‘I feel so proud when I wear it’ – How This 2017 Digi Winner’s SmartCard Won Over Hearts & Brought Results

We’re taking a behind-the-scenes look at the 2017 Digi winners. Hear from ADVANCE II on what it means to be a Digi winner and the hugely beneficial, but completely unexpected outcomes, of their digital solution. This interview was conducted with Emmanuel Dormon, Chief of Party of ADVANCE II. All USAID projects and activities are invited to apply for the 2018 Digi Awards here.

Q: What’s the project?

Emmanuel Dormon (ED): ADVANCE II works to improve the competitiveness of the maize, rice, and soybean value chains in Ghana. As part of this, the project provides training to farmers. But ADVANCE II struggled to get accurate registrations and data from the trainings, so we implemented a smartcard ID technology that stores and tracks data. The ID cards allowed USAID and project officers to see real-time results and build more effective programming. ADVANCE II has successfully tracked over 120,000 people who participated in 5,111 training sessions and increased the number of trainings tailored to female farmers, a previously underrepresented population in trainings.

Q: What’s the local impact?

ED: The tool is efficient and saves farmers’ time.

“The computer brings up my name. After training is over, I don’t have to sit down for long before they record my attendance. The card encourages us to attend the meetings and it saves our time,” says Meli Alhassan from Tamalgu Community in the Karaga District in the Northern Region.

“The card encourages us to attend the meetings and it saves our time.”

Beneficiaries receive more targeted trainings. With the smartcard, the project is able to target training topics to specific communities and smallholder farmers. The project has been able to accurately link the number and specific types of trainings to behavior change, and tailor specific topics to female farmers based on analysis of the data captured using the smartcards system. This means that female farmers who generally have less access to land and less time to manage their farms because of other household chores get the opportunity to improve their farming activities with targeted interventions as well as strategies to empower them to take more control over their lives and resources.

The tool has enhanced the confidence and reputation of women. The use of the smartcard has increased the confidence of women beneficiaries. It gives the women a sense of pride when others get to know their association with the project. “Formerly, as a woman you could have money but you could not get a tractor to plough for you until all the men’s fields had been plowed. But now, because of the USAID ADVANCE card, when you have it, they can easily plough for you,” Amama Sulemana from Tamalgu Community in the Karaga District in the Northern Region says. Memuna Adoku of the same community added, “whoever sees you with the card will know you are in USAID ADVANCE. That alone gives you some respect.”

“Formerly, as a woman you could have money but you could not get a tractor to plough for you until all the men’s fields had been plowed. But now, because of the USAID ADVANCE card, when you have it, they can easily plough for you.”

Increased sense of belonging and communal engagement. Socially, the smartcard improves engagement among farmers. It provides a form of identification to those without any formal ID, as is often the case in rural Ghana. The cards also provide a sense of belonging for the project beneficiaries especially at the community level. “The smartcard is very good. Anytime I attend a training, I put it on and it makes it easier to identify me. I don’t have to mention my name; the card gives my personal details, farm size, yield and other information. I feel so proud when I wear it. In fact, I even put it on when I am attending programs like outdooring, marriage ceremonies. We are able to flow well with each other,” says Fati Sulemana, a smallholder farmer in Nansoni community in the Northern Region.

This sense of identity that the card provides to the smallholder farmers was not anticipated but it has become a very important factor that enables them to access services more easily.

Q: What surprised you most throughout the process of creating and implementing the tool?

ED: The high level of appreciation of the tool by the farmers. Given the low level ADVANCEBabyof literacy and technology adoption in the rural areas, we were not certain as to how readily the farmers would accept the use of the smartcards. It was surprising to see how quickly they welcomed it.

We were also surprised by the pace of learning by project officers. Most (about 80 percent) of project staff accepted and learned to use the tool within the first month of its introduction. About 10 percent of staff, mostly the older ones, took a longer period to fully embrace the tool and use it fully.

Q: What would you say to other projects to encourage them to use digital tools?

ED: The smartcard improves data capturing and monitoring, thereby eliminating the risk of double counting. The use of the smartcard is good. It enables the project to determine the training attendance rate of farmers and follow up on beneficiaries with poor attendance. As of March 2018, the project had effectively tracked 129,900 beneficiaries who have attended trainings within the four years of use, and provides almost real-time data for analysis and effective management decision making.

Data analysis is faster and easier with the smartcard. 


The tool helps to accurately update information on the farmers with respect to their crop yield, household, and other participants in the household. On a weekly basis, we can know how many farmers have been trained and in what topics. We are able to track which particular training a farmer has received, the percentage change in the yield and then, a percentage change in the income of the farmer. We are able to cross tabulate various elements to determine which assumptions about training (and specific topics) are correct and which ones are not, thereby enabling project managers to decide on necessary changes and adaptations.

The smart card system guides some operational decisions. The smartcard makes community engagement more efficient. Before we engage community members, we know how many resources we need because we know the total number of farmers that are in the community. High data quality is assured with less effort and time in addition to easy identification of beneficiaries because they are assigned unique ID numbers.

Q: What does being a Digi winner mean to you?

ED: All of us working for the project feel very proud being a Digi winner. It shows that being proactive, innovative and technology-driven is recognized and it is the way to go as a project. When we used paper rosters, we were not able to correlate the training activity with the farmers and harvesting data because we couldn’t uniquely identify farmers. We also recognize that having been winners, a lot is expected from us and we are redoubling our efforts to remain leaders in the field of adopting digital tools to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our interventions to attain the desired project results and goals. Winning the Digi award also increases our credibility as a project.

mSTAR and USAID developed videos of each winner, viewable here. All USAID projects and activities are invited apply to the 2018 Digi Awards.  


