M4Change News

Updated: 29 weeks 2 days ago

John’s Phone Review: The “Worlds Simplest Mobile Phone”

Tue, 2010-11-09 18:51
A look at an extremely minimalist device that strips away all but the essentials of telephone communication.floyd hayes04845455226139632254

Dali Museum Offers Hipstamatic GoodPak

Tue, 2010-11-09 17:00
The opening of the Museum's new building is celebrated with a custom camera app upgrade.Paloma Vazquez01957113185592061159

Angry Birds Videogame Reconstructed with Stop-Motion Animation

Tue, 2010-11-09 14:37

Behold art imitating art. What you're looking at here is a stop-motion animation of a level of the massively addictive mobile game, Angry Birds. This bit of Internet magic was created by Gregory Cortez out of construction paper.

Via Jenna Wortham.

M-Pesa Helps Farmers Get Insurance Claims

Tue, 2010-11-09 14:15

An innovative insurance program is coaxing Kenya’s farmers to invest in quality seeds and fertilizer. Relying on the popular mobile money transfer service, Mpesa, it promises to process any claims due to crop loss quickly and safely.

By Dinfin Mulupi

In the coming months, Kenya is bracing for a spate of severely dry weather caused by the La Nina effect. While the government prepares for the resulting food shortage, Kenyan farmers are facing the possibility of financial loss as their crops wither on the vine.

For some farmers, a new insurance program is coming to the rescue and encouraging higher-yielding farming practices in the process. Kilimo Salama (Swahili for “safe agriculture”) guarantees farmers a return on their investments in the event of harsh weather conditions that may affect the production of their crop. With its reliance on automated weather data to support farmers’ claims and the use of a mobile money transfer service to make payments, Kilimo Salama is overcoming farmers’ resistance to purchasing crop insurance.

Kenya’s food insecurity is sometimes blamed in part on the reluctance of farmers to use high-yield farm inputs (such as seed and fertilizer). According to statistics, only half of Kenyan farmers invest in improved seeds and nutrition for their crops because they fear losing money in the event of harsh weather conditions. Such weather is not uncommon, as with the drought that occurred in the last quarter of 2009. Yet the result of farmers’ failure to invest in higher-quality inputs is that they use old seeds which produce lower yields.

Gaining Farmers’ Trust

Kilimo Salama is changing perceptions about insurance by eliminating what used to be a lengthy and subjective claims process. To determine who gets payments, the program uses data from automated solar-powered weather stations positioned across the country. No longer must farmers file claims and argue with an agent about whether or not their crop failed because of the weather. Instead, once these weather stations record low or excess rainfalls, claim payments are automatically triggered.

The program distributes insurance payments to farmers using MPesa, a mobile money transfer service operated by Safaricom. As most farmers have access to mobile phones on which to receive the payments, this is an attractive feature. Instead of having to open a bank account or travel to a bank branch to cash a check, the payment is instantly transferred.

Kilimo Salama is considered “microinsurance” and is available to farmers who plant on as little as one acre. It was developed by the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture in partnership with UAP Insurance and Safaricom. The insurance is made affordable for farmers, according to the Syngenta Foundation’s website, because “Kilimo Salama’s agribusiness partners pay the other half of the premium.”

How it Works

To purchase the insurance, farmers pay a 5 percent premium on top of the price of seeds, fertilizer and other farm inputs. A group of 40 registered and trained rural retailers, known as agro-dealers, now sell the insurance. They each have a camera phone to scan a special bar code on the product at the time of purchase. This registers the insurance policy with UAP Insurance through Safaricom's mobile data network. Immediately afterward, an SMS is sent to the farmer’s mobile phone confirming the insurance policy.

In September, a group of more than 100 farmers in Embu became the first group to receive insurance payouts through the program. Low levels of rain at the Siakago Rural Technology School had triggered the payments. The largest payout was of 2,500 shillings (equal to approximately US$30). This is equivalent to the cost of 12 kilos of high-yielding maize seed that can be used to plant one acre.

One of the beneficiaries, Jennifer Mbiro, was satisfied with the insurance program. She said: “I am happy that I have received a payout. But since I did not really trust insurance, I only insured my fertilizer and not the seed. Therefore my payout is small this time. This season I’ve insured my seeds, fertilizers as well as some chemicals that I’m trying for the first time. I now know that it is worth insuring all my inputs.”

