(Search terms: mpesa ) en Cash Aid via Mobile Payment in Kenya - An Evaluation <p>In early 2008 violence errupted in Kenya after the most recent elections there the previous December.  Post-election tribal warfare resulted in the death of 1,200 people, internally displaced 400,000 to 600,000 people, and destroyed more than 41,000 properties.  The economic cost of the crisis has been estimated at more than KSh 100 billion (approx US $ 1.5 billion), with more than half a milion jobs lost. The World Bank noted that over 2 million Kenyans may have been driven into poverty as a result of the violence.  Food security also declined with farmers unable to cultivate and harvest their farms in early 2008.  </p> <p>The Kerio Valley on the north side in the scenic Rift Valley was especially hard hit by the violence. It is an area that even in the best of times is drought-prone and lacking electricity and other infrastructure.  Tribes in the valley rely on income from their livestocks and some agriculture. The Kenyan Budget Survey shows that over 60% of the population there is "food poor" or, in the words of Concern, an Irish aid agency, "less  than 40% of the population has the resources necessary to provide their basic energy requirements of 2,250 kcal per adult equivalent per day."</p> <p>It was in this context that <a href="" target="_blank">Concern Worldwide</a>, an Irish aid organization, started an experimental program to distribute cash aid via mobile phone payments in the Kerio Valley to a select number of beneficiaries to supplement income lost in the violence and prevent famine amongst those receiving aid.  Concern now has published an<a href="/files/KenyaCashTansferPilot-EvaluationReport-July08.pdf" target="_blank"> extensive evaluation of the programme</a> (PDF)</p> <p>What follows is a summary of the findings and a discussion of the value of distributing cash aid via mobile money transfers in humanitarian emergencies. </p> <p>Concern also produced a short video of the prgram that, even though it it more promotional, nonetheless demonstrates how the program worked.</p> <p> <object width="480" height="295"> <param name="movie" value="" /> <param name="allowFullScreen" value="true" /> <param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always" /><embed type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="480" height="295" src="" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed> </object> </p> <p><strong>Cash Versus Food Aid in Emergencies </strong></p> <p>There has been much discussion of the pros and cons of cash versus food aid in emergencies.  Cash is increasingly becoming interesting to aid agencies because it enables the beneficiaries to buy largely what they need and it does not disrupt local markets the way large infusions of food would. Cash also has multiplier effects in a community, benefiting non-recipient households. For aid agencies, transporting cash is a lot less costly than transporting large quantities of food.  Transporting cash can be less secure, however, so mobile payments offer an alternative that is more secure for beneficiaries and organizations alike, as well as takes advantage of the benefits of cash instead of food aid. </p> <p><strong>Concern's Mobile Cash Aid Program in Kenya</strong></p> <p>Concern wanted to offer temporary relief to households affected by the violence and test the efficiency of the M-Pesa mobile payment system "as a means of making cash safety net transfers to poor people living in marginal rural areas."  Concern partnered with Safaricom to to pilot the use of M-Pesa for this purpose -- the first time that M-pesa, or any mobile-phone based payment system, was used for transferring cash aid.</p> <p>M-Pesa is a joint venture between Vodaphone and Safaricom that enables users to send cash from one M-Pesa user to another over the Safaricom mobile phone network.</p> <p>The Concern cash aid program targeted 51 households, comprising about  3700 individuals.  These individuals were chosen by community leaders directly (rather than by Concern staff) according to a certain set of needs that the leaders agreed upon.  Beneficiaries, for example, had to have been directly affected by the post election violence and the most vulnerable groups were given priority.</p> <blockquote>Using the original food distribution lists as a starting point, a second list was drawn up ranking households in order of vulnerability. The list also identified the name of the matriarch and how many members were in each household. Community members were given the opportunity to comment on the leaders rankings in a public meeting. There was apparently little disagreement on the ranking of the households, but a fair amount of discussion on the size of households, as some had counted members who were living elsewhere. </blockquote> <p>The matriarch of each household was registered to receive the cash and issued with an M-pesa-enabled SIM card. Concern notes, that "targeting women, combined with the relatively small size of the transfer, was effective in ensuring that women retained control of the cash. Qualitative evidence indicates that about 70% of the transfer was spent on food, with the remaining 30% on transport and other non-food essentials. No incidents of misuse of the cash were found during the evaluation."