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2016: A Year of Digital Development in Action

In 2016, mSTAR implemented 41 activities.

It was a year of dedicated work towards mSTAR’s goal of using technology to improve lives in underserved communities.

Read our 2016 Annual Report.

Our 2016 activities spanned Central America, Asia, and Africa. They included  diverse activities such as the Innovations Awards for original uses of data for resilience; a widely-received report on alternative business models for connectivity; and a Financial Inclusion Forum highlighting Bill Gates. All 41 activities were exciting and meaningful; here are our most noteworthy:

First of its kind digitally-enabled micro-credit in Bangladesh.
One of the biggest challenges farmers face in Bangladesh is that they pay back loans weekly. Paying loans so regularly can cause a snowball effect of debt for farmers who, due to the nature of farming, don’t have a steady weekly income. Once crops are in the ground, it may be a few months before they have income. To pay back the original loan farmers are often forced to “take out other loans…and rush to sell their crops immediately after harvest,” Josh Woodard, mSTAR Regional ICT and Digital Finance Specialist, has said. Rushing to sell  crops means farmers often don’t get their full market value. To address this, mSTAR has worked with two different banks in Bangladesh, Bank Asia and IFIC Bank Limited, to launch two new digitally-enabled micro-credit products for farmers; the first using NFC-enabled debit cards, the latter using mobile wallets. Both of these products have much lower interest rates than alternative options offered by microfinance institutions, as well as much more attractive repayment terms—a single repayment after six months, instead of weekly installments. With these products, farmers can now pay after harvest. No longer in a rush to see their produce, they are more likely to receive a better price. In a country where most people work in agriculture, these new products could be critical to stemming poverty and breaking a cycle of debt. Over 250 farmers have signed up for the initial pilots of these two products, and both banks are already eyeing expansion to thousands of more farmers.

Mobile money salary payments for teachers in Liberia.
Through mobile money, mSTAR is transforming the daily lives of teachers in rural areas. In 2016, mSTAR successfully rolled out mobile salary payments for teachers in Nimba County. Sixty-seven teachers received payments in the first mobile payment payroll. 100 percent reported saving time compared to traditional direct deposit. Mobile salary payments also helped teachers save money. Before, teachers reported spending approximately 13.5 hours and $25 of their salary to pick up their money. After mobile payments, they spent an average of 25 minutes and $2 in service fees to cash out their mobile money. The success of the rollout has resulted in buy-ins to roll out mobile money to health workers and to teachers nationwide.

Addressing the data gap in mobile phone users.
mSTAR, USAID/Mozambique and DFID, through DAI’s Financial Sector Deepening project, set out to clearly understand the landscape of growing mobile phone users. mSTAR and partners interviewed over 6,000 mobile phone users and non-users. The survey garnered valuable information and data about the availability and accessibility of mobile technologies and the way people use mobile phones in their daily lives. The findings will allow USAID staff in Mozambique to make smarter programming decisions as they increasingly rely on digital technologies to deliver better results.

In 2016, mSTAR used technology for better development outcomes across sectors. We encouraged innovative uses of data for resilience and rolled out mobile money products that show real promise in improving daily lives and diminishing the threat of poverty. In 2016, we continued to establish digital technologies as some of the most exciting and promising avenues to improving lives among the most vulnerable throughout the world.

Review our 2016 Annual Report (with pictures!) here. 

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Call for Case Studies! Responsible Data Practices in Digital Development

Do you have a digital technology project that manages personally identifiable or otherwise protected/sensitive data on beneficiaries in the field?

Have you struggled with and addressed challenges around balancing the need for information, protecting it from misuse, and mitigating privacy risks?

Would you like to engage with and inform USAID on development of best practices for ethical data collection, use, and management in field-based programs?

We want to hear from you!

mSTAR is looking for up to three projects where we can test and apply our draft good practice guidelines for ethical collection, use, management, sharing and release of data in field-based digital development programs.