The payments were not made to all policyholders in the town. They were made only to those who cultivated in the area where the weather station documented below-average rain totals. According to Syngenta’s Executive Director Marco Ferroni, the program is designed to have enough weather stations so that variations in rainfall patterns can be noted over small areas.

“The fact that not all farmers received payments shows that the system can distinguish who suffered damage and who did not,” said Ferroni. “This is how the system is supposed to work, to compensate farmers for any harvests that fall below what they would expect. In this case, the projected losses, and thus the payouts, were fairly small. In seasons with less rain, the payout could be far greater.”

According to James Wambugu, Executive Director of UAP Insurance Kenya, the product was designed to meet the farmers’ needs. Discussions with farmers are currently ongoing to help in the development of products and services that will shield farmers and their harvests from risk.

"We believe Kilimo Salama can revolutionize insurance and make it accessible to farmers,” he said.

Kilimo Salama was rolled out early this year after the success of a pilot project conducted in Laikipia County in 2009. It is now being offered in Bungoma, Busia, Eldoret, Embu, Nanyuki, Oyugis, and Homa Bay. Next year, the program will be extended to other parts of the country with the target of reaching 50,000 farmers by 2012.

Related Links

Official Kilimo Salama website: http://kilimosalama.wordpress.com/about/

 Watch a video about the program here.

Dinfin Mulupi is a business journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. She can be reached at ejakaitdinfin@yahoo.com

Recent Articles:

A Voice for Peace in a Tense Sudan
Ushahidi: Born in Kenya, Traveling the World
Talking Trash in Kenya
Bridging Kenya’s Digital Gender Divide
New Tools for Family Planning


Non-Profit Creates Foursquare Venues for Homelessness Awarenes

Tue, 2010-11-09 06:53
Urban Ministries of Durham (UMD), a North Carolina non-profit organization providing food, shelter and clothing to the city’s homeless, is launching a Foursquare initiative to raise awareness around homelessness in Durham. Mashable reports.

UMD is spotlighting unusual venues such as abandoned warehouses, dumpsters and old construction sites. Application users in neighboring areas will discover the strange venues in the “nearby places” portion of the app.

The idea behind the campaign, engineered by the McKinney ad agency, is to inspire Foursquare users to check in to these locations to spread awareness about UMD and its mission of homelessness prevention.

Read full article and UMD press release.


Telling the Story with Maps

Mon, 2010-11-08 19:32

We had an interesting team discussion last week about the "why" of putting data on maps, a subject Chris D touched on in this silo post after a World Bank discussion on the topic, and Ian Schuler blogged about in his Burma election post yesterday. The question on the table was a simple one: why are these maps important for NDI's partners and our democracy work in general?

One of the themes worth mentioning was a reminder of the importance of providing visualization tools, including but not limited to maps, that not only provide the data in a visually engaging way but also tell a story - a key to making the data speak to and persuade the audience. In many cases, it's not enough to simply put political information on maps without context - in fact this could have the opposite effect and lead to misleading inferences or undermine your goals in some situations.

This simple and seemingly obvious concept is one that our team needs to keep in mind, and reinforce to our partners and staff around the world as web-based mapping applications become more popular.

One technique we've been using lately to accomplish this is to mash-up our main election data with supporting data sets to provide better context - often done using additional map layers. Our recent projects in Bahrain and Afghanistan demonstrate the power of this approach. Shaded areas or points on a map can have much more impact when provided in the context of other factors beyond just geography and/or location - such as demographic, economic, political, health, security - or a wide range of other data sets. I highlighted a couple examples from our recent programs below, and Development Seed - one of our tech partners - has done some nice work for the New America Foundation with Pakistan data here and on Pakistan flood response here.

Finding data that provides the context or supports your case can be a challenge, one reason we're strong supporters of the open data movement.

Another useful approach we've been working in to the projects is to use color to differentiate between different categories of mapped information. This provides the relative frequency of each category visually in the context of the overall data set. A great example is the Burma Election Tracker site, launched by our partners the Burma Partnership last weekend, that provides election related violations that are not only represented by location and frequency using circle size - an increasingly familiar approach - but also color-coded by violation type so that you can infer the relative frequency of each type of violation. The site goes a step further by allowing you to drill down to map views and lists of each incident type (more features including provincial data on mouseover and provincial map layers should be live tomorrow, stay tuned).

