In a competitive bid in 2001 DFID asked “How the emerging Information and Communication Technology will change the poverty landscape?”. We later found out that while most responses were on ‘Technology’, our bid was focused on the social factors that drive behaviour – and that’s why we won it.
So began a series of research into how low income households in Africa and Asia were beginning to use Mobile Phones and Telecentres (as they were called back then!). From that research we found the airtime transfer behaviour that led to us Championing Mobile Money transfer. That story is about to be told more fully than ever before in an IDS Research Bulletin in September 2012 – however at the moment we can’t repeat the text without disrupting the peer reviewed journal process!
For the last 10 years we have been researching the use of Information and Communication Technology in Development. The rest of the website gives some examples of our work but here on this page we wanted to declare our recent special interests.
One is ICT Landscapes.
The idea of Information, Knowledge Attitude Practice and Behaviour (IKAPB) Landscapes is explained more fully on this linked page. However with respect to ICT it has led us to a special interest in some areas. We have been involved with the development of the ICT Agriculture Sourcebook, and we think that is a good overview of the landscape. We are currently looking at the Health Information Seeking Behaviour of the rural poor in Bangladesh. We are using our Future think to consider where its all going!
Another is ICT in Monitoring, Evaluation and Impact analysis.
After looking at UNICEF innovation in Mobiles, we have been involved with a recent project by UNICEF on Real Time Monitoring for the Most Vulnerable. The possibility of real time monitoring speaks to our interest in Evaluation and Impact and our pioneering work using Android apps on Tablets to gather IKAPB survey data – and the resulting cost effectiveness of household surveys. It also feeds our interest in a deeper analysis of data – which may seem a bit of a geek statement, but we really believe that the power of statistical analytical software (which is improving all the time) gives insights into the links between attitudes and practice that just were not cost effectively possible before. Quasi experimental investigations can now be undertaken for the same cost as baseline and endline ‘evaluation’ surveys.
There is also the idea that we can gain increased participation and crowd sourcing for understanding that landscape. For instance we recently contributed to the GNDR Voices from the Frontline, which included not only coordination of 530 CBOs undertaking face to face interviews (which would not be possible without email and internet) but also direct text based surveying of 36000 people in 16 countries. Rapid feedback on governance and disaster mitigation.
We also have an on-going interest in the use of Mobiles to alleviate poverty.
Mobile money was a good, can we say great, idea. Private sector players coming together with public sector donors and civil society, to create a product that enabled the poor to send money over distances and make considerable savings. Effective policy influencing to change the regulation to enable that product, and networks and discourse change to replicate across the globe – it’s a rare story where things came together. Yes we are talking about Mpesa at the start, but also Orange Money, Wizzit and all the other products that are now available, even Mcel credit transfer and Sambasa were part of the story. And yes we agree it needs on-going study to consider and nuance its sociological and poverty effects. But on the whole it’s a story of change that worked in favour to the poor.
While Mobile money is one part of the story we must not forget some of the other parts. Back in 2003 we were able to identify the (statistically valid) difference in strength of livelihoods between communities with one phone and communities with no phones. (Interestingly there wasn’t a difference that we could see between one phone and many phones). Of course that sort of study cannot be conducted now because of the ubiquitousness of phones. Nevertheless less it did document that even the presence of a phone made a change in livelihoods.
Our special interest remains in how ICT will evolve and have an effect on poverty – how does it strengthen the lives of the poor –mitigate vulnerabilities, increase assets, affect structures. There are many initiatives on mHealth, eHealth, mAgric, eAgric, mGov, eGov, etc. Of course it’s going to accelerate. Of course developing countries will improve in connectivity. But how can we optimise the system for alleviation of poverty. Per second billing made a great difference to the cost of the ICT basket for the poor. Peer pressure to use the phone is causing the very poor to spend a substantial portion of the household income on it. Micro-insurance is now possible alongside Mobile Money. Smartphones are emerging into developing countries and ….where to next? Our interest is in practical solutions, and a focus on the social factors that are important – hence projects like the rapid prototyping we did with Grameen App labs.
Finally for this page we would draw attention back to Mobile Money itself. Studies need to be conducted on the financial literacy of households and how best to ensure that the liberalised competitive environment works in their favour and yet protects them at the same time. (The answer is proportional risk regulatory environment, in case you wanted to know). This is particularly true for the current global situation with its fragile global economy.