4 Keys to Make Your Project Handover Successful, No Matter the Circumstance

By Erica Bustinza, mSTAR Project Director

mSTAR/Liberia ended activities in May 2018 after enrolling 4,870 civil servants across Liberia into mobile salary payments and successfully handing the mobile salary payment program over to the government. Over the summer we will be posting a blog series on what went well and why, how we overcame challenges, and lessons for the future. We’ll be writing from a management angle, monitoring and evaluation angle, a communications angle and a digital financial services angle. 

Project closeout is a hectic time. There’s a list of detailed tasks to accomplish, from finalizing results and lessons learned to equipment disposition. But what if closeout plans are rocked by a natural disaster? Or a financial shock? Or a government transition?

For the first time in 12 years in Liberia, a new president was elected to power. It was a peaceful transition of power that the country celebrated, but it also coincided perfectly with mSTAR/Liberia’s scheduled closeout. Charged with supporting the government to offer mobile money salary payments to civil servants, mSTAR/Liberia’s planned closeout included a comprehensive handover of intricate tasks to government leaders. However, a new administration meant that many government colleagues who supported the project were being replaced. The mSTAR team couldn’t ask the government to reschedule the transition and it was unclear if there would be enough time to ensure the new administration would fully be able to take ownership. In the last few months of the project, navigating the transition appeared daunting.

From 2016 to 2018, mSTAR/Liberia supported the government in offering mobile money as a new payment option for civil servants. Before this payment option, the only way for civil servants to receive their salary was to travel down dangerous roads to banks in distant cities where low liquidity forced them to wait, often for days. Throughout this journey, civil servants spend huge sums of money on lodging and food, in addition to missing work. With the mobile money salary payment option, however, civil servants can receive their salary on their phones. This option has saved civil servants 12 hours at work and 979 LD on average, which is roughly 7 percent of the average salary.

For two years, mSTAR worked to make this payment option a success. mSTAR built consensus with government and private sector stakeholders to enroll civil servants in the program through over 60 local events across all 15 Liberian counties. Through this work, over 4,500 civil servants enrolled in the payment program and the country’s two mobile money providers signed on to offer their services.

Yet from June 2017 all the way to March 2018, elections and the change of administration caused an all-around distraction for both mSTAR and government staff, impeding progress during key months for implementation. Fortunately, several government counterparts felt the gains that had been made and were motivated to push for activities to continue, even if at a reduced pace.

In the last six months of mSTAR/Liberia’s activities, it became clear that mSTAR’s only option for a smooth handover was to begin project transition early and involve as many relevant stakeholders as possible. As election campaigns heated up, it took several months to hold initial transition meetings, but mSTAR remained persistent. Following the inauguration in January 2018, the new administration greenlighted select mSTAR activities and the mSTAR and GOL teams sprang into action. During the final months of the project, major sustainability activities were achieved including three large-scale regional trainings for district and county staff, a high-level stakeholder sustainability meeting and a final closeout event featuring public statements of support from each key stakeholder, many of whom were from the new administration. The project not only met, but surpassed expectations.

mSTAR’s Keys to Closeout Success:

  1. Build sustainability into project design. The project built government ownership into the design. Stakeholders knew from the onset that the government would own the initiative. From the start, the mSTAR team worked towards that goal. This understanding made the eventual government transition smooth.
  2. Involve local and technical staff in key parts of implementation. mSTAR worked with the GOL technical teams rather than focusing on politically-appointed decision makers. While senior staff were replaced in the new administration, the technical teams remained. The technical teams were proud advocates of the program and obtained critical buy-in from the new administration.
  3. Create collaborative and cost-effective mechanisms. At the project onset, mSTAR and the GOL knew the GOL would not be able to sustain the large-scale enrollment events that mSTAR was supporting, so they created a separate enrollment method called “individual enrollments.” This system utilizes processes that are already in place, eliminating the need for additional funding or time-consuming new functions for overstretched rural staff.
  4. Keep energy and momentum high. The government was energized to continue scaling up the project because they saw positive results. Benefits the government saw include:
  • Staff spend less time collecting salary
  • Staff have more time on duty at health facilities and schools
  • Staff reported fewer complaints pertaining to salary issues
  • Staff experienced financial savings due to reduced transportation and other related costs when collecting salary at the bank

In light of these four keys, the importance of building ownership into the project design remains paramount. It not only prepared the project and the GOL for the transition, but also helped mSTAR reach and exceed project goals and build civil servant trust in the system. County and district staff reported that they understand the importance of their duty and that they would continue to encourage civil servants to transition to mobile money salary payments. Leadership in Monrovia said the same. “We will run with this program,” said James M. Beyan, the Director of Human Resources at the Ministry of Health, at the closeout event. James Armah Massaquoi of the Ministry of Education echoed, “We will continue the effort of mobile money. We will not allow the dream to die though the challenges seem big.”

Erica Bustinza 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. She holds a MSc in International Development from Tulane University and a BSc from Bradley University.

‘She doubled her production that year-‘ 2017 Digi Winner Impacts the Lives of Ethiopia’s Farmers

We’re taking a behind-the-scenes look at the 2017 Digi winners. Hear their take on what it means to be a Digi winner and the power of digital tools. This interview was conducted with Mekdes Girmaw, Project Director for the Digital Integration to Amplify Agricultural Extension Project. All USAID projects and activities are invited to apply for the 2018 Digi Awards here. 

