge for Atrocity on “Capture.” What both of these events have in common is that they are entirely about the possibility of mobile phones to address global challenges.

According to the website, the Tech Challenge “sought new and innovative ways to enable the documentation of relevant evidence that may be used to deter or hold perpetrators accountable, while minimizing the risk posed to those collecting this information. These winning submissions were chosen on the basis of impact, innovation, scalability and feasibility.” Not surprisingly, the top three awards all went to mobile applications: MediCapt, Silent Lens, and International Evidence Locker.

If you haven’t learned about these innovative projects, we recommend that you head over to the USAID Blog or Humanity United and check them out. In particular, we’d like to congratulate our partners and friends on the Magpi team for their role in InformaCam, which claimed first prize in partnership with Physicians for Human Rights and InformaCam for developing MediCapt. According to Humanity United blog, “[t]his mobile app will equip doctors and nurses with critical tools for collecting, documenting and preserving court-admissible forensic evidence of mass atrocities including sexual violence and torture.”

But while these exciting tools promise new capabilities in atrocity prevention, the SSIR article we wrote also cautions not to take a tech-centric approach to problem solving. The success these tools will have once they are out of development don’t just depend on the latest features, but being in the hands of those who can skillfully apply their potential to the problems at hand. Sooner or later, all technology problems become education problems.

Shameless plug: For those who are unfamiliar with Magpi, please check out our blog post on Goodbye Episurveyor: Hello Magpi!, which lays out more detail on this tool. Or you can check out our video below:

[Maximizing Mobile Infographic. Source: World Bank]

This is a guest post by Avatar of Joellen RaderstorfJoellen Raderstorf, a participant in the TechChange course: TC105: Mobiles for International Development. You can follow Joellen on Twitter: @actingupmama 

How many people have had the experience of telling people you are studying ICTD or working in the field of ICTD to watch their eyes glaze over. How do you explain ICTD to a friend in the grocery line, your grandmother at a family reunion, or your father who thinks technology is ruining young people?

Most commonly, ICTD is described as an attempt to bridge the digital divide—the disparity between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in the technological world. Some consider it to be the latest golden bullet—with access to technology comes the ability to improve a livelihood. A farmer can access commodity information in Cameroon to ensure a fair price and expand reach beyond the local market. A family living in a rural community, who once found doctors out of reach, can significantly improve the chances of a child surviving past the age of 5 due to a community health worker equipped with a mobile health application connecting to doctors real time. A child can grow up with access to education and the opportunity to take college courses without great expense or the necessity of leaving her community.

 

Alternatively, perhaps a less altruistic view of ICTD depicts the field as a marriage between telecom companies in search of expanding markets and NGOs in need of new solutions to addressing hunger and poverty. The proliferation of the mobile phone in the developing world has been nothing short of a technological revolution according to the World Bank. Powerful infographics from the World Bank and USAID depict an undeniable success story regardless of the original intention. On a planet of 7 billion, there are over 6 billion mobile subscriptions and over 75% of the world has access to a mobile phone. Besides providing a link to markets, education and health providers, mobile technology is employed to create a safer and less corrupt world. Of course ensuring the bandwidth to handle the mobile data traffic expected to reach 1.2 GB per user by 2016 will present a challenge to the FCCs of the world and a subject for a future blog post.

One last point of interest in the world of ICTD identity is confusion around the acronym. ICTD is often interchanged with ICT4D, a nuance on the surface, but politically charged when peering more deeply. What implications are being asserted when one says ICT for development? Some suggest this is another version of colonialism. Terminology does evolve over time and development lingo could certainly use an overhaul, perhaps alleviating the need to define what ICTD means to everyone. For an in-depth definition, refer to the Wikipedia page for ICT4D where some (or one) ICTDers have been doing a commendable job educating the world about this enigmatic field.