</p> <blockquote>The first distribution took place by using ‘clusters’ – beneficiaries were clustered into groups of ten and their combined transfer was sent to the phone number of the cluster leader who then collected the cash and distributed it accordingly amongst the members of the group. For the second transfer each beneficiary was issued with a SIM card and had to travel to the distribution site personally to collect their cash.  Both distributions were facilitated by M-pesa agents who travelled down to the <br />distribution site - for security reasons Kinyach police station - with the necessary cash. <br /></blockquote> <blockquote>As with a food distribution, beneficiaries usually spent the best part of a day travelling to and from the distribution and collecting their transfer. Some less mobile beneficiaries found it difficult to make the return journey to the distribution site, as they would have with a food distribution, strengthening the argument for using the ‘cluster’ system under certain circumstances</blockquote> <p>Concern calculated that each household member would require about Ksh 320 to buy their ‘basic food needs’ for two weeks. </p> <p><strong>The Way M-Pesa Works for Cash Aid </strong></p> <p>M-Pesa is simple to use and wide-spread in Kenya, with more than 5 million users. To send money with M-Pesa, a customer needs to be registered, have M-pesa ‘activated’ on the SIM card, have the M-pesa program installed on the phone.  The sender then goes to one of 2,500 M-pesa agents throughout Kenya, deposits cash with an agent, and after a confirmation SMS then can send the money to the phone number of the recipient using the special menu on their phone. The recipient will receive an SMS alerting them that funds have arrived. If the recipient is already a registered M-pesa user, she can withdraw the cash or keep it in her account to send on to someone else or buy services or goods with it. If the recipient is not registered, she must withdraw the cash at a registered M-pesa agent.</p> <p>Concern notes that,</p> <blockquote>While approximately 93 million shillings is sent through M-pesa every day, the vast bulk of this traffic takes place between urban centres which offer agents good cell phone coverage, banking facilities, a reasonable level of security and a literate clientele which both sends and receives money ensuring that a certain level of liquidity is maintained. By attempting to use M-pesa to supply cash to often illiterate beneficiaries with little or no exposure to financial or telephone services, living in areas which offer few of the preconditions for a successful M-pesa agency, Concern was taking a bold step and had to support or subsidise a number of elements of the process to ensure that the programme had a reasonable chance of success. <br /></blockquote> <p>The first obstacle was the low level of phone ownership amongst the community-selected beneficiaries.  Concern notes that of the "571 targeted households just 225 (39%) reported owning or having once owned a phone at the time of registration on the programme."</p> <p><strong>How It Worked </strong></p> <p>Concern provided 45 phones to groups of ten households, as well as solar chargers and adapters. Local youth were deployed as 'clerks' who helped heads of households how to operate the phones and were on hand on cash distribution days to assist beneficiaries with the process of receiving the M-pesa text message.</p> <p>Beneficiaries were issued the M-Pesa registered SIM cards.  Concer's evaluator writes that,</p> <blockquote>Although it was planned that each beneficiary was issued with their own SIM card from the outset, for technical reasons the first round of cash was distributed through clusters whereby groups of 10 households shared a SIM card and funds for all ten households were sent onto the one card and collected and divided up by the group member to whom the card was registered. The technical problems were eventually resolved; for the second transfer each beneficiary was given a SIM card and registered as an M-pesa user, however, in most cases they still had to wait their turn to use a shared handset at the distribution point so they could insert their card to access the M-pesa message.</blockquote> <blockquote>Concern needed to be sure that it was sending money to the right people – one wrong digit in a phone number would result in the beneficiary not receiving his or her transfer.  To help ensure the right people received the money, Safaricom staff facilitated access to a database which allowed names to be linked to phone numbers. Before each distribution, Concern would provide Safaricom with a list of each number to which it wished to transfer funds. This list enabled the generation of a list of names which were then manually checked against Concern’s list of beneficiaries by two different people. When it was clear that all beneficiaries were associated with a phone number the payment was made. <br /></blockquote> <p><strong>What were the results?