Q: What’s the project?

Mekdes Girmaw (MG): Digital Integration to Amplify Agricultural Extension harnesses locally-produced video, radio, interactive voice response and mobile data collection combined with traditional extension workers to spread information about best practices to smallholder farmers. One third of the farmers reached, 40 percent of whom are female farmers, have adopted at least one new practice.

Q: What’s the local impact?

MG: Take Ms. Jorge, a farmer in Becho district of Oromia region, Ethiopia. She participates regularly in her village farmer development group meetings. She watches localized videos featuring local farmers talking about best agricultural practices and discusses the practices with group members and the extension agent. She also is engaged with her local community listener group that comes together to regularly listen to participatory radio campaigns. The Aybar Broad Bed Maker (BBM) tool was introduced in a video as well as during radio segments.

Ms. Jorge listened to the radio program and watched videos that discussed the benefit of the tool – to create furrows and drain excess water from water-logged soils. Although extension agents had introduced the tool at a local demonstration plot during years past, many farmers including Ms. Jorge did not have the confidence to assemble and use it. After watching the videos and listening to the radio broadcasts, Ms. Jorge worked with extension agents and tested the Aybar BBM during her planting of one hectare of an improved variety of teff. By using the tool, and by changing her management practices of teff, she doubled her production that year.

Q: What surprised you when implementing this project?

MG: We work in very close collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture in Ethiopia. Digital Green, a project implementing partner, aims to leverage pre-existing structures such as the farmer development groups and the country’s agricultural extension structure, and layer digital technology onto those structures to increase smallholder farmer incomes. The Ministry of Agriculture in Ethiopia is eager to maintain the momentum that the Digital Integration project has spurred; they have begun institutionalizing the end-to-end video-enabled extension approach and are eager to leverage IVR and radio to support smallholder farmers as well.

We also learned that adding more ICT channels do not always generate deeper impact. Mobiles are often useful for exchanging data or smaller information that fluctuates (such as market prices or weather); whereas video provides rich information and has the ability to motivate viewers. We know that ICT is not a substitute for face-to-face human interactions; the two need to be paired and work in complementary ways.

Q: What would you say to other projects to encourage them to use digital tools?

MG: The content of digitally-delivered messages within the agricultural space really needs to be tailored and contextualized for greater farmer uptake. If practices are broken down by tangible adoption points and modified for each target group, messages could be powerful for the farmers watching, and for those with whom they share information.

It would be great if projects that are using ICT mapped out their country’s ICT ecosystem to sustainably scale and drive impact from scale.

Q: What does it mean to be a Digi Award winner?

MG: We are excited that the consortium partners, Awaaz.de, Dimagi, Farm Radio EthiopiaFarmerInternational, and Digital Green, as well as all of the key partners of this project, the Ministry of Agriculture in Ethiopia, the Agricultural Transformation Agency, AGRA & their grantees, were recognized for the integrated work that took place to support smallholder farmers in Ethiopia. The project was an enriching, encouraging experience and we’ve learned from it. We look forward to continuing to bridge gaps and find solutions to continue supporting smallholder farmers to increase their incomes and leveraging the lessons learned from this project to do so efficiently and effectively.

mSTAR and USAID developed videos of each winner, viewable here. All USAID projects and activities are invited apply to the 2018 Digi Awards.  

The 2018 Digi Award Application is Now Live!

The second annual Digital Development Awards are now live! 

While the applications are open, we’d like to look back at the 2017 Digi winners. The 2017 winners represent exemplary uses of digital technology across sectors, regions and contexts. We’re excited to share some behind-the-scenes interviews with the Digi winners featuring what the Digi means to them and what it takes to implement digital technology successfully. In this interview, the B+WISER project gives us their inside take on being a Digi winner.

Q: What’s the project?

A: B+WISER from the Philippines. B+WISER teamed up with Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to develop the Lawin Forest and Biodiversity Protection System, which revolutionizes how the Philippines prevents forest destruction. Through Lawin, forest rangers digitally record observations about forest conditions, species and threats to provide geo-referenced, up-to-date information that informs DENR’s forest protection actions at all levels.

See B+WISER in action in the Filipino rainforest here.


Rex Telon uses Lawin.

Q: What’s Lawin’s impact on local communities?

A: Before the innovation, the DENR had only little information about the efforts of the forest rangers in the field. With Lawin, rangers like Rexmel Telon, who has always believed protecting the forest is a priority to safeguard the livelihood of future generations, are now being appreciated for their forest protection efforts. The digital innovation changed the way Rex and 3,000 other rangers approach forest protection. Their observations on the status of the forest and threats to the natural forest can now be easily shared to the local, regional and national level through the SMART Connect web platform, allowing DENR to do data-driven and transparent decision making for forest and biodiversity conservation. A comprehensive approach to forest protection is imperative in addressing the threats to forest and its biodiversity. The innovation provides the data needed for improving the design and implementation of the DENR community-based livelihood programs. Activities such as establishing agroforestry farms, energy crop plantations and the hiring of community members as forest guards, are being implemented in areas where data shows increased level of forest threats to engage the communities as part of the forest protection efforts, minimizing destructive anthropogenic threats. In addition, the innovation empowers local communities to take an active role in protecting their forest resources such as the case of Mount Kitanglad, an ASEAN Heritage natural park in Mindanao, where 320 indigenous people volunteer guards use the innovation to protect the park.

Q: What was most surprising throughout the process of creating and implementing the tool?

