Archive for March, 2011

How does MOTECH make nurses’ lives that much easier?

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Jessica Osborn is the Business Development Manager at MOTECH Ghana

A pregnant woman registers for the Mobile Midwife service

MOTECH Ghana is an initiative of Grameen Foundation, Ghana Health Service and Columbia University which aims to use mobile technology to improve the quality of antenatal and postnatal care for Ghanaian women and their families. MOTECH has developed an information service called Mobile Midwife which delivers time-specific voice or text messages to pregnant mothers and their partners and families both before and after birth.  We have also built a simple java-based app that enables nurses in rural Ghanaian health facilities to automate much of their record keeping and reporting, which formerly took 4-6 days per month. This nurses’ application also makes it easier for nurses to identify patients who have missed certain care.

We recently sat down with some of the nurses who use our app and here is what they told us:

A nurse describing how the app has helped with paperwork: “It’s been good because it helps us with our reports. Sometimes our tallying gives us incorrect data. With the phones we know the data that we get at the end of the month is correct. We used to have to pick lots of forms in different places and take them elsewhere, now it’s much easier.”

Our Mobile Midwife service requires pregnant parents to provide a due date and their location when they register for the service.  The service then sends messages to parents when appointments are due or overdue to remind them to visit the health clinic for check-ups.  One nurse told us, “with MOTECH we also get our clients easily because we get messages listing our defaulters. Some of them also come to access services because MOTECH sends them messages telling them to come. We get people coming here telling us that MOTECH has told them to come to the facility.”

Another nurse really appreciated the reinforcement that Mobile Midwife messages provided for his own outreach efforts – “When we see our clients for a child welfare clinic we gather them in a big group to educate them but we don’t have time to do that 1:1. Often these meetings are big and noisy so not everyone picks up what you’ve said. That’s why MOTECH is good because it provides 1:1 information to them along with personalized reminder messages.”

We really appreciate the cooperation we have received from the nurses of the Ghana Health Service in developing, testing and finally deploying MOTECH. The nurses provide critical health care services to remote communities, which is a challenging task. We’re happy to have the opportunity to make their work on behalf of Ghanaians a little easier.

Update from AppLab Indonesia - Serving the Poorest

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Jason Hahn is the Business Development Manager for ICT Innovation at the Grameen Foundation in Seattle.

We just released a case study on using Grameen Foundation’s Progress Out of Poverty Index (PPI) with PT Ruma to help them ensure they reach their goal of working with the poor and poorest.  You can read the case study here.

In addition to the Grameen Foundation’s AppLab activities in Ghana and Uganda we are also very proud of our AppLab Indonesia and the innovative work we do there in conjunction with our local social enterprise partner, PT Ruma.  Working with PT Ruma we have built a network of 6,400 predominately poor village based entrepreneurs who sell mobile airtime and other telecommunications products to their neighbors (and boy do they sell - they reached over 560,000 customers as of February 2011) and increase their income while doing so.

Of those entrepreneurs who remain in the program more than 4 months approximately 50% double their income.  Increasing their income is a significant goal as  AppLab Indonesia and Ruma have worked together to use Grameen Foundation’s Progress out of Poverty Index to recruit the poor and poorest as entrepreneurs.   63% of the entrepreneurs working with Ruma are poor (living on less than $2.50/day) and 10% are the poorest of the poor (living on less than $1.25/day).

In a prior post my colleague Heather Thorne emphasized the importance of partnerships to success in ICT4D projects.  We’re very grateful for the generous financial and technical support provided by Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach initiative without which it would have been very difficult to accomplish this work.

In early April we will be breaking new ground with a series of mobile applications that will provide the poor, who may own a very simple mobile phone, with access to information they didn’t have before.  Sorry to be purposefully vague but we need to keep some surprises for the unveiling!