The use of digital technologies is increasing in development programs. This has the potential to yield tremendous benefits but also increases the chances of exposing individuals and communities to harms and privacy risks related to poorly managed and protected data. USAID and its implementing partners recognize these challenges, especially the need for good practices to guide collection, use and sharing of data in a responsible manner.

Therefore, in collaboration with Sonjara, Inc., Georgetown University and the USAID Global Development Lab, mSTAR is conducting research on existing practices, policies, systems, and legal frameworks through which international development data is collected, used, shared, and released. Based on this research, the team will develop good practice guidelines for USAID that will be tested against real world experiences in field-based digital development programs and that will help:

  • Mitigate privacy and security risks for beneficiaries and others
  • Improve performance and development outcomes through use of data
  • Promote transparency, accountability and public good through open data

mSTAR is looking for digital development projects to assess how our guidelines would work in real world settings. Once selected, the research team will conduct field visits of 1-2 weeks per project, in order to understand “on-the-ground” context and project needs. The research team will work with the project management team to apply draft practice guidelines to each case, help identify what practices work and any gaps in the guidelines. The team will also capture feedback from the project management team and partners on implications for project costs and timelines, as well as document existing good practices and lessons learned from the project on how they manage their data. These findings will be used to further refine the USAID Responsible Data Practice guidelines.

What types of projects are we looking for?

  • Ongoing or recently concluded projects that are using digital technologies (SMS, IVR, mobile based data collection, USSD, software, social media platforms, sensors/IoT, etc.) to collect, store, analyze, manage, use and share individuals’ data.
  • The data could include personally identifiable information (PII) and/or other personal information such as health records of pregnant mothers, teachers’ attendance, financial transaction history of individuals, HIV/TB status, and/or other potentially sensitive information like LGBTQI status, membership in vulnerable groups (disability, ethic/tribal minority etc.), geocoded information, etc.
  • The project should have informal or formal processes for privacy/security risk assessment and mitigation especially with respect to field implementation of digital technologies (listed above) as part of their program. These may be implicit or explicit (i.e. documented or written). They potentially include formal review processes conducted by ethics review boards or institutional review boards (IRBs) for projects. Submissions of cases are NOT limited to only projects that have conducted formal ethics review. Projects that have been clearly defined as “research,” however, are excluded from this analysis. Note that, while information security processes are highly relevant to the overall problem of mitigating privacy risks, we are NOT looking for case studies that are entirely about information security/cybersecurity practices.
  • All sectors of international development are welcome to submit case studies. We are looking for diversity in context and programming.
  • Projects from all geographical regions are welcome.
  • We prefer case studies from USAID-funded projects but are open to receiving case studies from other donor-supported projects.

If your project or activity falls under the above criteria, please take a few minutes to share your project information here. We welcome multiple submissions from one organization; simply reuse this form for each case study proposed.

Contributions must be received by March 1, 2017.

Your help and support are much appreciated! Please share this call with others who may be interested in contributing case studies.

Click here to submit your case study. 

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Liberian Health Care Workers Transition to Mobile Money

By Erica Bustinza, mSTAR/Liberia Project Manager

Meet Kou, a health worker in rural Nimba County, Liberia. During the Ebola crisis, Kou took action to combat the disease, going door-to-door in her community to stop its spread. The relentless determination of Kou and her peers to rise each morning and fight back against the illness helped bring the epidemic to a halt.

Despite facing life-threatening risks performing her daily work duties, Kou wasn’t able to access her pay. To pick up her salary she had to travel a far distance from her rural community to the bank, but travel was restricted due to quarantines and was risky because of the prevalence of Ebola and difficult road conditions. While many of her peers protested the lack of pay through boycotts, Kou continued working towards saving her country.

To increase efficiency of payments, FHI 360’s Mobile Solutions Technical Assistance and Research (mSTAR) Project, funded by USAID, is working with Liberia’s Ministry of Health (MOH) to offer mobile money salary payments. This gives health workers the option to receive their salaries from mobile money agents who are often closer and more convenient than banks.