A promising next step for us might be to use shape to differentiate report types or origin on maps - so different shapes for SMS, web text, video or audio reports for example; or use shapes to represent the group who made the report - trained election observers, human rights monitors or other civic activists, journalists or bloggers, international election monitors, public citizens, etc.

Lots of room to innovate here. I anticipate using these and other new and interesting approaches in several of our upcoming projects as our partners around the world focus more on using maps to tell their stories.

Here are snapshots from the examples mentioned above:

Burma Election Tracker

The Burma Partnership is using data collected from a number of courageous human rights and other civic activists during the election period surrounding the May 7 military elections. The group used map layers to highlight the types of electoral violations using circle size and color that highlights the relative frequency of each type of electoral violation reported.

A story emerges of heavy government involvement in the process (the shades of blue), when the regime "abused its authority and resources to lend political advantages for its proxy parties, going so far as to deny government services to those not voting for SPDC backed candidates". While not a representative sample, the data suggests that government meddling in the process was a widely used tactic to manipulate the outcome of the election.


Bahrain Parliament Elections 2010

During the October, 2010 Bahrain parliamentary elections the government promised to address past problems with voter disenfranchisement caused by overcrowded polling centers in populated areas by opening additional "super polling centers" in densely populated areas.

However, as the maps demonstrate visually, the story is quite different. In all cases except one the super centers (green markers) were placed in low density areas, while the high density areas (filled in blue) were excluded.



Afghanistan Election Data

The story of the last two Afghanistan elections is one of fraud and violence.

The correlation between security and fraud is evident in this 2009 election results map where red circles indicate the frequency of fraudulent polling center results and the map layer underneath represents frequency of recent security incidents- pink and orange being the highest levels and green less violent. Clear correlation between election fraud and security - that was an importnat story around the 2009 presidential elections in Afghanistan.


Missouri journalism students blogging about mobile newsgathering

Mon, 2010-11-08 16:46
Reynolds Journalism Institute
A group of journalism students at the University of Missouri is blogging about mobile apps, hardware and best practices in mobile newsgathering, with the aim of creating "a sustainable and long-term resource guide for the industry."

The blog, Mobile Journalism Tools, has been running since September and has so far focused on a wide variety of mobile apps, accessories and brief quotes from experts in the field. The project is being led by Will Sullivan, a fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute and an occasional contributor to Poynter.org.

Damon Kiesow

NextThought Monday: A Closer Look at the Numbers Behind Branchless Banking

Mon, 2010-11-08 13:00

Authored by: Scott Anderson

Last week, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote with characteristically breathless energy on the prospect of mobile banking in India. Titled Do Believe the Hype, the column focused on EKO India Financial Services, which is developing a physical and virtual banking infrastructure whereby new customers open bank accounts using their cell phones and use participating small shops tied into the network as would-be bank branches.

The result, Friedman writes is:

Since opening 18 months ago, their virtual bank now has 180,000 users doing more than 7,000 transactions a day through 500 "branches" - mom-and-pop kiosks - in Delhi and 200 more in Bihar and Jharkhand, the hometowns of many maids and migrants. EKO gets a tiny commission from the Bank of India for each transaction and two months ago started to turn a small profit.

OK, fair enough, but still anecdotal. Can we really believe the hype on mobile banking actually reaching the BoP? Just a few days before Friedman's column, Mark Pickens, Microfinance Analyst who heads up CGAP's Technology Program's work with customers and agent business models, blogged Branchless Banking 2010: Is the hype justified? Pickens seemed to be presciently responding to Friedman, writing: "Just because we are excited about branchless banking doesn't mean it is living up to the promises we make on its behalf."

But through their research, Pickens and colleague Claudia McKay provide some justification for us to be excited. They assembled data on 16,708 branchless banking customers with 18 branchless banking providers servicing a total of more than 50 million customers in 10 countries. Driving the research was the important question of whether branchless banking actually reaches the base of the pyramid.