The Community Knowledge Worker Platform

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

For those of you who are frequent readers of the AppLab blog you will have seen quite a few references to the Community Knowledge Worker program.  We think of the CKW program as providing a human, technology and data analytics platform for socially minded organizations seeking to reach small holder farmers.  Heather Thorne, Director of ICT Innovation and Applab, breaks down how CKW provides each platform:

  • First, it offers a human platform, introducing known, trusted points-of-presence in the village who serve as a two-way distribution channel for information, services, and potentially goods.   This network of ‘trusted intermediaries’ is carefully selected, extensively trained, and the CKW incentive model is constantly honed to ensure it results in desired priorities and performance related to information dissemination to poor farmers.
  • Second, it offers a technology platform, designed to enable delivery of Software as a Service (SaaS), which allows any organization seeking to provide information to, or collect information from, the rural poor in areas covered by a CKW, to “rent” access to that platform and the many different capabilities it offers—some off-the-shelf, and others customizable.   Core elements of that platform include field-facing mobile information services, customizable and self-service mobile surveys, CRM system tracking every farmer and the CKW and interactions with each (, and a Content Management System.  A Voice Information Fulfillment Center to offer voice-based recommendations is also planned for implementation later this year.  The ability of organizations to utilize this platform prevents them from having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop similar systems of their own.
  • Finally, CKW offers a data and analytics platform containing datasets of individual farmers and farmer interactions from within the CKW program.  It presents a powerful tool for operational monitoring, tracking services received by farmers, and longitudinally tracking farmer attitudes and behavior, tracking progress out of poverty over time (using the BRAC scorecard or Progress Out of Poverty Index), and, in combination with the results of impact studies, assessing effectiveness of various types of information or approaches for encouraging adoption or behavior change.

How else do you think we could use this platform?  Let us know in the comments section below.

The difference a CKW makes

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Lydia Namubiru is a Partnership Analyst working with Grameen Foundation’s Community Knowledge Worker program in Uganda.

Charles Mukonyi

Charles Mukonyi

For a long time, Charles Mukonyi of Gamatui parish in Kapchorwa had a problem with his chickens – the hens died off soon after hatching new ones. Three months ago, he was visited by his neighbor Tabitha Salimo who told him that she had a phone that has huge amounts of agricultural knowledge to answer many of the problems farmers face. Naturally, the first thing Charles asked about was the hen problem. Tabitha checked her phone and informed Charles that his hens were likely to be catching diseases from their predecessors by sitting on the same hay when incubating eggs. She advised him change the hay for every newly incubating hen. He saw the wisdom of that and adopted the practice. He has not lost a hen since!

Around the same time, in Kapwata parish, about 60km away from Charles’ home into the slopes of mountain Elgon, another farmer faced a big eminent loss. One of Saulo Mwanga’s goats developed a disease he had not seen before - boils on the skin. He feared he would lose it. A very unfortunate possibility because, like he says, “when you lose one goat, you have lost about sh100,000” (or $50USD). Fortunately, he had an idea about where he could get help. He had been consulting Alfred Chepsikor, his area Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) for routine farming information like market prices and weather forecasts. He knew he might have an answer for the goat problem. Indeed the CKW did. Chepsikor searched his phone and saw the same symptoms described in a piece of informa­tion about goat diseases. With the symptoms’ description was a sugges­tion on what drugs the farmer could use to treat the goat. Neither of the farmers knew the drug but they wrote it down on a piece of paper which Mwanga went with to agricultural input stores. So important was saving his goat that Mwanga went across the border to near-by Kenya to find the drug he had been advised to use. The goat is completely healed now.

Caroline Chelangat with her children

Caroline Chelangat with her children

As one traverses Kapchorwa, one finds many more success sto­ries big and small. For Caroline Chelangat of Sipi, it is was a tip to add aloe vera to the water for her chicken that saved 10 of out of her flock of 20. Unfortunately at the time she consulted with the CKW, she already had lost the first ten. Aloe vera is known to have a medicinal properties including improving immunity to diseases. Albert Kibet, also of Kapkwata is hoping for better banana and cof­fee harvests this year after he started adding compost manure to his plantation on the advice of his CKW.

Asked what he would have done had the CKW information resource not existed, Mwanga says he would have just tried to guess at a solution. After all he lives 47kms uphill and away from the Kap­chorwa, the nearest township where one might expect to run into an agriculturalist of any expertise. Looking at a slowly recovering coffee plant that he had sprayed against insects with a drug advised by his CKW, Mwanga says, “I might even have sprayed the plant with a drug left over from spraying the cows just to try [a solu­tion]. If you are lucky, it works. Otherwise, you just lose it.” It is the difference a CKW makes - where farmers depended on luck in the past, they now have access to scientifically tried, proven and recommended solutions.