</strong></p> <p>The results of the evaluation are very convincing and show that cash aid transmitted via mobile phones can be an effective (for beneficiaries) and cost-effective and secure way (for aid organizations) to aid populations affected by humanitarian emergencies.  The evaluation showed that the cash was used for the purposes intended --</p> <blockquote>at least 70% of the total cash distributed was spent on food items, nearly half of which comprised the staple maize. Other food items purchased included beans, oil, tea, sugar, fruit and vegetables. The beneficiaries interviewed reported using an average of 17% of their transfer on costs related to transport. In a few instances these costs comprised fares for motorised transport but, as most journeys were made on foot, they largely consisted of payments for labour to carry food back from the market, or food purchases for children accompanying them on the journey. Around 12% of the transfer was used for other purposes including milling, paraffin, loans or gifts to friends and relatives or savings.  <br /></blockquote> <p>There was also some impact on gender relations, as Concern and its partner organization </p> <blockquote>placed a strong emphasis on ‘branding’ the programme as being an intervention specifically designed for women to buy food for the household. Wherever possible (identity documents permitting) the matriarch of the household was registered as the recipient of the cash.  For many beneficiaries, this was the first time the importance of their productive and maintenance roles had been formally recognised. The intervention clearly stressed on the need for women and men to negotiate at the household level on expenditure priorities and, as the women ostensibly controlled the cash transfer, provided a rare opportunity for wives to discuss with their husbands matters that impact on all their lives.</blockquote> <blockquote>On the negative side, however, this empowerment may have served to reinforce the woman’s normal role of tending to the daily upkeep of the household. As the women were normally registered to collect the cash it was them who were burdened with the long walk to collect it and purchase food from the market, although it should be added that the women interviewed for this evaluation were in no way resentful of this. While the project probably had little impact on deep seated gender roles, women’s role as efficient managers was made more visible. Women’s confidence and self esteem was also heightened as they showed they were able to use the resources given to them for the benefit of their entire families and strengthen inter-community ties by assisting other women with gifts of food or money. <br /></blockquote> <blockquote>The programme, with its combination of technology and cash, also had the effect of transforming beneficiaries from passive recipients of aid to participants in a programme in which they learned new skills and were empowered with a choice of how to use the cash. Basically, the process by which assistance was delivered, while not as important as the assistance itself, was of significant benefit to participants.  </blockquote> <p>For Concern, one of the main benefits of the partnership with Safaricom was that <br />Safaricom took responsibility the distribution and the security of the cash up until it was handed over to beneficiaries. As the evaluation notes, "essentially Concern was able to do what few cash distribution schemes have been able to do before – that is, contract out the distribution and security of cash to a reputable institution with national presence with the option of managing much of the payments process remotely from Nairobi."</p> <p>The evaluator also "found no evidence nor heard any reports of beneficiaries having their cash stolen while travelling back to their villages from the distribution point. " In fact, the evaluation notes that "beneficiaries mentioned that they felt safer travelling with cash than they would have had they been transporting food as cash is much easier to conceal."<br /><br /><strong>Shortfalls </strong><br /><br />As with any project there were some shortfalls that are noteworty and important for future transmission of cash aid via mobile phone. </p> <p>The distribution of the money took place in Spring 2008 and the evaluation notes that,</p> <blockquote>Given that the post election violence took place in December and January (interviewees reported a particularly bad spell of raiding in mid January) it could be argued that the cash arrived somewhat late. However, Concern and the DoE targeted the area with one emergency food distribution in March and the situation of the affected communities by the time they received the first transfer was as bad, if not worse, than in January: Although their was relative peace, food prices had spiralled and drought had severely impacted on their ability to produce their own food.