Here's what they found:

  • Some "37% of active clients were previously unbanked" while "in terms of numbers of people, each service we studied brought 1.39 million people into the formal financial system for the first time."
  • "In 5 of the 7 countries, branchless banking serves more previously unbanked people than the largest MFI."
  • Branchless banking organizations the team studied "are growing five times faster than the most successful MFI in the same market."

Pickens is careful to note that branchless banking is not about to replace microfinance institutions, nor did he accumulate data in locations, such as Bangladesh, where microcredit has flourished. The full study may be accessed here.

We look forward to much more data that goes beyond anecdotes. But it appears branchless banking is reaching the BoP and in a major way.


On Friday of last week and into Saturday morning, visitors to Next Billion encountered a boilerplate site from Network Solutions instead of our homepage. We've come to find out this was due to a server issue, which occurred around mid-day on Friday and was remedied early Saturday. We're in the process of unwinding what happened, but we're taking steps to ensure it doesn't happen again. Thanks to everyone for letting us know about the outage and we appreciate your patience. 

(author unknown)

Phone Apps Aim to Fight Harassment

Mon, 2010-11-08 06:30
New applications for the iPhone and Android will allow users to report street harassment in seconds, automatically mapping the data for other users to see.

By KAREN ZRAICK05341499662903981054

Burma Election Tracker is a window into a closed election

Sun, 2010-11-07 10:34

As polls opened in Burma, our friends at Burma Partnership launched a new site that provides reports, data, and analysis of the election. Burma Election Tracker shows reports and information collected by dozens of local human rights, media, and advocacy organizations. This is an impressive undertaking from an impressive group of organizations.

Presently the site contains nearly 200 reports on the pre-election period. While elections in Burma are widely expected to be problematic and have not been accepted by the main political opposition, they provide an important communications opportunity for activists. Burma Election Tracker tells a compelling story about how the environment leading up to elections fails to provide the conditions for an election that can express the will of the Burmese people.

We are excited about Burma Election Tracker because it combines some elements of crowdsourcing tools like Ushahidi--such as incident mapping and reports based largely on unstructured data--with approaches election monitoring groups would use for providing a clear assessment of the process and advocating for reform. (Burma Partnership and the other participating groups don’t consider their effort to be election monitoring. However they face similar goals and challenges in the way that the use data. Neither is this effort truly crowdsourcing.)

The goal of election monitoring is to provide an assessment of the elections that can be used to improve the process. While this exercise relies on solid, systematic information, it is not enough to simply publish information. Election monitoring groups use their data to communicate key findings and when necessary make a clear case for reform. Burma Election Tracker is another step in the development of tools that citizens can use to assess and improve political processes.

Burma Election Tracker also demonstrates creative approaches to collecting and publishing information about an election in an extremely repressive regime. Rather than mapping points to exact locations, Burma Election Tracker maps events to townships, regions, or states as needed protect the identity and security of reporters. Reports are passed through trusted agents rather than relying on insecure mobile networks. Partner groups are using a variety of tools to move information in and out of the country. Even so, it is difficult to collect information throughout Burma. As the site notes the information on Burma Election Tracker "represent(s) a small portion of similar violations, fraud and atrocities."

Burma Election Tracker will continue to collate reports and information over the coming weeks as they moves across the border. I'll post a followup later this week as the project develops.


US Charity Lifts Limit on Mobile Donations to $25 Per Message

Sun, 2010-11-07 10:06
The mGive Foundation - a charity enabling and processing mobile donation campaigns in the USA - has initiated a US$25 mobile donation trial with most major domestic mobile carriers. The mobile donation trial raises the maximum mobile donation amount from $10 to $25, a first in the mobile donation industry.

[via Cellular News]


Do people want location-based social networking?

Sun, 2010-11-07 07:51
Social networks want to know your location. But it’s not clear if consumers will share that information — or at what price. Joshua Brustein reports in the New York Times.

“Everything is in place for location-based social networking to be the next big thing. Tech companies are building the platforms, venture capitalists are providing the cash and marketers are eager to develop advertising.

All that is missing are the people.”

Read article

Hands-on: latest Firefox Mobile beta is svelte and smooth

Fri, 2010-11-05 19:21

Mozilla has released a new beta of Firefox 4 for Mobile. The new version resolves several long-standing problems with the Android port, finally making it viable for day-to-day use. The new version also brings a minor theming refresh that improves the application's look and feel.

