Monday, August 25, 2014

It's all fun and games until someone trips over 5 million subscribers

If MobiThinking's "Insider's Guide to mobile Web marketing in India" is accurate, 90% of the country's mobile subscribers have voted for a reality show-based contest via SMS. Half of them subscribe to regular SMS jokes, and nearly as many use their phones to get astrology or sports information. This is pretty remarkable in a country where many development organizations are struggling to achieve scale for their mobile-based health, agriculture, and education programs.

Writing for the GSMA recently, Kristen Roggeman pointed out that there is an obvious demand for entertainment among mobile users in both rural and urban India. She describes an innovative marketing effort by Hindustan Unilever (HUL), whereby mobile phone users make a missed call and receive an automatic call-back with 15 minutes of radio programming. The service now has 5 million subscribers and sends out 25,000 hours of programming every day. HUL has now dropped traditional radio marketing from its advertising mix. The hunger for entertainment is not unique to India. In Brazil, The most popular apps are for music, entertainment and navigation, followed by photo, video and social networking. In Nigeria, the national brewery ran a spectacularly successful SMS marketing campaign inviting 18- to 25-year-old men to attend music concerts. The ads had a response rate of more than 30% and a click-through rate of almost 9%. And in the US, drug makers and insurance companies are developing game-like apps that give points and gifts for sticking to drug regimens. (Failing to follow drug prescriptions is estimated to cost US employers, insurance companies and health providers around $200 billion a year.)

Development organizations might take note: even for the poor, entertainment is a central aspect of mobile phone usage. Mobile devices are quickly supplanting radio and television as the main conduit for personal entertainment in developing countries. Integrating entertainment - music, games, sports, movies, and contests - into dry but useful information campaigns is a viable way of extending the reach and impact of programs. Also, strategic partnerships (e.g., with sports, music, or media groups) could help defray the cost of promotion and generate buzz. Development organizations hoping to capitalize on soaring mobile penetration rates frequently devise SMS-based outreach programs. Making them more fun will require a little "outside the box" thinking, but it could be rewarded by increased awareness, adoption, and effectiveness. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Trust and Verify

Two seemingly unrelated announcements were made by a pair of tech industry heavyweights - Apple and (eBay's) PayPal. Apple extended two-step verification - where a code sent to an old device must be used to change an account or buy something on a new device - to 49 countries, including China, India, Brazil and dozens of other developing nations. Nigeria was not on the list. This is noteworthy because PayPal announced that tens of thousands of Nigerians signed up for PayPal in the first week of operations there. PayPal and its partners (a prominent local lending partner, suppliers in Dubai and China, and fast-growing online retailer Jumia) claim that e-commerce in Nigeria has officially arrived.

Of course, for consumers, signing up for PayPal or verifying a new iPhone is only the beginning of the online buying experience. The bloom will quickly fade from the e-commerce rose if buyers fail to receive an order or fall victim to identity theft. The trust barrier is considerably higher for emerging-market consumers than it is for their mature-market counterparts. In many developing countries, people generally mistrust banks, operators, mail delivery organizations, foreign companies, and the legal system's capacity to prosecute fraud or theft. It will take a concerted effort to build trust and educate new smartphone users about risk, data protection and privacy.

As smartphones and wearables are used for more and more functions, trust and education will determine the growth rate for online purchasing. Device makers, app developers, and service providers (including back-end hosts) all have tremendous opportunities up and down the e-commerce value chain. Multinational companies that build reliable public - and private-sector partnerships (particularly with delivery services) and implement strong, user-friendly security measures will foster trust. To be truly effective, these efforts should accompany early and continued investment in brand marketing via localized content and messaging that reinforces security features. Providing a platform for user reviews and focusing on early adopters and influencers through social media can also validate the online buying experience and address the trust issues of willing but wary buyers. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Misgivings and Missed Opportunities

Let's face it. For all the success stories, the uplifting anecdotes about plucky women making a living with their mobile phones, or farmers realizing greater profits by checking prices on the Internet, there are still many in the development community who are deeply ambivalent about the value and impact of technology. Yes, anyone who spends 10 minutes in Nairobi or Kuching can see the ubiquity of the mobile phone, and it's clear that clever, resourceful people are wringing value out of the devices far beyond simple phone calls and text messages. But a longer, deeper look at the impact of technology on society can be troubling. Social norms and traditions are disrupted by material acquisition. Kids who used to kick a ball of woven cloth now play video games. And in the most desperately needy corners of the world, clean water, food, shelter, education and medical care are higher priorities than phones and Internet access.