<br /></blockquote> <p>Concern's evaluator is candid about other logistical issues that are critically important when considering larger-scale cash aid payment via mobile, especially in very remote areas: </p> <blockquote>Two main issues affected the prompt transfer of cash from Concern to beneficiaries providing important lessons for future programming. The first was beneficiaries losing their SIM cards, the second was beneficiaries being issued with inactivated cards. Normally when a SIM card is lost the owner takes the SIM certificate to an agent who can then activate another card within a matter of minutes. The problem that beneficiaries in Kerio Valley encountered was that they could only easily access an agent on the day of distribution so had to get the new card issued on the distribution day when they had access to the agent. Fortunately the cash distribution process for the bulk of beneficiaries was not held up as the agents delegated a staff member to deal with lost cards in a separate queue.  In some instances the beneficiary had lost the SIM certificate as well as the card, in which case an entire new card had to be issued, loaded with airtime, and registered for M-pesa, a process which could only realistically take place in Iten or Eldoret where agents have access to the M-pesa database. Beneficiaries who lost their SIM and SIM certificate faced a delay in receiving payments while their new card was processed. At the time of writing this report there were still some beneficiaries who had not received their total entitlement because of this reason; it is not clear how they will get their money, but Concern is considering sending the transfer to another beneficiary on their behalf.</blockquote> <p>A unusually high number of SIM cards -- in a stroke of bad in that particular batch distributed to the beneficiaries --were unable to be activated because default settings were not remdoved.  The report notes that "normally, when a new SIM card is loaded with airtime the default call-barring settings are automatically removed allowing text messages and calls to be received. In about 50% of cases (according to the Safaricom representative interviewed) beneficiaries were issued with cards which were not activated and therefore unable to receive the M-pesa SMS sent by Concern. These cards had to be taken to a customer care centre in Eldoret for activation."</p> <p>Concern also notes that while cash is well-recived and useful for many of the recipients, some may have preferred direct food aid. Particularly older recipients noted in interviews that they would have preferred food, "presumably because it would have entailed <br />one journey to the distribution site rather than two journeys (one to the site and a second <br />to the market)." The evaluation notes that</p> <blockquote>Concern’s use of M-pesa allowed a food security intervention to be executed at minimal opportunity cost to themselves. Whereas a traditional food distribution would have meant that Concern would have had to source, procure, store, transport and distribute the food, under KVCTP [the name of the program] these functions were passed on to the beneficiary. While for many households, the time costs associated with collection of cash and purchase of food were acceptable, for a minority of less able bodied beneficiaries from households with limited labour availability, they were not. Clearly solutions have to be found to make the system more appropriate to the circumstances of the most vulnerable.<br /></blockquote> <p>A more serious development that seriously affected the effectiveness of the cash aid scheme was the rapid inflation of food prices during the time of distribution that significantly eroded the purchasing power of the money transfer.</p> <blockquote>The problem was that the transfer was based on the prices in Arror market in early April but,  by the time beneficiaries received their first distribution in early June, prices had risen considerably. For example, maize was selling for 20/= per kilo in April but 30/= per kilo in early June – an increase of 50%, while the price of beans reportedly doubled over the same period. <br /></blockquote> <blockquote>Given the rapid inflation experienced, the fixed-size transfer was quickly reduced to the equivalent of significantly less than 50 percent of households’ minimum monthly food requirements - a finding corroborated by most beneficiaries interviewed, who reported that the food bought with each transfer lasted for just a few days, rather than the full week intended by Concern. It can therefore be concluded that the transfer size was not sufficient to provide half of targeted households’ food needs.</blockquote> <blockquote>The survey found strong anecdotal evidence (corroborated by interviewees from two different villages) that the increased effective demand produced by the cash transfers had the effect of raising the price of maize in Arror market – the place where most of the beneficiaries spent their cash. The extent to which vendors raised prices as a result of increased demand is not fully clear – one group in Kinyach reported that the price of maize rose from 30/= to 35/= (16%) on the first distribution day, while in Ayatia interviewees claimed that prices were increased by 60% (from 50/= to 80/= per kilo). However, it is unlikely that the 60% increase reported is entirely attributable to dealers taking advantage of the surge in demand – while market inefficiencies certainly contributed to some of the inflation, the larger proportion of was a reflection of the global rise in grain prices over the project period.  <br /></blockquote> <p>Concern found that for its operation, the overall projects costs where largely the same whether wholesale good is distributed or whether cash aid is dispensed via mobile payments.  The evaluator estimated that with a food distribution beneficiaries would have received an additional two days of minimum calorific requirements – a result of buying the food wholesale and the costs associated with equipping beneficiaries to receive funds through M-pesa.</p> <p>The evaluator notes that</p> <blockquote>even when the difference between wholesale and local market prices is accounted for, there is a point (relating to the relative costs of cellphone equipment and food transport) at which transferring cash through M-pesa represents better value in terms of calories provided per shilling spent than a traditional food distribution. In the case of KVCTP, however, the savings possible through longer-term programming were never realised because of the short duration of the pilot. <br /></blockquote> <blockquote>In terms of providing calories for the amount of money available, KVCTP was marginally less effective than a traditional food transfer would have been. The two reasons for this are: under a food transfer, staples would have been bought wholesale while beneficiaries were buying retail from inefficient markets at a time of rapid inflation and the cost of equipping beneficiaries to receive M-pesa. This is not to say that using M-pesa for delivering cash transfers should be written off; when the costs of equipment are discounted the cash transfer option proved to be more effective than a food distribution in terms of delivering calories. <br /></blockquote> <p>The most important recommendation for future projects, of course, is aid agencies deploying mobile cash aid transfer link payments to the price of a basket of staple foods. in the case of Concer, early warning data was not considered when the organization established the size of the cash transfers; the report notes that "there were indications as early as February that prices were set to rise, but these appear not to have been considered when setting the size of the transfer."</p> <p>The entire evaluation of the Concern program in Kenya is <a href="/files/KenyaCashTansferPilot-EvaluationReport-July08.pdf" target="_blank">here in PDF format. </a></p> <p>Photo: Screenshot courtesy of <a href="" target="_blank">Concern Worldwide video/YouTube.</a> </p> africa cash aid Concern Worldwide Disaster & Humanitarian Relief Emergency Response Emergency Telecommunications kenya Livelihood & Economic Development mobile mobile aid payment Peace, War, and Conflict Resolution post-election violence Sun, 29 Mar 2009 21:23:58 +0000 KatrinVerclas 9338 at Mobile Operators, Price Gouging, Innovation, and Txteagle -- A Critique by Steve Song <p><a href="" target="_blank">Steve Song</a> has done it again. A fellow at the <a href="" target="_blank">Shuttleworth Foundation</a>, he critiques Nathan Eagle's new <a href="" target="_blank">txteagle</a> venture to tap into the 'cognitive resources' of millions of mobile-phone users in developing countries.  Nathan recently gave a talk at eTech, presenting texteagle. Here is the <a href="" target="_blank">video of Nathan's presentation</a>. </p> <p>In short, txteagle, in the words of the <a href="" target="_blank">BBC</a>, is "a new scheme that distributes simple tasks via text messages is being used to target a potential untapped work force in developing countries. Txteagle is making it possible for many people in countries like Kenya to earn small amounts of money by completing simple tasks like translations or transcriptions." </p> <p>But Steve notes that Nathan, who is closely aligned with the mobile operators as part of txteagle's business model, misses the point about the competitive mobile marketplace.  Here is an extended excerpt of <a href="" target="_blank">Steve's blog post</a> that makes the point why mobile markets in Africa, in fact, are neither competitive, nor innovative. More importantly, as a result, the cost of mobile services in relation to income, is, in <a href="" target="_blank">Steve's words</a>, "a level of  <a href="" class="aptureLink snap_noshots">price gouging</a> on the part of mobile operators in developing countries that verges on the criminal.  They make the highest profit margin on the service the poor need most." </p> <blockquote><p>HOWEVER, one thing struck a real false chord in his talk.  He represents the mobile industry in Africa as an effective competitive marketplace.  I wish this were true.  He points out that the mobile market has tripled in size in the last three years in Kenya and he recounts an episode in which someone stuck a free SIM card in hand as he was getting into a taxi. He goes on to say that there is now an “all out war for market share in Kenya”.  