In previous versions of Firefox for Android, the installed application used over 40MB of storage space and couldn't be permanently moved to the SD card in its entirety due to the manner in which Android loads native libraries. Mozilla has done a lot of work to address this issue, including making a custom dynamic linker that can load the native libraries directly from the compressed APK file. In the new beta, Firefox for Android requires only 17MB of storage capacity and can optionally run entirely from an SD card.

Read the comments on this post

segphault@arstechnica.com (Ryan Paul)1766203978691574786809764242758699708533

Nonprofits Rush to Solicit Donations via Text, but the System Is Flawed

Wed, 2010-11-03 16:53
Replicating the Red Cross’s mobile campaign for Haiti aid would be daunting for most organizations; the costs of a mobile donating program can outweigh the proceeds.


Branchless Banking 2010: What Price?

Wed, 2010-11-03 11:00

Last week, my colleague Mark Pickens started a blog series on the 3 main findings in our new CGAP Focus Note, which looks at several aspects of branchless banking across 18 branchless banking providers with more than 50 million customers in 10 countries.  You can read a full web feature about the paper on the CGAP website.  In this post, we’ll look at the second question we asked in the Focus Note:

Is branchless banking cheaper than traditional banking, and by how much?

To answer this question, we compared the prices charged by 16 branchless banking providers across 10 countries and by 10 traditional banks in five countries across 8 use cases.  We first released the results of our analysis on this blog in May.  Here are the highlights:

  • The average monthly price to use a bundle of branchless banking services is US$3.90.
  • Branchless banking is 19% cheaper than comparable bank services overall.
  • The lower the transaction value, the cheaper branchless banking is in comparison. Branchless banking is 38% cheaper at lower values at which poor people are likely to transact.

So, the bottom line of this pricing analysis is that branchless banking is cheaper than traditional banking but the price advantage may not be as big as one might anticipate.  The Focus Note offers some hypotheses on why this might be the case.

If you’d like to see the full pricing analysis, you can download a detailed powerpoint deck and a pricing tool that allows you to compare the prices of your service with those of the 16 in our study here.

There is still a lot of work to be done on this issue, especially in understanding how sensitive unbanked customers really are to price and how the total cost of accessing informal and formal products compares when taking into account factors like travel time and cost. We are currently working with Bankable Frontier Associates to delve deeper into some of these issues with households across Bangladesh, India and South Africa. 

The interim results from the South African data set are raising some interesting questions. For example, we often say that informal products are much more expensive and less reliable than formal products. Well, when it comes to savings this is not necessarily true.  The full cost of informal savings products (including fees, travel time and cost and transaction time) is just 1/3 the cost of formal savings products. 

What’s most striking to me is how differently the costs of accessing both types of instruments are structured.  84% of the cost of informal products is in the form of transaction time while 90% of the cost of formal products is in the form of bank fees.  Of course, one of the biggest ‘costs’ to saving informally is the high risk of losing the money. How risky are informal savings? We hope to answer this question as well as many more as we complete the study over the next few months.

- Claudia McKay

Nokia Taking a Rural Road to Growth

Tue, 2010-11-02 18:20
The cellphone maker will expand its agricultural data service to Nigeria as it continues its push into emerging markets.


Banking the Poor: How Branchless Banking Measures Up

Mon, 2010-11-01 22:08
Does branchless banking actually lead to more and better financial services for low income and poor people? A new CGAP paper examines 18 branchless banking providers with more than 50 million customers in 10 countries.

[CGAP "Branchless Banking 2010: Who’s Served? At What Price? What’s Next?" via MobileActive.org]


How digital technology gets the news out of North Korea

Mon, 2010-11-01 19:14
The girl in the video looks like she's about 12 years old. Thin, dirty and with a vacant look on her face, she tells the cameraman that she's actually 23 and she survives by foraging for grass to sell to wealthier families for their rabbits. IT World reports.

The sobering footage was shot in June this year in the province of South Pyongan, North Korea, and provides a glimpse into the life of one person who lives far from the military parades and fireworks last month marking the 65th anniversary of the Workers' Party of Korea.

It was shot on a cheap camera by a man who goes by the pseudonym Kim Dong-cheol, a North Korean with a double life. In addition to his job as a driver for a company, Kim also works as a clandestine reporter for AsiaPress, a Japanese news agency that's taken advantage of the digital electronics revolution to get reports from inside North Korea.

