The Grameen Foundation Application Laboratory
What is the AppLab and what does it do?
How does AppLab work complement the Grameen Foundation?
Who does the AppLab work with?
What makes the AppLab unique?
AppLab Uganda
What applications have you deployed in Uganda?
What other activities is the AppLab doing in Uganda?
Application Questions
What is an application?
What is an example of an application for a mobile device?
Why focus on cell phones?
How do applications help poor people in developing countries?
General Questions
Why are you called �the Application Laboratory�?
How does the AppLab test applications?
How does the AppLab scale its services to reach the poor?
How can I contact AppLab?
What are the roles of GF, Google, Google.org and MTN?
What are the objectives of this partnership?
The Grameen Foundation Application Laboratory

Q: What is the AppLab and what does it do?

A: The AppLab is an initiative of the Grameen Foundation, a non-profit that works to reduce poverty among the poor and the poorest of the poor. The AppLab leverages the existing base of Village Phone Operators (VPOs) and other types of Shared Phone Operators to bring information services to the poor via mobile devices, with a primary focus on widely accessible simple mobile phones. By building innovative applications that are tailored to the needs of the poor, the AppLab develops opportunities for micro-entrepreneurs to enhance their existing shared phoned businesses with new value added services. These micro-entrepreneurs have the opportunity to serve as �information hubs� for their communities.

Shared phone operators are not the only people who can access the applications we develop. The AppLab develops applications and associated business models that are designed to improve the lives and livelihoods of the poor and are financially sustainable, scalable, and demonstrate potential to be replicated globally.

Q: How does AppLab work to further the Grameen Foundation mission?

A: The Application Laboratory is an initiative of the Grameen Foundation�s Technology Center. The Grameen Foundation�s mission is to enable the poor, and especially the poorest, to create a world without poverty. The AppLab contributes to this objective by building applications and services in relevant domains (e.g., agriculture and health), tailoring content to the needs of the poor and making the services broadly available.

The AppLab carries out ethnographic and needs assessment research to ascertain which types of information poor people who live in rural areas most need and demand. It then develops information services that the poor can access at affordable prices. If they do not have a phone they may access the information from Village Phone or Shared Phone Operators. If they do have a phone they are able to directly access �social information services� at rates half those of traditional information services.

For example, when a person uses an application to access information on health clinic locations and services offered, they reduce unnecessary travel and realize savings from reduced time spent traveling and reduced money spent on transportation to multiple locations. In other cases, improved access to information creates opportunities for poor peopleto earn more revenue. For instance, farmers using an agricultural application that gives commodity prices in different markets can make decisions on which locations to travel to based on relative market prices.

Q: Who does the AppLab work with?

A: The AppLab collaborates with multiple partners in the corporate, non-profit, and government sectors. Our corporate partners bring engineering and technical capacity as well as financial resources. Our non-profit and government partners are experts in content areas such as agriculture and health, and bring local knowledge and relationships to our efforts. During our current implementation phase, we are working with a limited group of select partners. However, as we expand operations we anticipate opportunities for additional collaborations.

In Uganda, we have been working on-the-ground since October, 2007 with Google and MTN Uganda. The information in the applications was developed in collaboration with key local partners. The Busoga Rural Open Source Development Initiative (BRODSI) provides locally-relevant and actionable agricultural information created and tested by small-holder farmers and designed to meet their needs. For the health application, AppLab works with Marie Stopes Uganda, the local affiliate of a leading service provider for sexual and reproductive health, and Straight Talk Foundation, a Ugandan NGO which specializes in health communication. Both short term and extended forecasts are provided by the Ugandan Department of Meteorology.

Q: What makes the AppLab unique?
A: There are several factors that make AppLab unique. First, our user-centric design and development approach enables us to tailor solutions to the needs of the poor. Second, we generally rely on locally generated content which is always relevant and actionable. Third, we have developed innovative approaches to delivering information � including enabling freeform text entry in a query and developing networks of trusted intermediaries to address discoverability, literacy and language issues. Fourth, we have a clear and consistent focus on achieving long-term sustainability. Finally, we have brought together and effective and synergistic partnership between Google, MTN and Grameen Foundation to develop and deploy the services.
AppLab Uganda
Q: What applications have you deployed in Uganda?
A: We recently launched the first suite of applications resulting from an endeavor initiated by Grameen Foundation 18 months ago called the Application Laboratory (AppLab). The five mobile phone applications provide real-time health and agriculture information and a virtual marketplace for buying and selling goods and services.

The suite of five mobile services, provided using Google SMS Search technology and the MTN network, includes Farmer�s Friend, a searchable database with both agricultural advice and targeted weather forecasts; Health Tips which provides sexual and reproductive health information, paired with Clinic Finder, which helps to locate nearby health clinics and services; and Google Trader, which matches buyers and sellers of agricultural produce and commodities as well as other products. The services are SMS-based and designed to work with basic mobile phones to reach the broadest possible audience. Users can access the services quickly and privately at the time of their choosing and search relevant content on-demand, like someone with access to the Internet.

Q: What other activities is the AppLab doing in Uganda?

A: The AppLab began our on-the-ground efforts in September 2007 by conducting ethnographic and needs assessment research and engaged in learning activities to guide the development of applications that are locally relevant, maximized for social and economic impact, and within the price point of the rural poor. We have carried out rapid prototyping exercises, in which researchers spent time in markets, transit hubs, and health centers to solicit SMS queries from randomly selected Ugandans, to learn about subject area interests of Ugandans.