There may be a war for market share, HOWEVER, it is a marketing war and not a price war.  While the network costs for mobile use may have declined marginally in the last few years, they are still nothing like competitive.</p> <p>I am not quite sure why he misses this.  It may be the close relationship he is obliged to maintain with the mobile operators.  In his talk he points out that the Kenyan incumbent, Safaricom, will earn a billion USD in revenue this year.  Minutes later he highlights the fact that his initial attempts to establish SMS-based real time blood-bank monitoring in Mombasa failed because nurses were unwilling to pay the cost of an SMS to update the database. He says:</p> <blockquote><p>..if you’re working at a local hospital, a text message is a substantial fraction of your day’s wage..”</p> </p></blockquote> <p>Now put those two facts together.  A billion dollars in revenue and an SMS is a substantial fraction of your day’s wage.  Hmmm.</p> <p>Nathan had to resort to paying nurses the equivalent of three SMSes for every day they updated the blood-bank.  I love the ingenious way he found to make the system work but it does highlight what a throttle to innovation the high cost of communication is.</p> <p>Recent research from <a href="" title="Research ICT Africa" target="_blank">ResearchICTAfrica</a> reveals that Kenyans are spending incredible amounts on mobile communication as a proportion of income.  Here’s how it breaks down.  <b>The average Kenyan spends over 50% of their disposable income on mobile communication.</b> For the bottom 75% of the population, that figure goes up to 63.6%.  In terms of total individual income, the average Kenyan spends 16.7% of their income on mobile communication.  That figure rises to 26.6% when looking at the bottom 75% of the population.  These figures are astounding.  It highlights the fact that Africans are paying for mobile communication in spite of how expensive it is, not because of how affordable it is.</p> <p>It also emphasises how critical access to mobile communication is for people. Nathan makes an important point when he says the fact that no one in Kenya can afford not to have a mobile phone.  Even if you are digging a ditch by the side of the road, day labour is now organised via SMS.  This means that mobile operators have Kenyans by the throat.</p> <p>He gives another example about a water pump manufacturer in Kenya who, by combining an mobile-mPesa-enabled, solar-powered metering system with their water pumps, have completely changed their business model.  They are now able to give water pumps away for free (if I understand correctly) and then make a profit by selling access to water via Safaricom’s mPesa service.  Send the pump 20 Ksh and it pumps 20 litres of water for you.  This has increased the water pump companies business and made water more accessible to those who need it.  Nathan suggests that this benefits everyone.  He says:</p> <blockquote><p>“Michael Joseph (CEO of Safaricom) loves this because you have to have a Safaricom account to get water.”</p> </p></blockquote> <p>Am I the only one who finds this a little disturbing?  When a single mobile operator is a gatekeeper to water supply, something is wrong.  For any village in this situation, Safaricom can charge whatever they like.</p> <p>The failure of communication regulators in Africa to either license sufficient new market entrants or to curb the excesses of incumbents with significant market power has led to a situation where existing operators collude to maintain high profits.  The <a href="" title="The 1 Cent SMS" target="_blank">cost of SMSes</a> is a great example of this.  If we accept the premise that, in places like Kenya, no one can afford not to have access to a phone, then one cannot help but feel that something needs to be done.  A flour milling company in South Africa was recently <a href="" title="Mail&Guardian article - Union applauds bread cartel fine" target="_blank">fined more than 45 million Rand</a> by the Competition Commission for price fixing and collusion.  I think it is time to take a serious look at mobile operators.</p> <p>Equally the fact that mobile operators are walled gardens (Why can’t I pay the water pump with my Zain phone?) means that innovators like Nathan are going to be comparatively far and few between.</p> <p>Imagine an alternate reality where Africans paid less than 5% percent of their income on mobile communications and all phones operated on an IP-based network so that any new African innovation might be unlimited in terms of scope.  Then we would see mobile-enabled social and economic innovation taking off in Africa.</p> <p>The unfortunate reality is that Nathan and TxtEagle need the goodwill of the mobile operators in the region to do business.  Imagine if you had to woo Internet Service Providers host your web application knowing that they could shut you down on a whim.   For me, the remarkable innovation that is TxtEagle only highlights how broken the mobile environment is for real innovation in developing countries.