Archive for April, 2011

Building a Power Company that Serves the Rural Poor

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Sean Krepp, Country Director Grameen Foundation Uganda

ReadySet™ Charging Phones

Building a power company that serves the rural Ugandan poor is a tall order.  Rural small holder farmers may live miles from the nearest road or power line.  Access to steady power, something we take for granted, is a fundamental concern for the rural poor as they seek to charge their phones or study at night.  Recently we’ve been fortunate to work with Mike Lin, an American entrepreneur and founder of the renewable energy company Fenix International. Fenix is a different kind of power company. It doesn’t build grids or power plants, but instead they manufacture a “power hub” that is charged by solar, mains power, or even a bicycle.  The power hub, called a ReadySet™, empowers an individual to become a micro-utilities provider by recharging phones, running lights at night, or even powering electric clippers for the village barber.

The ReadySet™ is particularly useful for our Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs) as they have a steady demand for power to charge the smartphones they use to dispense agricultural information to their neighbors.  In the past, we had equipped CKWs with car batteries to use as recharging stations.  These batteries were limited in the amount of recharges they provided and their constant need for maintenance.  The ReadySet™ solves both of these problems – in fact one of our CKWs who tested the ReadySet™ reported he went from charging five phones per week (including his own) to 25 phones per week. At 500 Uganda Shillings per charge, this 5x increase represents a substantial new income stream for him and more dependable provision of his services to farmers for us.

The 15W solar panel charges the ReadySet in approximately 6hrs of full sunlight.

The spirit of empowering entrepreneurship is also reflected in the origins of Fenix Intl and the ReadySet™ unit.  Mike came to us as a volunteer in the early days of Grameen Foundation’s AppLab Uganda when we were predominately working with SMS but had begun to discuss using smartphones.  He was immediately struck by the power problem.

“When we were testing the first Android G1s, we struggled to keep the phones charged”, recalls Mike. “This challenge sparked the idea that an entrepreneur could create a sustainable business by charging phones and providing power to their communities.”

After his volunteer commitment was up he continued to work on the problem, developed prototypes, and returned several times to AppLab Uganda to test his work.  We’re glad that the ReadySet™ is now in production and that we are Fenix Intl’s first commercial customers.  Congrats Mike!

Did a rat eat your cash? You should have used mobile money

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Dr. Olga Morawczynski, Financial Literacy Project Manager & Julius Matovu, Research Assistant

While it is becoming commonly accepted that the poor need better and safer places to save, the story of Muhereza Kabaramagi and her savings struck a particular chord with us.  We met Muhereza while working on Grameen Foundation’s financial literacy pilot project in Uganda..  Muhereza has been a second-hand clothes trader for the past 15 years.  As a small business owner she needs to store cash but lives 30 km from the nearest bank. The trip to and from the bank costs $4, more than what she often makes in a week. So Muhereza decided to save her money in a small handbag at home hidden in a secret place. Recently, Muhereza needed to dip into her savings which had accumulated to about $150.  When she opened her handbag she discovered that rats had shredded her fortune – leaving her with nothing.

The aftermath of the money eating rat

Muhereza’s story is emblematic of the difficulties that many poor people in Uganda have in finding safe places to save their money. According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “a study of 1,500 poor people in Uganda showed that 99 percent of respondents failed to reach their savings goals when using informal methods, either because the money was stolen or lost, or because they were too tempted to spend the money when it was stored as cash in their home.”

Along with our colleagues at Grameen Foundation we set out to explore how we could make formal financial services and financial information more accessible and help individuals structure their savings to reinforce good savings behavior.  We based this on the hypothesis that the use of mobile money – a term which encompasses the ability to store and send money electronically using your mobile phone – was an effective way to overcome many of the barriers to savings.  Along the way we learned that using what we call “savings mobilizers” or people who go door to door opening savings accounts was an extremely effective way to increase uptake, users appreciate the convenience of using mobile money to deposit money into their accounts, and the vast majority of users who received SMS savings reminders found them effective as a means to remember to save.