Kou spends a shocking amount of her salary on collecting her salary. Her monthly net income is LD 14,300 (USD $146) of which she spends LD 800 on transportation to the bank to retrieve her salary. At the bank she is frequently told that the bank “system is down” and is forced to wait until the money is accessible, sometimes for several days. During this time not only is Kou missing work, but she’s also racking up costs. She spends LD 100 round trip to her relative’s house where she can sleep, LD 150 on food and LD 100 on a phone card to inform her family of the delay. At the bank, Kou waits in line for four hours and then pays LD 300 in bribes to finally pick up her salary. When she receives the cash it is LD 13,200 (USD $135) instead of the LD 14,300 that she expected. The bank can only offer the explanation that this is what was deposited and Kou has no access to a paystub explaining the additional deductions. After spending another LD 800 to return home, Kou is left with LD 10,950, only 77% of her salary.

mSTAR first worked with Liberia’s Ministry of Education to roll-out mobile money salary payments for teachers. The mSTAR team faced questions and challenges during the rollout, such as cash availability (liquidity) and participant targeting. When mSTAR began to plan for rolling out MOH salary payments the team did not assume that the challenges for health workers would mirror those in education. To gain a clear understanding of health payment systems, use of mobile technology, and health worker attitudes and trust in the government, mSTAR and the MOH completed two related analyses: Liberian Health Workers and Mobile Money: An Ethnography and A Contextual Analysis of Payment Disbursements for Liberian Health Workers. The ethnography describes the experiences and attitudes of health workers in Liberia with regards to mobile phone usage and salary disbursement, while the Contextual Analysis explores the cultural, social and environmental context of payment disbursements. The research was done by the mSTAR team and 10 researchers across five counties who conducted direct observation, focus group discussions and key informant interviews.

Some of the findings confirmed what was already known – that health workers spend a relatively large portion of their salaries and a significant amount of time away from their jobs and families to collect monthly pay. The reports confirmed widely held assumptions, like the lack of trust health workers felt towards their employer because of inconsistent deductions and unreliable frequency of payments.

The reports also unearthed new, surprising findings that will impact the project’s roll out. For example, a majority of health workers that participated in the study already use mobile money. They are sending remittances to family for child care, school fees and as unexpected expenses arise. In some cases, mobile money is even used to pay bills or pay the school for fees directly.

Kou doesn’t like the current system through which she receives her salary, but she is still skeptical of the new and unfamiliar mobile money system. mSTAR’s comprehensive look at Kou’s and her peers’ patterns allows mSTAR’s team to frame mobile money in a context Kou understands and build trust in the system by relating it to health workers’ current needs.

With this targeted method, Kou will better understand the system and will be more likely to enroll in mobile money payments, which will enable her to collect her salary while avoiding unnecessary travel away from home and expenses. Most importantly, the mobile money approach helps keep Kou safe, and in the rare occurrence where traveling becomes dangerous again in Liberia, Kou will be able to receive her salary and continue caring for her community.

Erica Bustinza is the Project Manager overseeing mSTAR activities in Liberia. She has worked in development for over 10 years in various geographic regions and sectors, primarily focused on access to finance, economic development and technology integration.

Photo credit: CDC Global

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How To Move Digital Inclusion Forward in 2017

Looking towards the new year and the close of the Obama Administration, it is motivating to reflect on the large strides made in digital inclusion. The rise of digital inclusion has transformed individual lives and communities across the world. Through mobile phones and the internet, remote communities once cut off from basic information and services can now access resources, education, local and international markets, and job opportunities.

In such ways, digital inclusion is helping millions climb out of extreme poverty.

“The ‘digitization’ of developing economies could yield as much as a $4.1 trillion increase in GDP among the 3.9 billion consumers at the base of the pyramid,” writes Ann Mei Chang, Executive Director of the Global Development Lab in a blog titled, Foreign Assistance in the Digital Age, with input from mSTAR’s Shailee Adinolfi, Technical Advisor.

