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What do Values, Dreams and Sacrifices Mean for Mobile Money Providers and their Product Innovations?

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Posted on April 12, 2012

Julius Matovu is Research and Program Coordinator, AppLab Money Incubator, at Grameen Foundation Uganda.

Let me share a story about a family I visited early this month in Budwale Sub County, Mbale district, on the slopes of Mt.  Elgon in Eastern Uganda. The family is headed by Asad Waniale, who lives with his wife, Nandudu, and their son, Faizal. The family depends on small-scale farming for its living, along with a Friesian cow, which is a source of pride for them because it supplements their nutrition and income through the milk it provides.

At the time of my visit, the family was celebrating Faizal's modest performance on his O-level examinations, where he passed in Division 2, a decent grade for someone from Budwale village when compared to the national standards.  That being the case, Asad has decided to take his son to Kampala where there are better schools so that he is able to excel further.

Though the family has identified the school that they’d like Faizal to attend, the challenge they face is the exorbitant cost required for school fees and other requirements, such as school uniforms and textbooks. More than UGX 1 million (about $400) will be required to cover these costs -- yet the family is impoverished as a result of landslides in the area that destroyed their coffee crop.

Asad has decided to sell his cow to pay for Faizal's school fees.  Before I left their home, two men who were interested in buying the cow came around to have a look at it. Taking advantage of the situation, these men bought the animal – worth UGX 1.5 million – for a mere 600,000 shillings. Desperation drove Asad to accept a raw deal for the sake of his son’s education.

This story, and the findings from our other researches in rural Uganda, make me appreciate how families sometimes sacrifice some of their precious belongings just to attain what they value most.  Asad values his son’s education immensely, to the point where he is willing to dispose of his source of pride to send his son to school.

What assistance can mobile money platforms offer to people like Asad, and how can they provide it, to ensure that people such as this attain their life’s dreams without depleting their asset base whilst doing so? I believe that mobile money providers should first appreciate that appropriate products are born from understanding people’s motivations and practices. It is on such a foundation that a fitting product can arise. Mobile Network Operators should invest in understanding the sacrifices that people make to support their values and attain their dreams.

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