Simple mobile tools to combat fake agricultural inputs

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Whitney Gantt is the Partnerships Manager for Grameen Foundation’s Community Knowledge Worker program in Uganda.

Poor farmers in Uganda routinely struggle with access to agricultural inputs, such as fertilizer and improved seed varieties, that would boost their crop yields.  Access to improved inputs is one of the highest impact scenarios for improving farmer productivity.  In the right context, the application of fertilizer can significantly increase  yields, by up to 300% - which means the potential to triple income.

Two of the chief constraints for a smallholder farmer to buy these inputs is lack of access to fertilizer in a quantity they can afford (inputs are often sold in large quantities priced beyond the means of a typical smallholder farmer) and lack of trust that the input is real and not a counterfeit product.  Smallholder farmers are risk averse - buying a fake product can mean financial ruin or worse so building trust in the efficacy of the inputs is extremely important.

The first constraint of high prices can be tackled through “sacheting” - the practice of breaking larger quantity products down into smaller sized or “sachets” which yields a price point that a small-holder farmer can afford.  The second constraint - knowing whether or not your seeds will sprout or the fertilizer will really work -  is a tougher problem to address.

One potential solution has previously been used to counter prescription medicine counterfeiting in West Africa.  Sproxil and mPedigree have developed a solution that uses a unique number on “real” products that can be sent via SMS text to a verification center which responds by SMS text that the product is “real”.  A client can send the SMS, or ask the seller to do it in front of him or her, to verify the medicine is real before they make the purchase.  This approach could easily be ported over to protecting agricultural inputs from counterfeiting.  At Grameen Foundation’s Uganda AppLab we are considering working with a few partners who are already planning to pilot such a program.

We would be glad to hear from you in the comments section of your opinion of this solution and any other ideas you might have to help farmers access agricultural inputs.

GF President visits CKWs in the field

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

GF President Alex Counts hears from Albert Somiko

Grameen Foundation President Alex Counts recently visited Uganda and met with several of our Community Knowledge Workers.  Here Alex (second from right) heard from CKW Albert Somiko (right) of Kamunarukut about the impact of information distributed by CKWs on banana disease control.  Later that day CKWs presented Alex with a gourd for storing milk which is a traditional gift for a warm welcome to Uganda.  We hope to publish more news from Alex’s trip to Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana after he returns.

How much can I get for my coffee?

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Jason Hahn is the Business Development Manager for ICT Innovation at Grameen Foundation.

As readers of this blog know, Grameen Foundation’s AppLab is building a network of Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs) in Uganda.  These CKW’s,  equipped with mobile phones and customized agricultural apps, bridge the last mile of agricultural extension work.  Below you will find the story of farmer Michael Kipsang’s experience working with his local CKW and we answered his coffee question. Thanks to Edward Chelangat, one of our field officers in Uganda, for passing Michael’s story along.

Micheal Kipsang

Michael is a farmer from Kapting parish, Kapwosobey village, who farms cabbage, bananas  and coffee, although he largely buys and sells coffee.  Michael went to our CKW Albert Somikwo and asked to know the price of coffee in Mbale (a larger regional town). Albert used his mobile phone to search for him and found that coffee was going for 5000 Uganda shillings (USD 2.27) in Mbale. Michael knew 5600 Uganda shillings was the price per kilogram of coffee in Kapchorwa, a town closer than Mbale. Michael decided to sell his crop in Kapchorwa because the price was higher than in Mbale, which would also require high transport costs.

You still need to work in groups - even if you have a mobile phone!

Monday, March 14th, 2011

We have found that our Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs), much like the farmers they work with, often enjoy learning and sharing in a group setting.  While our model of information dissemination depends on mobile phones they don’t replace the help and support a good group can give to its members.

In the photo at left, taken on March 9th in Kapting parish, Binyiny subcounty, Uganda the discusion revolved around creating a model farmer network, following up and getting feedback from farmers on CKW services, managing CKW challenges while at work and timely meeting of monthly targets for providing information and collecting surveys.