“Imagine a world,” the piece continues, where “health workers in rural communities are not only sharing maternal health information videos with their patients, but sending and receiving payments using mobile money and consulting in real-time with medical experts. ‘Digital development’ can be a driver of more inclusive economic growth and is poised to be a critical component of global efforts to end extreme poverty.”

Although significant advancements in digital inclusion have been made, there are billions of people who remain unconnected. Chang, with inputs from Adinolfi, lays out six recommendations for the international community to address digital inclusion and move forward to close the digital divide:

  1. Catalyze increased connectivity
  2. Enable a digital workforce
  3. Expand the reach and usage of digital financial services:
  4. Rationalize investments in information and communication technologies for development
  5. Increase data-driven decision-making
  6. Harness innovation to accelerate development outcomes

Through coordinated efforts in digital inclusion, the international community can make critical progress in its goal to end extreme poverty. As the development community looks towards the new year and building a more resilient world, we must take these recommendations to heart.

To read the article published on Brookings in full, click here.

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A Plea to the Development Sector: Ignore Privacy at Your Own Peril

By Josh Woodard, mSTAR Technical Advisor

Next year is the 20th anniversary of Time Magazine’s declaration of the “death of privacy”.

Of course, privacy never died, but it has been under continuous pressure from pretty much everywhere, particularly in the digital realm. Our every action is in essence under constant surveillance from many of the digital platforms that we use every day. The insights digital platforms glean from our personal data and habits serve as a core component of their revenue generation. We are literally trading our privacy in exchange for using their services. This will only get worse as the Internet of Things expands to include ‘always on’ devices that passively listen to conversations—like next generation personal assistants that monitor our households—think of Samsung’s recently released smart refrigerators.

We are literally trading our privacy in exchange for using their services.

While one can make the case that we voluntarily sign up to these services and their terms, the reality is that not all companies are adequately protecting our data. In 2015 alone, almost 500 million identities were exposed by corporate data breaches. A study by PwC found that only 37 percent of companies have a cyber incident response plan. This is all not to mention that a number of technology companies have actively permitted governments to access their clients’ personal data, including Yahoo, which created a backdoor to its email servers for the NSA.

It’s Not Just the Surveillance Economy

Government intrusion into internet privacy is not unique to the United States. Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2015 report found that internet freedom declined for the fifth year in a row, and that “governments in 14 of 65 countries passed new laws to increase surveillance over the past year.” China has even tested out a social credit system that collects personal data and assigns people “scores” as citizens. While that may sound benign, just imagine how that data can impact those in society deemed to have a lower social credit score, such as minorities or those with unpopular political opinions. Moreover, cybercrime laws in a number of countries are being used to criminalize certain types of free expression.

One study found that the two most popular passwords are ‘123456’ and ‘password.’

As digital users, we’re certainly not helping ourselves much either. One study found that the two most popular passwords are ‘123456’ and ‘password.’ More than half of people in a recent experiment conducted by German researchers clicked on a link from an unknown sender. It should come as no surprise then that millions of people—including my mother, twice!— are victims of cyberscams annually. Our worst impulses also sometimes manifest themselves in online vigilantism and public shaming that threaten the anonymity of average citizens. One such example is the Saudi student in the United States whose photo went viral on social media in the hours and days after the Boston marathon bombing by people claiming he was a key suspect. The student, it turns out, had nothing to do with the attacks.

Development Actors and Privacy Naiveté

Given this backdrop, one would think that development organizations, which often work with vulnerable populations and are supposed to be serving their interests, would place a higher premium on protecting individual privacy. The reality, however, is that often times, as development organizations, we are completely oblivious to privacy issues. Privacy controls, like informed consent, are often done simply to check a box. Development organizations consider it an extra step to encrypt and store personal data, and frequently share it with others fairly cavalierly. What’s worse is that we too often skim the terms of services we are using to collect people’s information. For example, an NGO in Papua New Guinea once shared with me how they had paid a data collection firm to conduct mobile surveys of their program participants. This NGO did not realize that the terms of the agreement entitled that firm to keep those participants’ contact information and sell it out to third-parties to conduct their own surveys.