A: The Lawin digital innovation was designed to scale at the onset. It was surprising to see the overwhelming buy-in from DENR at all levels and the swift manner in which the DENR decision makers demonstrated commitment to scale-up the system. In less than two years, Lawin was transformed from a small-scale forest protection system in seven sites comprising a total 240,000 hectares of natural forest to a national system that will protect more than 7 million hectares of natural forest. The strong local ownership of the innovation is demonstrated by DENR’s significant investment of more than $20 million annually and the daily use of the innovation by more than 3,000 staff.

Lawin has been so successful that the DENR wants to expand it to cover all the environmental mandates of the Department including the monitoring and assessment of its flagship reforestation program, as well as the compliance of mining operations and the tourism and coastal management efforts, among others.

Q: What are the keys to successfully implementing digital technology?

A: Local ownership is paramount both to successful implementation and sustainability. Inclusive participation of partners and relevant stakeholders is bwiser5important in understanding the development challenge, defining workable solutions and agreeing on stakeholder roles to address the situation. In particular, you need to determine the data and information gaps that stakeholders and decision makers need to overcome. At this point, you can think of the value that digital innovations can bring to address these gaps. It is critical to work together with the counterpart in the development of the innovation, thinking of the users, the potential to scale, and the possibility for its sustained implementation even beyond the project. To the extent possible, work on a cost-sharing scheme for carrying out capacity-building activities and ensure a critical mass of users can be trained. Cost-sharing (having skin in the game) for capacity-building events will help increase local ownership of innovation. Finally, one cannot underestimate the contribution that simplicity and user friendliness can have at the moment of scaling up a digital development innovation – keep it simple!

Q: What does being a Digi winner mean to B+WISER?

A: The Digi Award brought a sense of accomplishment and recognition not only on bwiser4the part of the USAID project, but more importantly, on the part of the DENR. The award showed the government that their efforts in the development and implementation of the system in partnership with USAID represents best international practice. Their participation in the Digital Development Forum where the Digi winners were recognized, and the award itself, resulted in renewed commitment on the part of the authorities for the sustained implementation of the Lawin system in the Philippines.

mSTAR and USAID developed videos of each winner, viewable here. All USAID projects and activities are invited apply to the 2018 Digi Awards.  

An Interview with Jim Forster of INI Holdings: Increasing Access to Affordable Communications

This blog is the first in a series of interviews focusing on last-mile innovation.

Mobile internet access is available to over two-thirds of the world via 3G coverage, yet significant populations within low- and middle-income countries still cannot connect to the internet because of availability and affordability issues. Ensuring equitable access in these frontier markets poses complex challenges but also a dynamic set of opportunities. A growing number of innovative enterprises and community networks are seizing these opportunities to meet the demand for access among rural and low-income urban consumers. They are employing novel business models and technologies to profitably and sustainably serve markets where mobile network operators and fixed-line internet service providers cannot make their traditional operating models work. The diversified models and ingenuity of these connectivity enterprises are causing investors to pay attention. With funding from USAID under the Last-Mile Connectivity Initiative, mSTAR recently completed a landscaping of over 50 last-mile connectivity enterprises offering services and 50 investors channeling capital into these solutions. jim5.png

Jim Forster is one investor who has taken notice. Jim is a connectivity veteran who spent 20 years at Cisco, founded NetworktheWorld.org, and currently serves as Chairman of Mawingu and AirJaldi Networks. In response to the growing opportunity for investment, Jim recently launched INI Holdings with partner Ben Matranga to manage a portfolio of investments in affordable, reliable, and high-speed connectivity.

Hannah Skelly, mSTAR Technical Advisor, interviewed Jim in March 2018 to learn more about INI Holdings.

What new trends get you excited about the last-mile connectivity space?

JF: In 2018, much of the world is connected, but many people still don’t have connectivity. The first wave of extending communications technologies prioritized access, with the benchmark being number of total users. It is a binary measurement that rightfully prioritized expanding coverage to more people. We believe the next wave is beginning to prioritize consumption and providing communications at a price and quality that nearly all can afford.  Our ultimate goal is not just for people to have communications tools in their hands, but be able to use them because the cost and quality is no longer a barrier.

What motivated you to start INI Holdings?

JF: I spent 20 years at Cisco Systems. It was fascinating to build products that are key parts of the internet as it grew so rapidly. The last several years at Cisco I spent time looking at how to spread the internet into more places, especially rural areas of Africa and Asia. I saw there was a need for financing of early stage companies. At Cisco I was a Senior Engineer but when I left in 2008 I became an angel investor, learning by doing. Recently I wanted to accelerate and do more, so I asked Ben to get involved. He’s got lots of great experience that complements mine, including working with entrepreneurs to rebuild infrastructure in Africa and Latin America. I knew his passion for restoring communities and supporting new ideas and experience in finance and infrastructure in remote areas would help push our investments forward.

The INI investment portfolio includes internet service providers (ISPs) that have developed operating models that can profitably provide service where none currently exists as well as offer service affordably to low-income consumers. What are the main characteristics of these companies’ approaches that enable them to operate profitably in areas that the traditional mobile network operators have passed over?

JF: Traditional mobile operators have a cost structure that requires certain corresponding revenue. While mobile networks are great, they are not the only structure that can deliver internet content and services. In particular, in the US, Europe and Eastern Asia there are very large and successful networks, such as the cable company networks, or the various DSL/FTTx/Fixed Wireless networks that everyone uses at home and in the office. Besides connecting desktop, laptops and over-the-top (OTT) video and music systems, these networks carry more data to mobile phones than the mobile operators carry. But in Africa and South and Central Asia, these networks almost don’t exist. By dropping the requirement that connectivity should work even while moving and have a phone number, it’s possible to use other technology that is faster and cheaper than the mobile infrastructure.