We also conducted a high-end device trial in which we provide select Village Phone Operators with a smart phone, PDA, or mini-laptop. Students from the local Makerere University supported the operators with device training and help collect data on device usage. The data collected in the high-end device trial provides further knowledge on what types of information rural Ugandans demand and insight into viable business models.

Application Questions

Q: What is an application?

A: An application can be thought of as a vehicle to deliver information. It often provides its user with information on a specific subject, such as daily weather forecasts or agricultural tips and advice. Some applications also provide �transaction� capabilities, allowing a user to make a purchase or transfer funds. The information that an application provides can then be used to �do� any number of things. An application can connect buyers and sellers, transfer funds, remind patients to take their medication, and much more. Some of the applications we have developed in Uganda allow users to search a database using SMS queries in a given domain. For example, a farmer can enter the symptoms of a disease affecting her crops and receive a text message back on how to treat that disease.

Q: What is an example of an application for a mobile device?

A: Kazi560 is an application that provides job services posting in Kenya. Kazi560 sends registered users job advertisements using SMS. Registered users sign up for the service and indicate which types of job announcements they would like to receive; users can also search jobs by sending and receiving text messages. To date the service has helped over 40,000 users find employment.

Q: Why focus on cell phones?

A: Cell phones are ubiquitously available and are at a price point that is within the reach of the poor, with phones costing as little as $20. For those who cannot afford this there is also the option of using shared phones. They also require minimal supporting infrastructure and can be easily charged using solar technology or car batteries in areas without electricity. Furthermore, the number of mobile phones in the developing world is increasing rapidly--with two-thirds of all mobile phones in developing countries. Mobile devices hold tremendous potential to bring information services and transaction capacities to the rural poor.

Q: How do applications help poor people in developing countries?

A: Applications enable the delivery of information over mobile phones. With improved access to information people are able to overcome market inefficiencies that cause barriers to economic development. Applications enable employers to connect with job seekers and give farmers information on local market prices allowing them to improve their bargaining position.  Farmers can use an application to discover market prices in different locations, learn prices for agricultural inputs, obtain guidance about effective farming practices, and get up-to-date information on transportation, weather, pests, and other variables. With this information, farmers can increase agricultural output, cut losses, and have greater bargaining power, thereby increasing their incomes.
Similarly, lack of information adversely affects quality of life.  A health application can provide a clinic directory or offer advice on the prevention of common diseases, improving the health of poor people who might not otherwise visit a clinic or know how to prevent common diseases. Other applications offer a means for checking the authenticity of medicines or remind patients to take their medicine. 
The above examples are just a few of the areas in which the AppLab and others are developing information services that can be delivered over mobile devices to improve the livelihoods and quality of life of rural residents.
General Questions

Q: Why are you called �the Application Laboratory�?

A: Our name reflects our emphasis on innovation. In our approach we seek to identify and develop applications with potential to address needs and test these applications and their associated business models. The AppLab tests applications and business models to ensure that new information services provide positive social and economic benefits for poor communities, are locally relevant, and are self-sustaining. Once we have identified successful applications, we work to scale these applications across countries, continually adapting applications for local context while simultaneously working to identify and develop new applications.

Q: How does the AppLab test applications?

A: We employ rapid prototyping and other innovative approaches to quickly assess the potential of an application. In rapid prototyping, we send researchers to the field and offer a �live� service that we think has potential. Researchers select random users and observe and record end-users� experiences from their introduction to the service to their reaction upon receiving information. The insights gained during rapid prototyping inform the design of the most useful and appropriate mobile services for the local context. We also conduct trials, such as our high-end device trial, to test new business models and services. In addition, the AppLab pilots each application for a set period of time. We believe in �failing fast,� discovering the most promising applications quickly and channeling our energy and resources towards applications that have the greatest potential to improve the lives of the poor.

Q: How does the AppLab scale its services to reach the poor?

A: The AppLab understands that to achieve its objective of poverty alleviation, its applications must reach scale. To achieve scale the AppLab identifies applications that are financially sustainable, locally relevant, and that provide tangible social and economic benefits for rural communities. Through collaboration with partners such as Google and MTN, the AppLab will roll out these applications at the national level making services available through existing networks of Village Phone and other shared phone operators.
Q:  How can I contact AppLab?
A: Follow the link to send an e-mail to the AppLab or for Grameen Foundation contact information.  We look forward to hearing from you.
Q. What are the roles of GF, Google, Google.org and MTN?
A. What are the roles of GF, Google, Google.org and MTN?
  • Grameen Foundation developed the AppLab concept in 2006 and brought Google and MTN Uganda together as its partners in 2007. It works with the local partners to develop and customize the content for the applications and manages the on-the-ground needs assessment and testing in the local communities.
  • Google�s role is to provide human and technology resources towards the development of the application solutions.
  • Google.org contributes to the focus on rural community development and assessment of the impact of the project.
  • MTN is the telecom operator that provides the communications infrastructure as well as local marketing support, and leverages its unparalleled distribution network to ensure rural users are aware of and able to benefit from the applications.

Q. What are the objectives of this partnership?

A. The AppLab developed by this partnership is intended to connect the poor in Uganda to critical information services through their mobile phones, in furtherance of Grameen Foundation's overall mission. The Project develops, tests, strengthens and scales products and services that can be delivered over mobile phones to aid people in lifting themselves from poverty.