All it Takes is a Little Effort

While all of this may seem doom and gloom, protecting people’s privacy is actually not that hard, it just takes effort. Development organizations can start by putting greater emphasis on training their staff on how to handle data privately and securely, along with promoting concepts such as individual sovereignty over personal information. Some fixes are easy, like improving informed consent and data management. The Responsible Data Handbook is a great resource for much of that. And for more complicated issues, like secure data storage and communications, other useful resources, such as Security-in-a-Box, exist.

Protecting people’s privacy is actually not that hard…

Development practitioners should also stay abreast of changes that could impact privacy. In addition to following news reports on technology and privacy, organizations such as Freedom House, Privacy International, Reporters Without Borders, and local netizen groups are all helpful sources of information. The Responsible Data listserv is also a place to learn from and share with fellow development practitioners.

For those who work at the policy level, the EU has been leading the way in developing protections for their citizens’ privacy and control over their personal data. There is much that can be learned from their work. For the practitioners among us, look for digital platforms and service providers that emphasize security, privacy, and transparency. It is also worth keeping an eye on shared ownership platforms, which while not necessarily more secure or private, are at least potentially more accountable to their users (who are also generally their owners) than privately-held companies.

Finally, it is crucial for those of us who care about privacy and individual sovereignty to make their voices heard. Share with colleagues why they should take these issues more seriously and the relatively simple adjustments they can make to do so. Express your concerns about these issues with digital platform providers and local governments to help to make sure that these issues are on their radar. Education is the first step towards creating a culture of smart privacy protection in development, and I’d encourage each of you to start taking that step today.

The following blog post was adapted from a presentation given by the author at USAID’s Next Generation Technologies for Empowering People event in Bangkok, Thailand on November 14-15. It is not meant to be comprehensive in its analysis of this complex topic, but rather to be a starting point for conversation.

Josh Woodard serves as a technical advisor for the mSTAR project, where he oversees technical quality and provides technical direction to several activities in Asia focused on digital development, including digital financial services. He also led mSTAR’s efforts to organize and facilitate the Data for Resilience Summit.

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mSTAR’s First Podcast! Josh Woodard Talks What to Expect at Financial Inclusion Week 2016

More than two-thirds of Bangladeshis lack a formal financial account. This means that more often than not, they rely on cash, which can be both risky and costly. “You’re potentially just a natural disaster away from all of your cash savings in your house being wiped away,” Josh Woodard, technical advisor for mSTAR’s Bangladesh team, says.

[Please note that FHI refers to FHI 360 in this podcast.]

However, in Bangladesh, there’s a clear opportunity to address this. The country is pretty much entirely covered by mobile networks and more than half of the population owns a mobile phone. This combination makes digital financial services a perfect way to break down barriers to financial inclusion.

Over the past three years, the mSTAR/Bangladesh team has directly assisted eight USAID implementing partners in transitioning to digital payments, and they’ve seen tremendous success. As of June 2016, four of the implementing partners have made around US $1.51 million in digital transactions, all of which were previously done using cash. Most of those transactions were made to individuals who were previously unbanked or underbanked.

To continue this success and further the conversation on increasing financial inclusion, mSTAR’s Bangladesh team is joining BRAC, CARE International, Ecobank Foundation and other leading organizations as a partner in this year’s Financial Inclusion Week, hosted by the Center for Financial Inclusion. Financial Inclusion Week is a global conversation exploring the most important steps to full financial inclusion. This year’s theme is keeping clients first in a digital world.

mSTAR/Bangladesh’s conversation will focus on how different actors, from financial service providers to government programs, can support the development, promotion, and uptake of digital financial services that are aligned to the needs, capacities, and aspirations of the financially excluded in Bangladesh.