INI describes itself as a double-bottom line investor, both venture capitalists focused on financial returns and impact investors focused on socio-economic outcomes. What are the most important social returns you anticipate from your investments?

JF: We expect our portfolio of ISPs to focus on access at an affordable price. We know that communications is one of the primary discretionary expenses for our customers – if our companies can provide better quality at a lower price – that puts more money in our customers pockets.  In South Africa for example, our customers currently spend up to 20 percent of their income on data from mobile telecommunication operators: we offer 20 times more bandwidth value. That’s more bandwidth at a lower cost.

In terms of geography, your investments span many interesting frontier markets —Mawingu in Kenya, Habari in Tanzania, AirJaldi in India and TooMuchWiFi in South Africa. What has your experience been in these markets – have you noticed any major similarities or differences?

JF: Each market has its own particular set of challenges. There are some clear similarities in hardware technology, building out revenue models, or sales strategy. We are hands-on investors that provide financial capital alongside technical and strategic expertise. But ultimately, it’s about finding great local entrepreneurs and building exceptional teams that know their communities far better than we do.

What do you anticipate your portfolio will look like in 3-5 years?

JF: INI is focused on building a portfolio of ISPs that serve millions of clients. That takes time, but we know great companies are built one happy customer at a time.

What advice would you give to other investors looking to enter this space?

JF: Find other investors who shares your values and complements your knowledge base. There are many investors who are happy to have new investors participate in deals. Always focus on the people – the customers, the entrepreneurs, the line managers – they are ultimately what you are investing in.

mSTAR is supporting the USAID Digital Inclusion team’s Last-Mile Connectivity Initiative to connect investors, such as Jim and Ben, with the growing number of connectivity enterprises. Stay tuned via the mSTAR blog and the Digital Inclusion website to hear more from investors who see huge commercial and social potential in the connectivity space and the enterprises developing and deploying solutions.

AMA Innovation Lab and D2FTF Use Digital Tools to Break Down Barriers to Agricultural Insurance

This blog was originally posted on Agrilinks. To read the original, click here

By: Tara Chui, Assistant Director, AMA Innovation Lab, UC Davis

In the developing world, there is little agriculturalists can do to protect themselves and their families from weather volatility. When shocks occur, many families have to resort to defaulting on loans, selling assets, reducing their meals or pulling children out of school. Because of this, even before disaster strikes, many farmers pass on high reward, but potentially risky, opportunities. Even though additional investments in farm productivity could help the household get out of poverty, these investments could also increase the household exposure to risk. This means many families don’t take the growth opportunities available to them. In this way, risk exposure both makes families poor and keeps families poor.

At the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Assets and Market Access (AMA Innovation Lab), we’ve found that agricultural index insurance, by transferring these risks away from farmers, can increase household resilience and enable smallholder farmers to take advantage of productive opportunities that are available to them. By avoiding costly coping mechanisms and taking advantage of growth opportunities, households and communities can make productive investments and can set themselves on a growth trajectory.

Many agricultural insurance pilots, despite indications of positive welfare impacts, have not been taken to scale. Many of the challenges they face are things like consumer education, sales and distribution in remote locations and small sales at a time.

One of the most successful index insurance projects – Index-Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI) in East Africa – was met with a series of barriers in making the product accessible to those who stood the most to benefit from the product. For example, pastoralists, by definition, are often not in their homes. This makes it exceedingly difficult to get the payouts to the insured pastoralists when payouts are triggered. If it takes too long for insured agriculturalists to receive their payouts, then they are forced to resort to the same costly coping strategies that they bought the insurance to avoid. This can also severely inhibit, or entirely demolish, an intervention. In the case of IBLI, the payout problems meant that the costs of distributing payouts were actually higher than the value of the payouts themselves.

Now, as part of the Kenya Livestock Insurance Program, the next stage of the ILBI intervention, insurers are moving to mobile phones to make sure payments get to the insured quickly. Because of the huge advances made in digital innovations, interventions can be made more feasible, and more of the value can be passed on to the pastoralists themselves.

At the AMA Innovation Lab, we see on the horizon many more opportunities for digital innovations to increase access to insurance through improved consumer education, sales platforms, insurance purchase aggregation and payout distribution platforms mechanisms. Moreover, digital innovations such as remote sensing and drones have high potential to make the indices used to trigger payouts better at seeing the reality of situations on the ground and making the contract much more valuable to farmers than was possible in the past.

As the AMA Innovation Lab continues to work with pilot studies and implementation partners – in both public and private sectors – digital innovations can make what once was infeasible now feasible. And Feed the Future’s new guide, Using Digital Tools to Expand Access To Agricultural Insurance, will provide implementation partners with an important resource to address these barriers that stand behind this important innovation and rural communities.

When used in concert with some of the tools being developed by the AMA Innovation Lab to promote the responsible and effective development of agricultural insurance, this guide can help to get high-quality, well-designed agricultural insurance products to those who stand to benefit the most, increasing the resilience of vulnerable populations. The framework it provides can help to identify both challenges and opportunities before beginning an intervention and to take advantage of the rapidly increasing number of technological advances that can make agricultural insurance work.

To learn more about agricultural insurance, the Digital Development for Feed the Future created Using Digital Tools to Expand Access to Agricultural Insurance. This resource shows USAID missions and implementing partners how to leverage the use of digital tools to expand the use agricultural insurance. 

