Submit Session Ideas for ICTforAg 2017

This blog is modified from the originally published blog on ICTworks.

ICTforAg is a one-day conference which builds on ICTforAg 2015 and 2016, bringing together 300 thought leaders and decision-makers in agriculture and technology from the international development community and the private sector. Community-driven sessions examine how new innovations can empower smallholder farmers, and the communities that support them, through information and communication technologies (ICT).

We are looking for the ICT4D community to sign up to present or register to attend ICTforAg 2017 and examine these trends with an exciting mix of educational keynotes, lightning talks, and group breakouts. An evening reception will be held to foster networking across sectors. Session submission ideas are due April 14!

While this year’s conference takes a particular interest in new ICT solutions that can boost the productivity of both smallholder farmers and agricultural value chains, all possible ICTs, including traditional media platforms, agribusiness IT systems, and existing government support systems, will be discussed.

To answer the real challenges smallholder farmers and agriculture value chain stakeholders face, the conference will have four focus areas:

  1. Where are Digital Financial Services improving farmer finances?
  2. How can Digital Extension Services succeed where analog versions have failed?
  3. What does Private Sector Partnerships – Version 2.0 look like?
  4. Where is Climate Smart Agriculture having impact in mitigating increased variability?

Like previous conferences, ICTforAg 2017 will be a community-driven event. Please submit your ideas for presentations and session topics in one of the four areas listed above. Our aim is to create a day of intense exploration of the already possible and soon-to-be potential of tools like blockchain, drones, sensors, augmented reality, predictive analytics, big data, gamification, and automation, that will move us from talk to ICTforAg action.

Presenters and session leads will play a central role in developing the event and have their ticket costs refunded. Session ideas that also include voices from the field and these cross-cutting themes will be at an advantage:

  • Gender equity
  • Youth engagement
  • Private sector engagement
  • Climate change resilience
  • Fragile and conflict environments
  • Monitoring, evaluation, research and learning

Submit session ideas, register, and read more about the event here.

Empowering Technologies for the Field: Josh Woodard Presents mSTAR’s Fintech Innovations in Bangkok

By Paul Gostomski

The “Financial Technology for Development Workshop” recently took place in Bangkok, Thailand. The workshop is part of RDMA’s Frontier Learning Series, a set of events focused on exploring emerging opportunities at the intersection of science, technology, innovation, partnerships, and international development. The goal of the workshop was to help sort out fiction from reality and offer practical advice to the development community interested in leveraging digital development.

Among other top fintech experts presenting at the workshop, mSTAR’s Josh Woodard, Regional ICT & Digital Finance Advisor, presented on “Tools of the Trade: Empowering Technologies and Methodologies for the Field.” Josh’s presentation focused on digitally-enabled alternatives to informal credit options for farmers in Bangladesh, where 47 percent of the labor force is employed in agriculture. Access to formal credit options in Bangladesh is highly limited, forcing many farmers to choose informal credit options with interest rates as high as 25-31 percent. Moreover, repayment of these informal credit options is due weekly, which is challenging for farmers with limited income generating activities outside of farming, which doesn’t tend to generate income on a weekly basis. The challenging repayment terms and high interest rates lead farmers to rush to sell their harvests. In a rush to sell their goods, farmers do not get their harvests’ full market value.

Josh’s presentation demonstrated the alternative mSTAR has created with two different banks in Bangladesh, Bank Asia and IFIC Bank Limited. mSTAR partnered with both banks to launch two new digitally-enabled micro-credit products for farmers. One uses NFC-enabled debit cards, and the other uses mobile wallets. At 10 percent APR, 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 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.

To date, around 700 farmers have already received loans through the two products, with plans to reach at least 10,000 farmers by next year.

To learn more about additional opportunities for digitizing financial services in the agriculture sector in Bangladesh, take a look at the infographic, Digital Financial Services for Agriculture: Opportunities in Bangladesh, and for additional resources on this topic check out our other publications on the mSTAR Bangladesh Microlinks page.

Paul Gostomski is a Program Assistant for FHI 360’s Mobile Solutions Technical Assistance and Research (mSTAR) project. Paul is a recent graduate from the College of William and Mary, where he studied economics. His work at FHI 360 supports mSTAR’s initiative to foster the rapid adoption and scale-up of digital finance, digital inclusion and mobile data in developing countries. 

Mobile Money Solves Risky Cash and Lack of Loans for Farmers in Ghana: New Video

This is the last of a three-week blog series on digital financial services for agriculture. This series showcases mSTAR and the Digital Development for Feed the Future team’s recently released interactive online resource and instructional videos, made to complement The Guide to the Use of Digital Financial Services in Agriculture. The online resource breaks down the steps of how to use digital financial services in agriculture. To view the other blogs, visit the home page of our blog.


Like in many developing countries, agriculture is the mainstay of the Ghanaian economy. 62 percent of Ghanaians are employed in the sector, says Doris Amponsaa Owusu, Business Services Specialist for USAID’s ADVANCE II Project (Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement). ADVANCE II, implemented by ACDI/VOCA, supports the scaling up of agricultural investments to improve the competitiveness of important value chains in Ghana, and is supported by Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global huger and food security initiative.

In Ghana, buyers drive from the south to buy food from the rural, agricultural north. But due to a lack of banks in the north, buyers must carry huge sums of money as they travel across the country. Dealing with this amount of cash is risky and cumbersome for buyers and farmers alike.

Doris explains how her ADVANCE II team sat down to think about how they could eliminate the risk of carrying large amounts of cash. Mobile money provided a perfect solution: it diminishes the threat of theft and ensures buyers are able to pay farmers efficiently and smoothly. Plus, mobile money is simple to use and offers the ability to access additional financial services such as savings, insurance, and credit.

To implement the mobile money solution, ADVANCE II partnered with MTN, one of the largest mobile network providers in Ghana. MTN piloted the mobile banking service with a farm in northern Ghana. They first trained a group of nucleus farmers, farmers who contract and provide support to smallholder farmers, in the mobile money service. After being trained by ADVANCE II, the nucleus farmers subsequently trained 1,072 smallholder farmers. Farmers enjoyed the service Doris says, and approached ADVANCE II asking to scale up the project. So ADVANCE II trained input dealers and out grower businesses.

After success with the farmers, out growers, and input dealers, ADVANCE II saw more benefits mobile money could offer. The farming communities Doris and her team work with have savings and loan associations, where each farmer contributes weekly towards production for the next season. “The women still have to keep these moneys in metal boxes kept under the beds,” says Doris. So her team partnered with MTN and Fidelity, a banking firm, to digitize the savings and loan associations.

ADVANCE II and the farmers they work with are excited about the results of mobile money, and plan to scale up the program to 10,000 smallholder farmers. “I would recommend it to any project that would want to implement mobile money or digital finance as part of their project approach,” says Francis Ussuman, Regional Coordinator on the ADVANCE II team.

In the video below, Doris, Francis, and local farmers show how ADVANCE II implemented mobile money in Ghana and impacted the agricultural sector.

As the video shows, digital financial services have the potential to strengthen Feed the Future projects around the globe. USAID is here to help missions and partners identify specific challenges in value chains and integrate digital financial services into those corresponding challenges.

To learn more about how to implement digital financial services in Feed the Future projects, read the Guide to the Use of Digital Financial Services in Agriculture. If you have specific questions or feedback, contact digitaldevelopment@usaid.gov

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. 

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. 

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.