Josh Woodard, mSTAR’s Regional ICT and Digital Finance Advisor, describes the innovative ways mSTAR/Bangladesh is focusing on clients to advance financial inclusion in this first episode of Digital Development Leaders, a podcast by mSTAR and FHI 360’s TechLab.

Take a listen to Josh explain how mSTAR/Bangladesh is staying ahead of trends, focusing on clients, and innovating to increase financial inclusion. Please note that “FHI” is said in the podcast and is meant to refer to “FHI 360.” 

Josh was also interviewed recently by the Aid and International Development Forum (AIDF) about emerging trends in technology, check it out below.

To learn more about Financial Inclusion Week follow @mSTAR_Project and the hashtag #finclusionweek on Twitter.

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How the Malawi Mobile Money Project Transformed Financial Inclusion in Malawi

In 2012, there were 200,000 mobile wallets in Malawi.

Today, that number has grown to more than 2.5 million. Not only has the number of mobile wallets skyrocketed in Malawi, but a Mobile Money Coordinating Group has been incorporated into the government’s National Payments Council, and there have been inroads to digitizing payment streams within the Malawian government and agricultural value chains.

These substantial advances in digital finance were driven by the Feed the Future Malawi Mobile Money Project. The four-year long project, which started in 2012 and is ending this year, supports the growth of mobile money in Malawi through a series of interventions including pilots and technical assistance to public and private sector stakeholders. The project’s ultimate goal is to boost financial inclusion in Malawi.

To mark the coming end of the project and highlight its achievements, mSTAR invited Chief of Party, Kilyelyani Kanjo, to speak to an audience of digital finance experts and USAID staff in Washington, DC.

“When we started the project,” Kilyelyani explained to the audience, “no one wanted to touch mobile money.” Throughout the first two years, the project faced overwhelming challenges. Kilyelyani had come from the private sector where she was accustomed to seeing faster results. It was hard for her to accept the slow pace of development, but, she said, these challenges forced her and her team “to go back to the drawing board” and re-think their tactics. They realized they had to “give people a reason to believe in mobile money.” To do this, they had to think creatively.

Kilyelyani and her team began to innovate ways to advance mobile money. For example, the team found that mobile network operators (MNOs) did not talk to each other, even though they, and their constituents, would benefit from collaboration and shared resources. To solve this the team supported the Mobile Money Coordinating Group which brought the government, MNOs, and other key stakeholders together in one room. “The MNOs started talking,” Carrie Hasselback, Technical Advisor to the project says, “and now share cell towers.” By sharing cell towers, they’re able to deliver services to a wider number of Malawians.

The team looked for innovative solutions for other challenges as well, including how to support the government in digitizing government to person payments. Through a decentralized payment process, the team was able to digitize “Chief Honorarium” payments in select pilot districts. Not only did the chiefs welcome the innovation, but the team also came to realize that the village chiefs held sway over villagers. As the chiefs started to realize the value of mobile money, villagers followed their example.

Today, the country is transformed. Mobile money is accepted nearly everywhere throughout the capital of Lilongwe, even small kiosks. “I pay everything with mobile money,” Kilyelyani says, “even a sandwich at the local shop.” The project has trained nearly 10,000 people in digital and financial literacy, conducted 9 pilots with various entities to digitize payments, and held 31 road shows and 11 community mobilization meetings. “The number of mobile money transactions per quarter increased in Malawi from 582,000 in 2013 to 23 million today,” Kilyelyani says. The project has successfully reached its primary objectives of testing models for increasing mobile money adoption, increasing financial inclusion, and enhancing product development and service delivery.

With the project ending, Kilyelyani still has plans for mobile money in Malawi. “Interoperability is where we need to get to,” she says. “It just makes sense. Without it, we are operating in silos.” The project has set a stable foundation to achieve interoperability and take mobile money to the next level in Malawi.

Click here to read more about Feed the Future Malawi Mobile Money Project and here to read its results.