Photo Credit: International Livestock Research Institute 

Playing The Right Role In Haiti’s Growing Mobile Sector: 4 Key Principles

Digital financial services have been a robust part of the development sector for over a decade and their impact continues to grow. This blog is part of a series that focuses on successful DFS projects that achieve results-driven impact in people’s lives.

By: John Jepsen, Project Director and Senior Advisor, Haiti Finance Inclusive, DAI

It’s an exciting time for mobile money expansion in Haiti. Digicel’s MonCash – Haiti’s largest mobile money deployment – has reached nearly 1 million customers and $400 million in yearly transacted value in 2017. This customer base represents a +1500 percent increase from 2015, the same year Digicel rebooted its strategy, marketing approach, product offering, and sales and training force.

Digicel has achieved these impressive results despite a generally unfavorable enabling environment for mobile money. The digital financial service sector, including mobile money, still operates under the original e-money policy that was drafted in 2010 in response to interest and significant donor investment, particularly by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Haiti Mobile Money Initiative and the USAID/Haiti HIFIVE project. There also have not been partnerships or active dialogue to further develop interoperable systems, shared or common agent networks, or opening of APIs to encourage fintech innovation. These results also came at a time where there was no broad digital financial services donor support or programming in Haiti. Thus, Digicel’s recent results are largely attributable to its own internal, sustained effort.

Yet despite the 1500 percent increase in MonCash clients, Haiti still has the highest un-banked population in the Latin America and Caribbean region. Even if doubling the findings from the 2014 Global Findex, Haiti would still exhibit some of the lowest financial inclusion not just in the Latin American and Caribbean region, but globally. There’s no doubt that there is still a lot of work to do in Haiti. Issues such as diversity of products that focus on including the poor, women, and marginalized populations, financial education, consumer protection and product cost and quality are not well understood. Efforts to promote DFS in Haiti and broader financial inclusion must lead to the safe delivery of a variety of financial services at affordable costs to sections of disadvantaged and low-income segments of society.

The USAID/Haiti Finance Inclusive project, which started in April 2017, is designed to promote broad-based financial inclusion, including the expansion of digital financial services in Haiti. Finance Inclusive’s activities began amidst MonCash’s rapid growth. Thus, the key question for a project like Finance Inclusive is what is the right role for it to play that does not get in the way of natural market growth. Below, I explore four key principles that drive Finance Inclusive’s strategy and specific portfolio of activities to ensure that DFS market growth actually contributes to pro-poor, inclusive economic growth objectives. Taken together, our approach mixed data-driven, evidence-based methodologies with people-based co-creation and behavior change tactics.

  1. Start with an arms-length, neutral mapping and gap analysis of the market

At the heart of Finance Inclusive’s project design is the market systems approach, which relies on contributions from the totality of the digital financial service sector’s players. A tenet of the market systems approach is to develop a deep and nuanced understanding of the macro-, meso-, and micro-levels within the DFS market. The myriad markets that affect digital financial services— commercial banking, microfinance, insurance, and mobile money all have supervisory structures, financial infrastructure, and demand and supply dynamics. As a first project activity, Finance Inclusive undertook a market system mapping to gain insights into how various market players provide, interact or view DFS offerings to gauge current trends and potential developments in the sector. This activity looked at how market players contribute to an understanding of the current DFS sector and relevant perspectives, constraints and incentives associated with sector expansion and the extent to which growth in this sector might strengthen or compliment financial inclusion efforts. From this effort, market players, functions, and regulations were clearly articulated and recommendations were defined to ensure DFS market development considers pro-poor growth dynamics. A sustained understanding of these dynamics throughout project lifetime remains critical.

  1. Develop data in partnership with market players to ensure utilization and uptake

The Finance Inclusive program seeks to develop, share, and encourage utilization of new data and insights, particularly for the demand for DFS. Demand-side interrogation is critical to developing new products and marketing, and it also supports advocacy, behavior-change communications, and financial literacy campaigns and facilitates partnering. The process to develop the data products as well as to encourage utilization of the data is equally critical. Finance Inclusive’s data development approach ensures that local stakeholders are part and parcel of the data collection efforts. Our approach also mixes a variety of data products to contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the financial sector including through nationally-representative demand-side research such as FinScope Consumer,  consumer-centric data such as from DAI’s Frontier Insights product, gathering ethnographic insights about technology usage among target client groups; and data mapping and analytics in partnership with MixMarket through the production of a finclusion map data analytics platform designed to help users make sense of financial inclusion data.

  1. Ensure policy and regulation support takes an ‘all of government’ approach

Financial inclusion is not the purview of a single government unit. While Haiti’s Central Bank (the BRH) is responsible for the country’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS), and it has a distinct financial inclusion unit, its mandate is cross-cutting. It works closely with several other key ministries on issues of education, identification, and sector specific investment strategies. Keeping abreast of policy and political economy issues requires engaging key government champions, maintaining positive momentum, and leveraging local, regional, and international networks and forums such as the Alliance for Financial Inclusion, of which Haiti is a member. Finance Inclusive built its project support strategy directly with the BRH NFIS team; signing a letter of cooperation within the first month of project operations. This not only allowed us to clarify our implementation plan, but it built huge credibility with the BRH NFIS team and avoids duplication of existing efforts and other donor initiatives. Finance Inclusive’s work with the BRH focuses on donor coordination, data and information, and consumer protection, all key issues to support the further development and expansion of DFS and which link to other government objectives such as shared data and education.