Within every philanthropic organization, regardless of its mission, there are opportunities to mitigate the negative effects of technology and maximize the positive ones - for individuals, societies, or the organization itself. In past Nuggets, we've considered how to extend mobile broadband and create an environment conducive to mobile-based health, finance, governance, commerce, and education. But what about smaller, local NGOs that aren't actively involved in this space? Or what if Internet access might help your programs, but isn't necessarily your core focus?

The truth is, mobile and broadband adoption is continuing apace. In Africa, which had less than 1% mobile penetration at the turn of the century, 60-80% of all adults will own a mobile phone by the end of this year. This means beneficiaries who once stood in line for a cash-based training per diem can now catch the bush taxi home and receive a mobile payment on the way. With the torrid pace of mobile and broadband adoption, local NGOs can now achieve far more than the obvious improvements in communication and reduced travel costs. This includes potential co-funding through partnerships, alignment with corporate or government priorities, better operational efficiency, and the opportunity to steer responsible, sustainable technology usage while it's still in its infancy. Local NGOs can also support local innovation and technological independence by delivering on-the-ground training programs and capacity support. Many development organizations have benefited from stepping back to re-assess their mission and program portfolios. A comprehensive review of programs and a reallocation of resources to maximize the benefits of the new tech reality would be both healthy and timely, even for the deeply ambivalent.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Currency of Good Data

Measurement was a hot topic at the Council on Foundations' annual conference last week in Washington D.C. As data and evidence-based decision making continue to wend their way to the center of today's philanthropy conversation, funders and grantees increasingly look to monitoring and evaluation (M&E) for proof of a solution's value and to make programmatic improvements. Rigorous approaches such as Randomized Control Trials are considered the gold standard of impact measurement, and systems like the Impact Reporting and Investment Standards (IRIS) have been developed to standardize social, financial, and environmental performance metrics. Now, networks such as ANDE are encouraging grantees and funders to move beyond standardization and to integrate impact metrics with financial and operational processes, while broadening the collection and distribution of data to benefit an entire ecosystem or society.

Despite these positive trends, M&E is still hard to do well in developing countries. Good information is difficult to obtain, and its collection costs time, effort, and money that many feel would be better spent on direct beneficiaries. Furthermore, many grantees on the ground still struggle with basic evaluations, much less the rigorous M&E systems preferred by many funders. Grantees also frequently need help integrating this data into feedback loops and decision processes in order to make operational improvements.

Practical M&E programs in the developing world means measuring the right indicators with the right approach and the right amount of rigor. For corporate funders and CSR groups, measuring the business value alongside social impact is critical to conveying the full value of programs and ensuring continued financial support. There is an excellent opportunity to share the cost of collecting and analyzing program data with other donors and private sector players. Solid data - particularly on the opaque small-business sector - could help partners improve programs, design products or services, develop strategies, and create effective marketing campaigns. The collaborative approach to development is not new, but the currency of good data has the potential to bring a lot more collaborators into the tent. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Car Talk

First came machines, then came machines that talk. Up next, machines that talk to each other. Consider the automobile, which started out as a fairly simple machine, then acquired more computer components and systems, and will soon be equipped with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of sensors integrating with drivers and passengers, the environment, and other cars.

The next wave of car technology is coming just as millions of new drivers in Asia, Africa, and Latin America get their first cars, and the role and function of cars is expanding beyond a simple people mover. More and more, cars are being seen as data generators, and the data they yield can populate an ever-wider range of databases (mapping, traffic, civil services, planning, insurance, consumer trends, health, and more). Given the amount of time people spend in their cars, there is already jockeying for position among data-hungry tech companies to integrate portable handheld devices with car systems - or better yet, to build sensors, chips, antennae, and software right into the cars. Tech industry giants, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Qualcomm, and Intel, have been making sizeable investments in car-based technologies for several years.