</p> </p></blockquote> <p>Photo courtesy Nathan Eagle, <a href="" target="_blank">txteagle</a>. </p> <blockquote><p> <p> </p> </p></blockquote> africa Citizen Media Communications Access and Infrastructure competition Livelihood & Economic Development mobile operators nathan eagle steve song telcom txteagle Mon, 23 Mar 2009 15:01:40 +0000 KatrinVerclas 9335 at M-Banking and M-Payments for Social Impact <p>On the first day of MobileActive ’08 in Johannesburg, I attended "M-Banking and M-Payments for Social Impact", with Jonathan Donner, Tonny Omwansa, Jesse Moore, Brian Richardson, and Alex Comninos presenting to a packed room. The session gave an overview of m-banking (mobile banking) and m-payments (mobile payments), including specific mobile banking solutions such as M-PESA and Wizzit.</p> <p>Brian Richardson, the CEO of Wizzit, began by stressing that mobile banking is becoming more and more common in African countries. In South Africa, more than 11 million people live with cash only. 600 million in Africa don’t have access to basic financial services because of affordability, accessibility, and availability. Without access to basic financial services, it’s hard to be an economic citizen. </p> <p>Richardson described Wizzit as a mobile banking solution whose motto is “banking the unbanked”. Wizzit has no opening fees, and though it’s linked to a bank account, the customer doesn’t actually need to go to a bank. Richardson discussed the challenge of recruiting new customers, which is largely through word of mouth. If people don’t have bank accounts, it’s hard for them to conceptualize electronic banking. It can be difficult for the unbanked to see the benefits to mobile banking, but according to Richardson, the advantages are many – it’s risky to carry cash, the account doesn’t get closed for inactivity, and it’s pay-per-transaction. </p> <p>“12 billion rand is under mattresses in South Africa,” said Richardson. “If we take this out, the impact on the economy would be enormous.”</p> <p>Political economy researcher Alex Comninos, who focuses on Sub-Saharan Africa, also pointed to the potential for mobile banking’s growth. He said there are far more people in South Africa with mobile phones than bank accounts. The unbanked often think that because they don’t have regular income they can’t have a bank account. Many people have no collateral – in South Africa, many live on land they don’t own - and no transaction histories. Due to poor infrastructure, banks can be inconvenient.</p> <p>Comninos added that many current m-payment solutions, though unlikely to draw in the unbanked, are useful to the currently banked. The mobile phone adds a new channel by which the banked can do their banking. They use m-payment solutions mainly for larger transfers.</p> <p>Turning to future possibilities for m-banking, Comninos said that many in Africa use airtime as currency. The ability to use airtime as currency only works with a network effect – it needs wide acceptance. Right now, remittances from abroad are mostly received from bank accounts, not through mobiles. </p> <p>Comninos concluded that the unbanked will only use m-banking services if there are no transaction costs and if doing so is convenient. He said, “Serving the unbanked profitably and sustainably requires a radically different approach than regular banking.”</p> <p>Tonny Omwansa of Strathmore University in Kenya and Research ICT Africa then discussed interesting usage of m-transactions. According to Omwansa, among small and medium enterprises (SME’s) in Kenya, slightly over eight out of ten transactions are in cash. There is a positive correlation between teledensity and quality of life indicators. In African countries, teledensity in is as high as 60%, or as low as 20%.</p> <p>Omwansa described how M-PESA works. People visit agents who load e-value on their mobiles. They can then transfer to anyone across the country. People can also go to an agent who can withdraw cash for them. In Kenya, 93% are aware of M-PESA.</p> <p>Omwansa noted that in Kenya there is a swapping of virtual currency between Zain,, and Telkom Kenya. A cashless society exists through airtime plus virtual currency.</p> <p>SME’s in Kenya are making use of M-PESA. Most SME’s in Kenya using M-PESA also have bank accounts. M-PESA is liquid, flexible, acceptable, safe, and reliable. M-PESA has also had an impact on microfinance institutions. Members send virtual funds to their group leader, and group leaders give the funds to the microfinance organization.</p> <p>In terms of remittances from abroad, and allow people in the diaspora to electronically send purchase vouchers for specific goods and services to relatives and friends in Africa.</p> <p>Omwansa asked, “How can we make mobile banking into an ecosystem that connects banks, postal systems, rural banks, MFIs, employers, and international donors? We need interconnections between mobiles, money, and operators.”