  1. Use co-creation with local stakeholders to achieve buy-in for change

Sustainable changes requires building the capacity of and linkages between local market actors and encouraging local ownership of interventions. Market systems approaches stimulate the conditions in which local market actors can collaborate, innovate, and adapt. Finance Inclusive uses co-creation models, creative problem solving techniques, and cross-sector collaboration activities to ensure local knowledge and capacity is not only leveraged but merging toward common vision and purpose. One of the project’s strategic initiatives was a cross-cutting co-creation event with representatives of the financial sector (banks, MFIs, credit unions, insurance companies, and mobile money providers), non-governmental organizations, and community-based organizations. The group worked together to define synthesized market constraints and targeted strategies to tackle them, which included specific recommendations and next steps for work around interoperability and shared DFS infrastructure. Together, the participants also developed a common vision and joint purpose statement to “work together to improve people’s lives and stimulate wealth creation for all through access and use of financial services by all, especially based on technology.”

Photo credit: David Rochkind, USAID

How Bundled Services Are Impacting Over A Million Smallholder Farmers

Digital financial services have been a robust part of the development sector for over a decade and their impact continues to grow. This blog is part of a series that focuses on successful DFS projects that achieve results-driven impact in people’s lives.

By: Trey Waters, Agri-Fin Mobile Director, Mercy Corps

Globally, there are an estimated 500 million farmers who earn their primary living from farming less than five acres of land. Even when these smallholder farmers grow cash crops, they often rely on subsistence production for their families, and many underproduce due to lack of access to markets, technology and financial products.

Mercy Corps’ Agri-Fin Mobile program, supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), partners with influential private sector actors to develop business models in Zimbabwe, Uganda and Indonesia. These business models provide farmers with financial and rural advisory services to help them increase their production and income. Agri-Fin Mobile worked with partners such as Econet, the largest mobile network operator in Zimbabwe, and TruTrade, a small startup in Uganda, to develop bundled, products that are distributed through digital platforms and at scale. Agri-Fin Mobile’s bundled approach means that all solutions include both rural advisory and financial services. Building off Mercy Corps’ deep understanding of the local agriculture sector, we facilitated partnerships between traditional agriculture stakeholders, such as farmers unions and cooperatives, and non-traditional actors such as banks and mobile network operators. To date, Agri-Fin Mobile worked with its partners to reach over 1.2 million smallholder farmers. Currently, over 225,000 farmers are actively using products and services developed by Agri-Fin partners.Mercy Corps

When testing business models, Agri-Fin Mobile was responsive to the local environment, such as the regulatory landscape and current market conditions, resulting in a variety of partnerships reflecting the appropriate local context. In Zimbabwe, the program partnered with Econet to test a mobile network operator approach, developing a platform, EcoFarmer, to reach farmers with agricultural tips, weather index insurance, and a digital savings product. This model proved to be a huge success reaching over 300,000 farmers. In Uganda, Agri-Fin Mobile worked with smaller startups, such as TruTrade and Ensibuuko, to grow and scale their businesses and is currently running an extended hackathon to develop agriculture technology solutions for refugees in northern Uganda. Finally, in Indonesia we tested a bank-led model working with Bank Mandiri, the largest commercial bank in Indonesia, to expand its agent banking network to farmers and a consortium of partners to develop an agricultural financing scheme that provides access to credit for inputs. Combined, the two models in Indonesia have reached over 160,000 farmers.

While the context for all three countries varied, the program has learned there are key factors that lend to successfully developing, piloting and then finally rolling out these models. First, when finding and establishing partnerships, they should have similar values and goals. By working through existing farmer group unions in Indonesia, we were able to introduce agent banking to group members and build off existing relationships. Second, when working with partners to create a product, you need to put the farmer first. In Zimbabwe, we worked with CGAP and IDEO.org to develop a school savings product using human-centered design, complimenting the existing EcoFarmer offerings. Finally, when introducing a digital solution, the model should include a human interface. Whether they are leaders of a local farmer cooperative, loan officers, or extension agents, these points of contact can act as your on the ground support, and help to increase uptake.

Agri-Fin Mobile began piloting the concept of bringing together different actors to develop solutions and go to scale, and many of the learnings have been adopted by our sister program AgriFin Accelerate. As Agri-Fin Mobile comes to an end in August; Mercy Corps plans to continue exploring how we can develop new business models that engage private sector to reach more smallholder farmers in new regions, countries and contexts.

To learn more about Mercy Corp’s work, visit their YouTube channel here. 

Photo Credits: Mercy Corps

Will Market Competition Translate to Improved Mobile Money Service & Outcomes in Liberia?

By Erica Bustinza, Chief of Party, mSTAR/Liberia

Market competition can offer benefits such as improved pricing, options, service points and coverage. This is no less true among mobile financial service providers. For example, since mobile financial services launched six years ago in Bangladesh, the dominant provider, bKash, has lead the pack with over 24 million subscribers but over 10 banks and additional third party providers also contribute to the market. In Tanzania, M-Pesa entered the market in 2009 and still holds the highest market share at 42 percent, but there are now five competitors driving development of the digital financial services ecosystem.

Compared to counterparts in East Africa, Liberia is relatively new to mobile money. Lonestar MTN, one of the largest mobile network operators (MNO) in Liberia, debuted their mobile money product in 2011. Orange Money, the only other mobile money provider (formerly Cellcom’s Smile Mobile Money), launched in February 2016 and has since expanded from Monrovia to 13 of 15 counties. Combined, the two providers have over 1.6 million subscribers. For a nation of 4.6 million, mobile money has shown significant growth. IMG_1772

While Liberians use mobile money primarily for person to person transfers (P2P), the Mobile Solutions Technical Assistance and Research (mSTAR) project supports the Government of Liberia in offering government to person (G2P) payments. mSTAR assists the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health in rolling out mobile money payments to civil servants on a county-by-county basis. To date, 2,544 Education staff and 803 Health staff enrolled in this option in 12 counties.

