“The power of mobile money” – new report from The Economist hints of development revolution

October 8, 2009 at 9:34 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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In 1791, Thomas Edison started a project– to build a worldwide network for people talk to each other.  And according to experts interviewed last week’s report in The Economist, we can expect to see this project finished in our lifetime—100 per cent global teledensity is expected within the next ten years.  Of course, 100 per cent does not mean absolutely everyone, since some people own several headsets and sim cards, but it comes pretty darn close.

These days it seems everyone has a story about how a cell phone has changed a person living in poverty’s life, but the in-depth research of exactly how mobile telecommunications is spurring economic growth is still being written. That’s why this special report is so exciting; it compares telecom across emerging markets, stringing both anecdotes and research together, and pulling out the trends.

Some of the facts:

  • 3 out of the 4 billion mobile phones worldwide are being used by people in the developing countries.
  • Studies show that adding ten phones per 100 people in a typical developing country boosts income per person by 8-10 percent.
  • India leads the way with adding 128 million new subscribers in the last year, 89 million were added in China and 96 million across Africa.  Indonesia, Vietnam and Brazil are not far behind.
  • Despite average customer spending $6.50 per month and .02cent calls, Indian operators still have a 40% profit margin, similar to Western operators.

While the article touches on nearly every region in the world, M-Pesa in Kenya has had the most success with using mobile phones for banking.  Here’s how it works: once a user is signed up using a mobile phone and an ID card, he or she pays cash to a vendor who then credits it to the phone account and gives the consumer a special code.  The code can be used to withdraw cash later or passed along to someone else. Around $2 million is transferred through the system every day, with an average transaction of $20.

There are many benefits to mobile banking–  no more carrying cash on long trips, keeping wealth in only livestock or jewelry, or risking losing the stash kept under the bed to a natural disaster.   Adoption of mobile banking in Kenya was aided by an unexpected cause, the 2008 post-election violence.  People that trapped in their homes in the slums during the violence used the system to send and receive money.  Some banks also lost the public’s trust because they were seen as taking sides in the ethnic conflict.

Many are studying M-Pesa in Kenya– so far there is no other country with such high rates of mobile banking adoption.  It seems only a matter of time before others reproduce the model; in many places the power of mobile brands are much stronger than that of the banks.

There’s much more to say – and hopefully more reports from The Economist to come —  but you should read the article for yourself!


My recent crash course in mobile marketing, SMS text campaigns and non profit rules

July 31, 2009 at 2:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I had my first experience as a mobile marketer!  We did a text messaging campaign at the recent ELCA Youth Gathering, which drew  37,000 teenagers and their chaperones to New Orleans last week around the theme of “Jesus, Justice, Jazz”.  It was — as you can imagine– a mega event, complete with christian rock, a three-story neon cross, and inspiring speakers with their contracts freshly signed.  Needless to say, its hard to break through this Lutheran Disneyland with your message.   Our message?  your church does advocacy and cares about justice, and you can get involved.   Our mode?  The text.

After some harried web searching, thank god for Mobile Active’s list, and this great how-to primer, it seemed there are really only two vendors out there doing the non-profit text thing: Mobile Accord and Mobile Commons.  We went for the Mgive platform from Mobile Accord because it was cheaper (they are based in Denver), while the Mobile Commons (NYC baby!) had more services to offer that we did not really need.    These mobile programs are set up mainly to solicit donations, usually $5 off the phone bill, the main example out there is Alicia Key’s Keep a Child Alive mobile campaign.   However, the ELCA is a church, and 501-c-3, but does not file a 990 –  and therefore we are not elegible to recieve donations through the Mobile Giving Foundation.   Thus we could not purchase any of the packages offered by mGive set up to get donations.

It worked out though – we just bought a keyword, “Justice” for $200 and then paid .5 per text sent.  We sent out one text every day of the conference.

We thought we were geniuses, “oh these youth, they will love to text us and we will capture their data forever” but it was not so simple.  Of the 37,000 people there, only 4,100 opted-in to our campaign.