As we take this work forward we will be working to see:

  • Local intermediaries, like our Community Knowledge Workers, used to increase the banked population in rural areas
  • The introduction of appropriate mobile money enabled savings products for the poor and poorest
  • Widespread use of electronic links between the mobile money on a customer’s phone and their bank balance to increase the convenience and use of electronic banking

If you are interested in learning more about our work please read our Financial Literacy Pilot Report.

The CKW Project is Going Strong and Reaching for Higher Ground

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Listening to the farmers we serve and the partners we work with, we have over the first 10 months of the CKW program consistently received feedback in the line of; “this is a great program but can we have more?” For instance; the farmers, often echoed by partners in the field ask for more accurate and actionable information, CKWs ask for better presented and digestible information such that they have an easier time explaining it to farmers while partners ask for a variety of options to reach more farmers. We are glad to reveal that in the next few months, we will be expanding the scope of the CKW program to answer many of these requests.

Growing Stronger in Core Areas

We are happy to note that even as we spread our wings to new areas, we continue to grow in our core areas of operation. With 200 recruited in Kasese and Masindi, our network of Community Knowledge Workers is set to expand to 450 individuals in 9 districts by end of May. The existing network has so far touched 17,312 farming households, serving them with information and advice in 90,283 instances and collecting 7414 mobile surveys. We are also making progress towards sustainability. We are currently collecting data for the World Bank as our first data-only client.

The CKW recruitment team currently in Kasese

Agricultural call center and USSD service

We are working to establish a call center that farmers will be able to call directly with their questions. This service will be vital both as a referral for farmer questions that CKWs may be unable to answer as well as reaching and serving farmers in areas that CKWs don’t already cover. The call center will be staffed by agricultural experts whose own knowledge will be complimented by our considerable and growing database of agricultural content. We are also developing a USSD agricultural information channel that will be available directly to farmers.

Quality control for information

In March, we convened our first sitting of a content Expert Review Board (ERB) in an effort to verify the accuracy of this content as well as collect views on how understandable and actionable it is. Members of the ERB, who include agricultural experts and a mass communication professional, have reviewed, graded and commented on at least 30% of the information we currently avail to farmers. Reviews center around five areas including accuracy, actionability and presentation/how easy it is to understand. Our team is in the process of improving content in regard to the expert feedback. A major recommendation by the expert was that we need visual cues to make the information more digestible. We have engaged a team from INSEAD to help us visualize our information with images and videos, in addition to growing our content volume itself using their techniques in automatically compiling vast amounts of information from internet sources.

Connecting farmers to real opportunities

We have started developing the software for an application that will connect farmers directly to registered bulk buyers. Connecting smallholder farmers to a wider range of markets is a key objective of our partner, WFP’s Purchase for Progress initiative and central to Grameen Foundation’s objective of increasing revenues. The application will allow farmer to advertise their produce and bulk buyers to sign up for alerts for specific kinds and quantities of produce. We are also exploring options of facilitating the actual transactions between the two parties using the same application. At the same time, we are looking into the concerns of smaller/individual farmers who tell us that even the district level markets for which we currently publish prices are out of their reach because of distance and transportation problems.

The CKW network now covers 7 districts in the North, East and South West of Uganda

Value for CKW Partners

In the month of March, CKWs disseminated 15,781 pieces of agricultural information to rural farmers – undoubtedly a big boost to these farmers who tend to have no access to information otherwise. Interesting to note however is that fact that 41% of this information related directly to WFP’s Purchase for Progress (P4P) Initiative. 91% of our current CKWs were recruited in partnership with P4P. This proves that CKWs are not only an information resource to rural farmers but also a powerful vehicle that can drive adoption of techniques promoted and services offered by the agricultural organizations they are recruited from. In this case, CKWs have been familiarized with the P4P initiative through our trainings, collecting baseline data for the program and participating in field activities like visits to the P4P warehouses and post harvest handling trainings. The result is that they have in turn generated interest and demands for P4P opportunities among their fellow farmers. We are exploring partnerships and technology option to collect and disseminate sub-county level market prices through our CKW network.