In Liberia, financial inclusion is challenged by factors such as banks that are often difficult to access. Wire transfer fees to send money to family across the country that are prohibitively high. Mobile money attracts customers by avoiding these challenges. Customers can send and receive money on their phone and cash it out at a nearby agent for a small fee while avoiding poor roads to the bank, system outages and long lines.

Despite mobile money’s many benefits, the system is not without its flaws. While Liberia’s capital city, Monrovia, experiences fewer issues, other cities and especially rural areas find challenges that include a lack of cellular connectivity (a mobile transfer is of little use if the phone cannot connect to send/receive) and liquidity shortages (mobile money requires that the agent has enough cash on hand to pay the customer.) These issues are exacerbated by power shortages and underdeveloped infrastructure such as bad roads, some of which are unnavigable during the April-November rainy season, which constrains liquidity. Liberia is a nascent mobile money market with a very recent second entrant. The market is becoming competitive but competition has not yet taken off and incentives to drive product, service and price improvements are still limited.

While cellular coverage is similar between Lonestar and Orange throughout the country there are also areas only covered by one provider where users often have one SIM rather than one for each, as is common in well-covered areas. This has been difficult for G2P payments rollout because the GOL has only offered civil servant salary payments with Lonestar since Orange did not have the national presence required to participate. Civil servants who want to switch to mobile money payments but live in areas without Lonestar coverage frequently complained about the lack of options. To address this problem, in November 2017 the GOL officially brought Orange in as a second provider authorized to transmit government salary payments. This is celebratory news for civil servants and the development of Liberia’s digital financial services ecosystem.

…in November 2017 the GOL officially brought Orange in as a second provider authorized to transmit government salary payments.

At the start of the salary payment program, mSTAR supported the GOL in facilitation of negotiations and development of two Memoranda of Understanding with Lonestar which allowed the GOL to offer Lonestar mobile money as a payment option. In the same vein, mSTAR has worked with the GOL to come to a similar agreement with Orange. mSTAR has provided data used in decision making and technical support to conceptualize rollout of mobile money salary payments. The new Orange MOU will allow market competition for G2P salary payments for civil servants.

An increase in service providers and market competition will benefit civil servants who will be enabled to select their provider of choice. The competition should drive down prices and increase service points. It can be expected that as service improves, mobile money will be an option for more Liberians and mobile money agents will have a larger customer base. Competition can move to different aspects of service delivery beyond network coverage and pricing, such as payment product integration and user friendliness, innovation around new financial products and services to promote financial inclusion and value-added services such as market and weather information and health messaging.

Competition, as seen in other digital financial service markets like Bangladesh and Tanzania, is integral to growth and the launch of additional financial opportunities. Will competition in Liberia result in new and diverse products? Additional market entrants? Effective interoperability? Broader financial inclusion for the 72 percent still unbanked adult population? There is optimism that this is what the future could bring. In the short-term it is apparent that Liberia is headed in the right direction.

Erica Bustinza is the Chief of Party of 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.

Why Are Women Less Likely to Own a Phone?

This blog was originally posted on NetHope’s blog.  To read the original, click here. 

By Katie Highet, Technical Advisor, mSTAR, FHI 360 and Jonathan Dolan, Digital Inclusion Team Lead, U.S. Global Development Lab, USAID

Much has been written about the gender gap in mobile phone usage, specifically on why women are less likely to have access to this technology than men; why women are less likely to be technically literate than men; and why women are less likely to be aware of the many potential benefits of a mobile phone. We recognize that there is a gender gap, as high as 38 percent in South Asia. Within the development community, there is no disagreement that this digital gender divide needs to be addressed in order to drive women’s economic empowerment and ensure a more equitable future. However, there are varying points of view on how to close this gap.

While there is no magic formula that can close this gap, it is clear that before we look to balance digital access and adoption for women, we need to understand the underlying reasons for the divide. For instance, Sub-Saharan Africa might have a 13percent gender gap, but that statistic is not indicative of every community across the continent. Continent-wide averages actually mask significant variance between different countries, ranging from 8 percent in Kenya to 45 percent in Niger.

In order to understand the digital gender divide, we cannot depend on regional, country or even state averages. Instead, we must know how people interact with technology at a community level. Recognizing this, USAID commissioned the Gender and ICT Survey Toolkit to address the lack of gender disaggregated data at the sub-national level. The Toolkit facilitates the collection of gender disaggregated information with a series of resources, including survey questions, focus group discussion guides and technical competence tests, as well as instruction on research design and data sorting. Breaking the findings down into key themes such as control, social norms and digital literacy allows the user to understand the specific barriers at play at a sub-national level, and how to address them.

If development practitioners don’t understand the shape and size of the digital gender gap, how can we expect to effectively drive change? Over the next few months, we will be rolling out the Gender and ICT Survey Toolkit to our USAID colleagues, and training partners and peers across development organizations in-person and with online webinars and workshops, to improve data collection on the digital gender divide.

With the Gender and ICT Survey Toolkit, we recognize that every community is unique and when we better understand gender dynamics, we can address the gaps effectively and respectfully. Through this resource, we hope to enable a more data-driven approach to ICT4D implementation, and in doing so, helping to close the digital gender divide.