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The First Step in Developing Effective Mobile Programs: Understanding the Landscape

Over the last decade, Mozambique has witnessed a transformative time in communications and mobile technology.

In 2005, with 1.5 million mobile subscriptions, mobile phone use had already far outpaced landline connections. By 2015, subscriptions had skyrocketed to 20 million. This transformation in connectivity marks a fundamental shift in how people, government and businesses communicate with one another across the country. As increasing numbers access mobile services across Mozambique, private and public actors alike are recognizing opportunities to apply mobile technology to accelerate development outcomes.

While this is an exciting time to leverage new possibilities and integrate mobile technology within programming, those seeking to design mobile programs or new products are often faced with a profound dearth of data on who is using mobiles and how. This is a particular challenge for the development and humanitarian communities who often work with some of the most vulnerable populations. Statistics available through industry and trade groups are often outdated and mask critically important differences in access. There are also few statistics captured on usage, yet we know that understanding the mobile features and services users are comfortable with, as well as unique borrowing patterns, are critical for ensuring success. Without better data on ICT access and usage among these key populations, designing effective and efficient programs that successfully take advantage of mobile technology has remained a challenge.

mSTAR set out to address this data gap in Mozambique with the unique Mobile Access and Usage Study (MAUS). Proving that donors are in agreement on the need for data on technology, USAID/Mozambique and DFID, through DAI’s Financial Sector Deepening project, partnered to commission the study. This multi-faceted study examined the availability and accessibility of mobile technologies, and the dynamic ways they are being used in the daily lives of Mozambicans.

mausobjectivesThe MAUS household survey employed traditional face-to-face interviews on access, usage and barriers with adults across four provinces: Manica, Nampula, Tete and Zambezia. The study also included a Computer Assisted Telephone Interview (CATI) survey utilizing remote data-collection via mobiles. The CATI was designed to not only gather a more complete understanding of how active mobile users are using their phones, but also to measure change in that use over time, and to test methods for retaining participants in mobile phone surveys.

mSTAR recently completed the study and hosted a presentation in Maputo, Mozambique to provide a first view of the findings with our many collaborators. The opening and closing remarks featured John Irons, USAID’s  Agriculture, Trade and Business Office Chief, Shahnila Azher, Team Leader of DFID’s Growth and Rural Development and Dr. Americo Muchanga, National Director of the Instituto Nacional das Comunicações de Moçambique (INCM). The coordination and collaboration achieved in working with the mobile operators, government agencies, and donor groups is a testament to the importance of this activity, as well as the shared value in understanding the mobile landscape in Mozambique.

Combined, the surveys completed over 6,000 interviews with both users and non-users in the four target provinces. As presented in Maputo, the study surfaced unique mobile landscapes for each target province and significant variations in access across geographies, gender and education.

Check back to this blog soon to get the full report and additional analysis!

In the meantime, this infographic presents the highlights of the survey results to date. It is hoped that the results of the study will help drive the deliberate and responsible use of technology in development.

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‘The First of Its Kind’ – mSTAR/Bangladesh & Partners Launch a New Mobile Banking Service

In Bangladesh, smallholder farmers have traditionally had a difficult time securing loans from banks. The due diligence process is rigorous in Bangladesh and high loan interest rates can be prohibitively expensive for smallholder farmers. Moreover, commercial banks are often located in urban centers, making them challenging for rural farmers to reach.

To remove these barriers to financial inclusion that farmers face, mSTAR in Bangladesh is launching an innovative pilot program with IFIC Bank Limited and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Under the pilot, IFIC Bank Limited is offering 100 farmers one of their newest products, IFIC Amar Account, a unique transactional account where both deposit and loan facilities are bundled into a single account.

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100 Bangladeshi farmers are piloting the service.

