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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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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.