Our problems:

  • Too many asks — not only did we want them to text, we wanted them to do a role play about homelessness, write their senator, commit to learning about human trafficking in their community….  we competed with ourselves!  Bad bad bad.  But somehow we could not stop.
  • We asked them to text from our booth in the convention center. People don’t really want to text at a booth.  But they will text when they are sitting down watching something.   Our best means of getting people to opt in was through when we had workshops where we talked to the youth.  Then we said, “take out your phones, “Text Justice to 464329”.   And like little happy robots, they did it.
  • Sell the message not the tactic. We had two ways of asking them to opt-in.  Sometimes we said, if you text, you can be entered to win prizes during the Youth Gathering like a snuggie.   Other times we said, if you text you can stay in touch with the ELCA and learn more ways to be involved in our advocacy, hunger and justice work.   These were save the world youth!  They wanted to stay involved.  They were not fooled by snuggies.
  • We did not anticipate that these young Christians would have been told to leave their cell phones at home! Yup.  Their militant youth leaders set rules: no cell phones.  Not sure how to get around that……
  • People were more suspicious than we thought they would be, they thought we would spam them.  Fair enough. Its a new medium.  But we needed some talking points about that.
  • Intergration — we did not get fully integrated into the webpage and the other organizers and social media of the gathering.   We started too late, and we did not pound the pavement convincing everyone else to get on board.   We told ourselves, this is pilot, next time… but ultimately a missed opportunity.

All in all, a good experience, and we will continue to learn from texting this nascent network.  Besides, if all 37,000 had texted us it would have broke the bank…. and that would not have been good.

A Chinese blogger tells of earthquake heartbreak

May 20, 2008 at 3:32 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I don’t think many of us in North America are really going to understand the devastation of the earthquake in China.   I have many friends and colleagues that have gone to the Gulf Coast to help after Hurricane Katrina– and are still going 2 years later — to help the communities rebuild.  I can imagine the Chinese government having a massive volunteerism effort… but that is still in the future for now.  

I really recommend reading this blog post: China, Survival stories of the quake.   It tells the stories of many heroic rescues, dying requests, and of course talks about the children and schools.   Here is an excerpt that will break your heart:

The story of a mom:

She was found dead under the collapsed house, kneeling down, creeping and leaning forward, both hands on the ground holding her body….. 

Suddenly, people found a 3-4 month baby under her body, wrapped in a red-yellow quilt. Because of the mother’s protecting, he remained unhurt. He was sleeping so peacefully, making all the people around warm.

When the doctors were examining the kid, a cell phone was found inside the quilt. An already written text message appeared on the screen.

“Dear baby, if you are alive, please remember I love you.”

A lesson in infrastructure, high transportation costs in Rwanda

March 29, 2008 at 8:37 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I remember learning the word infrastructure in social studies class, the definition my teacher gave was that it meant transportation and communication. After some time here in Rwanda, I am realizing that the majority of the country’s spending money is going to pay for getting from place to place.

Providing money for transportation is a key principle for youth participation in any process, but in this case we would have no youth conference if we did not pay for peoples transport– and that includes the speakers. I reimbursed Pastor John for a tank of gas for his car today and it was $100 USD. We think the oil crisis is hurting people in the US– the price of gas here is incredible. I am paying some of the participants the equivalent of $10 a day to travel by bus to and from the site. Otherwise $10 can get you pretty far here– in rural areas it is the amount of a micro-finance loan. Our total transportation costs for this meeting, for both reimbursing participants and managing logistics are nearly going to equate our housing costs.

On the flip side, driving is in Rwanda is pleasant because there are few cars and the roads are well maintained. But this morning I woke in a panic because I was late and all the traffic was stopped from 8-12pm for the national monthly clean-up day. You are not allowed to drive because you are supposed to clean up your neighborhood. Rene told me one time his cousin was on a way to a wedding and the police stopped them. They had to get out of the car, take off their suit jackets and roll up their sleeves to start fixing the road.

Second to transport costs are cell phones. To use your cell phone you have to buy mobile credits, and depending on who you are calling they can run out pretty quick. Especially if you are coordinating a conference you are on the phone all day.

I really think that if you ran the numbers the majority of this country’s cash-in-hand is going to getting around and talking to people; something we in the West do without second thought. We live with the inherent assumption that we can go anywhere and say anything at anytime. We say time is money. Well, in Africa it seems all the time in the world is being spent just getting from place to place.

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