The service has a wide-range of benefits for farmers. It enables them to enroll into flexible savings schemes and save BDT 100 per month at an annual interest rate of 7.5%. Farmers will be able to purchase inputs from participating retailers, and they’ll have access to secure agricultural loans at a low interest rate with flexible repayment options. This flexible repayment scheme is critical for farmers says Josh Woodard, Regional ICT & Digital Finance Advisor and lead of mSTAR/Bangladesh. Currently, he says, “microfinance loans offered to farmers must be paid back on a weekly basis for around 46 weeks.” Paying the loan back so regularly can be difficult for farmers who do not have a steady weekly income: once crops are in the ground, it may be a few months before they have income. This causes a snowball effect. To pay back the original loan, farmers are often forced to “take out other loans…and rush to sell their crops immediately after harvest.” Rushing to sell their crops means they often don’t get their full market value.

However, this new service will relieve those pressures. With the flexible repayment scheme, farmers will pay back the loan in a single payment after six months. Since it will be after harvest, Josh explains, it will likely enable farmers to sell their produce at a higher rate as they are not in a rush to sell. And, there’s one more perk – perhaps most importantly, farmers will operate the account through the IFIC Mobile Banking system. In many respects, this innovative service is the first of its kind in Bangladesh.

mSTAR/Bangladesh held an event last week to launch the new service. Senior staff of Bangladesh Bank, IFIC Bank, and Feed the Future Bangladesh Rice Value Chain Project attended the event to explain the new product. Mr. Mohammad Robiul Islam, General Manager of Bangladesh Bank described the service as “a significant improvement over standard microfinancing.” He explained: the low transaction costs of the mobile phone system mean the bank can offer “unbanked farmers interest rates of 10%, which is much lower than those offered by traditional microfinance institutes.” The 100 registered farmers are being provided agricultural loans worth BDT 5,000 to BDT 20,000.

IFIC Bank made it clear at the event that they were not only aware of the financial inclusion challenges smallholder farmers faced, but prepared to take on those challenges. As “an urban-based commercial bank, rural penetration is always a concern of the bank,” Shah Md. Moinuddin, Deputy Managing Director of IFIC Bank acknowledged. “The vision of IFIC Bank,” he continued, “is to overcome all the hurdles.” This project was the first step, he said.

mSTAR, IFIC Bank, and IRRI have high hopes for the service. IFIC Bank hopes to extend it to more smallholder farmers, and IRRI and mSTAR plan to bring other value chain actors, such as input dealers, companies, millers and wholesalers into the system and ensure that all actors can benefit from the digitization of payments along the value chain.

To learn more about mSTAR, contact mSTAR_Project@FHI360.org. 

 

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What Does the “Internet of Things” Mean for Developing Countries?

What does the “Internet of Things” bring to mind?

In wealthy economies, it might be Amazon’s “Dash” that allows customers to get a new supply of cat litter at the push of a button. Or, it might be sensors that track workouts and calories burned.

But for people in Niger, a country where 60% of the population lives below the poverty line, 60% lack access to clean water, and only 10% of households have electricity, the Internet of Things looks much different.

For the 80% of Nigeriens who live in rural communities, the possibilities brought by the Internet of Things can be life-changing. Mobile phones and technology have already made an immediate impact for rural communities. For example, there are apps that track children’s vaccine schedules, so parents know exactly when to make the long trip to the hospital. Through apps that translate text to voice, illiterate individuals can understand important text messages from their doctors, friends, or family.

The Internet of Things has the potential to make an even greater impact. Innovations like mobile-powered drip irrigation systems for rural farmers, apps that monitor well-water levels, and sensors that track the nutritional intake of children, are on the horizon. The technology to advance these solutions is audacious but within reach; its realization depends on investment, drive and collaboration. USAID’s Global Development Lab and mSTAR are taking on this challenge, working together to reduce onerous barriers to adoption and putting these transformative technologies in the hands of those that need it most.

In the video below, Christopher Burns, Senior Coordinator for USAID’s Digital Development for Feed the Future, explains how a redefined Internet of Things might advance livelihoods for rural communities that make up 65% of the total population throughout sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

To learn more about mSTAR and USAID’s focus on the Internet of Things, contact mSTAR_Project@FHI360.org.