Integrating with mainstream agricultural extension

It is our goal that the CKW network will become a mainstream extension service available to farmers nationwide. We are therefore delighted about our March agreement with the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) to conduct a pilot in integrating CKW technology, network and model into its own services and operations. We will be testing the potential value of this integration in 4 districts over a 5 month period. NAADS is also supporting our efforts to establish the agricultural call center.

In their own words: How does MOTECH Ghana help Ghanaian mothers?

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Jason Hahn, ICTI Business Development Manager, Grameen Foundation

In Jessica’s last post she discussed how MOTECH Ghana helps nurses manage their work and care for patients.  In this post I’d like to explain a bit more about the services MOTECH Ghana offers, through the Mobile Midwife application, to pregnant and new mothers and their family members and then let some of those mothers explain in their own words how this helps them.

What is  Mobile Midwife?

“Mobile Midwife” is a service that enables pregnant women and their families to receive SMS or voice messages that provide time-specific information about their pregnancy each week in their own language. This information is a mixture of:

  • Alerts and reminders for care seeking (e.g., reminders to go for specific treatments, such as prenatal care or a tetanus vaccination)
  • Actionable information and advice to help deal with challenges during pregnancy (e.g., tips for saving money for transportation to deliver at a health facility, what is needed for a birthing kit, nutrition information
  • Educational information, including milestones in fetal development, promotion of good health practices, and songs about breastfeeding

Voice messages are delivered in English or local languages. Two languages of the Upper East Region, Kasem and Nakam, were supported for MOTECH’s first implementation, and two languages of central region, Senya and Fante, will be supported in Awutu Senya. SMS messages are all delivered in English.

Upper East Region_28mar11 102

Theresa calls in to the Mobile Midwife service

What does Mobile Midwife mean to Ghanaian mothers?

To answer this question we recently spoke with Theresa and Faustina, two Ghanaian mothers who have used the Mobile Midwife Service.  According to Theresa: “Before MOTECH we used to go to the health facility and sometimes the nurses were not there or they would be busy.  Now with MOTECH we receive this health information through mobile phones in our homes, which is convenient”.  She continued, “I would like to advise my pregnant friends to go to the hospital to enroll into MOTECH, to listen to the messages and also to practice what is said because it helps a lot.”  She ended by telling us, “I used to be scared about pregnancy but now with the messages I am no longer scared and it has taken away my worries and that we feel ok and then the pregnancy is ok.”

Faustina had this to say about Mobile Midwife, “The messages that touched me most are those that tell me that when I stand up for long I should sit down and when I have back aches I should sit down and rest my back against the wall and raise my legs up.  And then they tell me I should eat good food and I realize that this is helpful. And then another message that is helpful is that when they tell me that when I deliver I should give the first breast mil to my baby because this will help the baby.  Previously the first breast milk was expressed out but now they tell us to give that to the baby.  All this I’ve heard is very helpful and this has touched my heart.”

If you’re interested in learning more about our MOTECH Ghana program please read our report on the lessons learned so far.

““Mobile Midwife” application: This service enables pregnant women and their families to receive SMS or
voice messages that provide time-specific information about their pregnancy each week in their own
language. This information is a mixture of:
 Alerts and reminders for care seeking (e.g., reminders to go for specific treatments, such as
prenatal care or a tetanus vaccination)
 Actionable information and advice to help deal with challenges during pregnancy (e.g., tips for
saving money for transportation to deliver at a health facility, what is needed for a birthing kit,
nutrition information)
 Educational information, including milestones in fetal development, promotion of good health
practices, and songs about breastfeeding
Voice messages are delivered in English or local languages. Two languages of the Upper East Region, Kasem
and Nakam, were supported for MOTECH’s first implementation, and two languages of central region,
Senya and Fante, will be supported in Awutu Senya.  SMS messages are all delivered in English