Grameen Foundation Insights

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At Grameen Foundation, our goal is to spur innovation in the global movement to eliminate extreme poverty. Part of that work is to develop better solutions and share them with people like you.

On GF Insights, we share lessons learned from our leaders in the field, news about efforts to expand access to financial and information services for the poor, and how poverty-focused organizations are using data to improve the way they work.

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01/21/2011 by

Eric Cantor has led Grameen Foundation’s AppLab efforts in Uganda for the past three years, and continues to serve as an advisor on the project.

More than three years ago, I landed in Uganda to establish Grameen Foundation’s “Application Laboratory” – a program conceived to explore the potential of mobile phones to improve the lives of the poor.  In our quest to test, develop and expand mobile services that are useful for the most often-ignored people on the planet, our team spent (and spends) extensive time talking to our users, in the places they work and live, to hear about the good and the bad of the methods we are testing to empower them.

We sit under the mango tree at the rural health clinic, hearing about how people learn to avoid and treat common and devastating diseases like malaria and HIV.  We walk the banana plantations of farmers in the West, trying to gauge how they can best control banana wilt, using locally available resources and techniques.  We observe the effects of the rapidly growing “mobile money” phenomenon – essentially digital currency delivered through a mobile phone network – and assess how it can improve the lives of villagers.  We see how people interact with the Internet and other unfamiliar services available through the few laptops and smartphones in a community.  And we listen to farming groups, led by Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs), as they plan and prepare to bulk their crops for sale to the highest-paying buyers.  As white winter washes over the US, and the rains wind down and planting season approaches in Uganda, we share some lessons learned through this work in the hopes that our growing body of work, as well as that of other practitioners in this field, will benefit.

In AppLab’s early work, we tested a number of information services, leading up to our launch, with MTN (one of the primary mobile phone services providers in east Africa) and Google, of Google SMS Tips, the product that won the award for “Best use of Mobile for Social and Economic Development” at the 2010 GSM Mobile World Congress.  It was rewarding to sit on a farm and hear how making organic pesticides using local chemicals or even waste products found on the farm helped save a farmer money, and increase her yields and incomes.

[caption id="attachment_1451" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Community Knowledge Workers act as valuable local intermediaries, bridging the "last kilometer" to bring essential information to other rural farmers in Uganda. Here, a CKW uses her high-end mobile phone to check for information on banana wilt."]Community Knowledge Workers act as valuable local intermediaries, bridging the "last kilometer" to bring essential information to other rural farmers in Uganda. Here, a CKW uses her high-end mobile phone to check for information on banana wilt.[/caption]

But what became quickly apparent was that information alone is not a complete solution.  A reference pointer or a tip about maternal health techniques may be useful to an expectant mother, but creating deep, impactful behavior change – what information-driven development initiatives seek – requires a context in which that information has a value. People certainly have a hunger for knowledge and a willingness to embrace the mobile phone to search for answers, as shown by all the questions they asked from the beginning about family planning, and HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, which affect them directly and for which few reliable, anonymous sources are available.  But we require several things to make this information actionable and impactful: specific information, a context in which to make it useful, and relevant services and resources.

01/07/2011 by

Alex Counts is president, CEO and founder of Grameen Foundation, and author of several books, including Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World.

12/21/2010 by

Kari Goebel is the Marketing and Communications Intern based out of Grameen Foundation's Technology Center in Seattle, WA.

As a full-time intern and volunteer, I have had a lot of time to reflect about life on a budget. I am constantly making decisions about how to keep my spending low and maintain a positive savings-account balance. Yes, I should start taking the bus to work so I do not have to pay for parking or gas. No, I should not go out to lunch, but pack some leftovers from home instead. Yes, maybe it is a good idea to move in with my parents, versus paying rent on an apartment. No, maybe I do not need a fancy espresso this morning.

12/16/2010 by

Discussions of the microfinance crisis in Andhra Pradesh, India, have, so far, overlooked one area that might have a played a contributing role: human capital management practices.

Grameen Foundation’s Human Capital Center focuses on improving these “people practices” at microfinance institutions (MFIs).  In this piece for CGAP’s Microfinance Blog, Peg Ross, director of the Human Capital Center, discusses the critical role frontline staff can play in improving MFIs’ overall social and financial impact.

Read more at the CGAP blog.

 

12/14/2010 by

Jason Hahn is the Information and Communication Technology Innovation (ICTI) Development Manager at Grameen Foundation. The ICTI team develops, tests and advances mobile phone products and services in Uganda, Indonesia, and Ghana to improve healthcare, farming, banking, and more.

After we launched our Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) network in Uganda, I was reviewing a budget report and came across a “babysitting” entry. Thinking this must be an obvious mistake, I contacted our local finance person for an explanation. I discovered that we did pay for babysitting as some of the CKWs we were training were mothers who would not have been able to participate unless we paid for child care. It makes perfect sense now and is a good example of a practical step you can take to ensure that women and men access your programs.

[caption id="attachment_1393" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Hosea Sempa from our training team holds a baby so the father (in picture) and mother (out of picture) can participate in the training."][/caption]

At Grameen Foundation, we’ve learned first-hand the importance of doing what it takes to strive for gender equity in our work. Ensuring that women have equal access to the actionable agricultural information we provide through our CKW network is not just a "feel good" action for us. It is also one of the most practical steps we can take to achieve our goal of improving farmers’ livelihoods through access to information.

In Uganda, women do 85% of the planting, 85% of the weeding, 55% of the land preparation, and 98% of all food processing. This may explain why 90% of rural women in Uganda work in agriculture, compared to 53% of men. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women in rural areas produce at least 50% of the world’s food. While women are hard at work on farms, we also know that many women do not have access to mobile phones. According to the Women and Mobile Report by the GSMA and Cherie Blair Foundation, women are 24% less likely than men to own a mobile phone in sub-Saharan Africa, and women in rural areas and lower income brackets stand to benefit the most from closing the gender gap in mobile phone ownership.

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