So even with the phones - working in a group is still good!

Partnering with the community is important!

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Whenever AppLab launches a new project or  begins offering services in a new place we do it in full cooperation with the community.  This might mean using our rapid iterative in-community process of software design to build user centered software or in the case of the Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) model mean using meetings with the community and local authorities to build buy-in and knowledge about the CKW program.

While the positive effects of partnering with the community are many we realized a very practical effect over the past few days.  Gwoktoo Bosco, one our CKWs in the Gulu region of Uganda, lost the smartphone he uses to provide agricultural information to his neighbors.  He reported it to the local authorities who contacted him after a local resident turned the phone in.  He has the phone back now and can continue his work as a CKW.

Partnering pays off. We’re very fortunate for the community support of the generous people of Gulu!

What’s an AppLab and why partnering is important?

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Heather Thorne, Director of ICT Innovation at Grameen Foundation, closes her series of three blogs on our approach to M4D with a description of our work in the field and call for partnerships.

Today, GF operates three regional innovation hubs – AppLabs – in Uganda, Indonesia and Ghana – with additional M-Health efforts underway in India, Mobile Financial Services efforts in Kenya, and new health and agriculture efforts planned in Latin America.

  • Uganda – Agriculture and mobile financial services. Nearly 300 Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs) are currently deployed reaching >14,000 farmers with the goal of increasing their adoption of improved farming practices; utilizing support from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and  MTN Uganda to scale this agriculture program nationwide and beyond.  Mobile Financial Services work is in early stage development.
  • Indonesia – Entrepreneurship and livelihoods.  Over 5,700 micro-entrepreneurs are working in West Java, selling electronic airtime top-up and piloting social applications/services; reaching over 600,000 customers.  Approximately 50% of the entrepreneurs who have stayed in the program over 4 months (~15% of the total) have nearly doubled their average daily income.  This program utilizes funding and other in-kind support from Qualcomm Wireless Reach, and a partnership with telecom provider BTEL.
  • Ghana - Mobile Health. “MOTECH in Ghana” is a service that strives to increase the quality and quantity of prenatal care in rural Ghana.  “Pregnant parents” receive regular messages on their mobile phones designed to educate them about a healthy pregnancy and catalyze clinic visits for prenatal care.  Healthcare workers use the system to track who has received care and who may be in need of care.  Administrators at Ghana Health Service can review reports to identify where to focus improvements in health coverage.

A conceptual framework for all of GF’s M4D efforts is shown below:

Heather Post 1

In each of these innovation centers, GF has developed deep vertical knowledge, but also employs a common innovation process that leverages our expertise in needs assessment for the poor, rapid prototyping, user-centric development, pilot testing, launching new products and services, and supporting them in market.

Critical to creating social impact, and doing it in a sustainable way, is assembling a collection of partners who can contribute unique value, and derive unique perceived value from the effort, while collectively focusing on meeting the needs of the poor.  Some examples of how value may be contributed and derived include:


In order to reach millions of measurably poor people with mobile services designed to improve their lives and livelihoods, practitioners will need to develop enduring relationships with not only the partners above, but also multi-lateral organizations, research institutions, academics, think tanks, funders for ongoing innovation and for exit strategies, and regulators.   We believe that public-private partnerships, and multi-stakeholder management are key to addressing the multiple dimensions of poverty.

Going forward, our vision is for GF’s AppLabs to serve as a platform for broader scale and deeper innovation, allowing for ongoing validation and testing of new ideas that can be put through our rigorous rapid prototyping and in-depth piloting approach.  For the most promising concepts that emerge from the pilot process, we will seek additional funding from other sources to develop, test, launch, measure impact, and scale the services via our partners within each target country.  We will also work with our other AppLabs, within those countries’ intermediary networks, and among partners to maximize reach and impact.

With over 8 years of learning about what works (and what doesn’t) in social-mobile innovation, on-the-ground presence in multiple verticals and geographies, and a deep understanding of the needs of the poor and how to build products and services for them, GF intends to continue pushing the thinking in the M4D space.   However, we alone cannot create the change we seek in alleviating poverty.  We need others to partner with us, who share a vision for what is possible, and who will bring their talent and resources to bear.