AsiaPress works with six North Koreans they've trained as journalists. They're given instruction in operating cameras, using PCs and how to use cell phones so they don't attract the attention of authorities. Then, every few months, they meet with AsiaPress representatives just over the border in China to hand over their images.

Read full article via @mobileactive.


-- North Koreans are receiving information about the outside world via cell phones

-- In a country where nearly every facet of society is controlled, North Korean authorities are encountering a new foe: the cellphone.


SMS Eliminates a Deadly Delay in HIV Testing

Mon, 2010-11-01 18:30

Zambia is hoping to slash its infant mortality rate by helping HIV-positive children get treatment fast. Thanks to SMS-text messaging, parents will know the HIV status of their children sooner and can begin life-saving treatment.

By Newton Sibanda

LUSAKA, Zambia
- It can take as long as 10 weeks to process an HIV test at rural health centers here. While the blood samples are sent back and forth to a central hospital for analysis, the clock is ticking for HIV-positive infants. The sooner they are started on anti-retroviral therapy the better their chances of survival.

The ministry of health is now piloting a program in which SMS-text messages will be used to return pediatric HIV results within five days of testing. After infant blood samples from health centers are analyzed at a referral hospital, the results are sent back to the health centers through a machine that receives information in the form of SMS. The test results are printed out and passed on to the parents by the doctor. The SMS project started in January this year at selected health centers in the rural areas of Zambia’s Copperbelt, Central and Northern provinces.

“We are targeting 10 health centers on the pilot project which will be assessed after six months,” said Zambia’s Director of Public Health, Dr. Victor Mukonka.

Controlling an HIV Epidemic
The cause of HIV infection in Zambian children and infants is mainly attributed to transmission from mother to infant. Zambia is among the 25 countries with the highest number of HIV-positive pregnant women, according to UNICEF Country Representative for Zambia, Dr. Lyorlumun Uhaa.

Increasing the number of at-risk mothers and children who receive anti-retroviral therapy, or ART, is a priority, Dr. Uhaa said in a recent statement. He pointed to data showing that 68,000 pregnant women and 59,000 children were in need of antiretroviral drugs in Zambia.

Zambia’s Director of Public Health, Victor Mukonka, explains that the delay in placing children less than 18 months old on ART is contributing to the country’s high infant mortality rate (119 deaths per 1,000 live births). Mukonka believes the SMS initiative will save the lives of infants through prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Assessing the Potential Impact
The project is drawing praise from HIV/AIDS service organizations. Richard Sikananu, the Director of the Network of Zambian People Living with HIV/AIDS, cheers the use of SMS for HIV testing. He pointed to the success SMS has had in the business context: helping cross-border traders access market information.

Felix Mwanza, of the Treatment Advocacy and Literacy Campaign (TALC)  says this is a good initiative that must be embraced and supported. He noted that a similar project has demonstrated success in Kenya.

“We should embrace it, especially that it is working elsewhere. We must commend the government and support it,” Mwanza said. Mwanza cautioned that parents should be thoroughly counseled before the results are delivered.

“People react differently to results and so they must be thoroughly counseled,” said Mwanza.

Mwanza agrees with health officials that program will have a significant impact on infant mortality. He disagrees, however, with Dr. Mukonka’s assertion that, once the SMS program is replicated nationally, it will reduce the country’s infant mortality rate by “more than 80 percent,” because children will quickly be placed on ART. There are too many logistical issues to contend with to achieve such a huge result immediately, argues Mwanza. Both agree that the sooner parents know the HIV status of their children, the better. The percentage of lives saved will only be known over time.

Newton Sibanda has been a journalist for 17 years. Currently, he is working for the Zambia Daily Mail as Weekend Mail Editor and environmental columnist.

Recent Blogs by Newton

To Market, To Market By Mobile Phone
Zambia Uses ZAIN SMS to Fight Measles


Nonprofits Rush to Solicit Donations via Text, but the System Is ...

Mon, 2010-11-01 18:25
Moving Toward Mobile? February 8, 2010 From Janet Spavlik In the midst of the massive fundraising efforts for Haiti relief, and with donations garnered ...