These companies are sensing opportunities, and rightly so. Global sales of passenger cars will top 70 million in 2014, led by China (at 18 million units, or more than double the sales in the US). Among drivers - even in lower-income countries - there is a clear interest in avoiding traffic and collisions, and optimizing the driving environment with safety, comfort, entertainment, and information. The companies behind these technologies also understand that driving somewhere is evidence of consumer habits and intent. In emerging markets, having capable and reliable broadband networks, the right business models, the ability to connect multiple device types, and tailored solutions for different demographic segments are some of the more obvious challenges. As these challenges are better understood, there will be openings for hardware and software companies, mobile operators, service providers, programmers, and many others. One day soon, you may have to squeeze your Google Roadster between an Apple iCar and an AlibabaVan on the crowded streets of Bangkok.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sustainable Crises

The US National Climate Assessment and the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) both recently signaled a heightened sense of urgency for dealing with global warming. The general message was: climate change is having very real, observable effects on the weather, agricultural production, and important ecosystems, and we're already paying a heavy price to fight it.

A particular focus in both reports was the high cost of severe weather events, which are increasing in number and intensity as the world warms. And many in the development community, governments, academia, and the private sector are turning their attention to strategies for mitigating the costs and improving resource management after these events. Past disasters have shown that quickly re-establishing phone and Internet connectivity is critical to the efficient deployment of food, water, medicine, and shelter. While some governments have increased their investments in disaster preparedness, the ability to coordinate a response after large-scale events is often dependent on a diverse set of public and private service providers. Network operators are in the best position to work with governments and aid organizations to restore communications, locate the missing, and track relief efforts. But the ownership and use of private data, the responsibility for rebuilding infrastructure, and the profit motive are thorny issues that can put operators at odds with governments and aid organizations.

The development community can serve as facilitator, influencer, funder, and lead builder of a sustainable (or at least more efficient) model for coordinated, multi-sector disaster relief. Each of these roles demands more resource-efficient programs, better integration, robust technology platforms, and implementing organizations that can successfully complete multi-dimensional projects in the field. The case for taking these measures is heating up along with the rest of the world.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Money Changers

What are the basic tools in your personal financial toolbox? Cash, of course. A debit card tied to a checking account. Credit cards. A savings account. And then there are a whole bunch of comparatively passive tools designed to stave off disaster - health and life insurance, retirement account, mortgage, stocks, and bonds.

Now imagine you were born and raised in rural Tanzania, or Thailand, or Brazil, and you have none of the pre-conceived notions about those financial tools. There are no banks in the village, and even if there were, you're not sure the bank can be trusted. No one owns a credit card, or insurance, or stocks or bonds. You're paid in cash for the work you do. Your daughter convinced you to sign up for mobile money when she moved to the capital to work, and it was the easiest way to send money home. Then, it seems overnight, you could use your mobile wallet to buy food, or pay for a taxi. Now you have a better phone, and your daughter says you can use it to find information about the weather or yesterday's game, open a savings account, buy insurance, apply for a small loan, and pay bills.

The fact is, the concept of money is undergoing a fundamental transformation, and different players are stepping in to offer financial services where there were none before. (Think M-Pesa and its imitators, Google Wallet, and Facebook's quiet, impending launch of mobile money in Ireland.) New financial services by any company will have to gain the trust of wary consumers and navigate a tricky set of regulatory and business-model obstacles. Still, the relatively open regulatory environment, the greenfield technology and banking landscape, and a clear willingness by consumers to adopt technologies that improve their lives make developing countries fertile ground for the introduction of new financial services. Emerging markets are already out in front of a brave new financial world, and villagers in Tanzania, Thailand, and Brazil are starting to look at our paper checks and credit cards with a mix of confusion and humor.