</p> <p>Jonathan Donner of the Technology for Emerging Markets Group, Microsoft Research India, spoke next. He does user interface prototyping for low literacy users. He has done a lot of thinking about people with low literacy and how they can use m-banking. </p> <p>According to Donner, “There is no universal m-banking experience.”</p> <p>He went over the regulatory structures of m-banking, which include ‘know your customer’ (KYC) regulations that financial institutions must perform and anti-money laundering regulations.</p> <p>Donner said the user experience of m-banking must consider the agent network, user languages, texting norms, and fee structures.</p> <p>“People have ways of moving money already”, said Donner. “Money is moved through pawnshops, post offices, and even busses.”</p> <p>Donner feels that studying use is crucial. Use is socially embedded, and the context is important. The same act regarding a family member or friend is different. There are different notions of lending versus giving versus paying. Is mobile money a wallet, a box, or an envelope? There are different ways to wrap a ‘gift’ of digital money transfer. Donner suggests that NGO’s look at use to write better questions about what they mean by impact.</p> <p>He stressed that often with social mobile projects “we don’t yet know what we want the impact to be” whether it is aggregation, fundraising, new lending models, or crowdsourcing.</p> <p>M-banking can be used for person-to-person (P2P) transfers including remittances or disaster response; payments such as utility bills, airtime, microfinance, and loans; disbursements such as payroll, government benefits, or NGO operations; and incentives for health or education.</p> <p>Richardson added that big banks perceive m-banking doesn’t meet their revenue models. Innovation often comes from outside of the industry. Since banking is highly regulated, the barriers to entry are enormous. Doing m-banking requires marketing, education, changing behavior, and growing trust. It’s a margin business, so volumes are needed.</p> <p>Omwansa said that M-PESA is now integrated with ATM’s – a user can send an instruction and receive money from an ATM. He added that there are three main models for m-banking- the technology-led model, the telecom-led model (such as M-PESA), and the bank model, which is based on creating another channel for existing business.</p> <p>Jesse Moore of the GSMA Development Fund says that telecoms care more about transactions than income when thinking about m-banking business opportunities. They are stepping in as transaction agents. Lending is also evolving from mobile transactions – but it’s an extended road.</p> <p>Comninos concluded that for users, m-banking advantages include a safer way to carry cash, a way to track savings, and formal integration into traditional banking as the next step. Wizzit, for example, now has a student loan.</p> <p>Donner pointed out, “Don’t get hung up on the word ‘bank’.” Look at the social and cultural impact of these new transactions. Let users design the systems.”</p> <p>A negative of m-banking is that cash in/cash out is difficult because of regulatory issues. Will m-banking providers become punitive like others? Should that lead to interoperability?</p> <p>Moore said there is “a different model with m-banking – users can easily switch, or change SIM’s.”</p> <p>From a cultural standpoint, m-banking provides amplification effects – people do more of what they’re already doing; and change effects – for example, women can control savings more.</p> <p>Comninos said the negatives are “spending too much time in front of the phone” and more possibilities to spend too much.</p> <p>Richardson said that for users m-banking provides safety, convenience, and cheaper cost. And often ignored but crucial: m-banking has psychological benefit in that people feel part of larger financial networks.<br />A negative is that acceptance infrastructure can be problematic. Money flows from the educated to the low-educated.</p> <p>Donner said that m-banking may strain our inclinations to talk face-to-face. There could be family strains. M-banking may encourage families to live separately because it’s easier to transfer money.</p> <p>An audience member added: “In the early history of banking, central banks evolved because one could only redeem currency at the issuing bank and that caused rigidities.”</p> <p>Moore asked the panel: “What would you be an advocate for five years in the future?”</p> <p>Donner said, “We’ll see operator banks and third-parties understanding family dynamics better – the poor often move money around within the family instead of buying stuff.”</p> <p>Comninos said, “Transaction history is the starting point to educate people about finances. More web-based phones will allow more education.”</p> <p>Richardson said, “Big banks, Mastercard/Visa, mobile operators, and Western Union all have a vested interest.”</p> <p>Omwansa concluded, “We will see many players and applications developed -- there’s 12 billion rand under the mattress –- it’s about new money coming into a system.”</p> Livelihood & Economic Development m-banking m-payments M-PESA Market Access and Information Microcredit mobile banking mobileactive08 mpesa Tue, 28 Oct 2008 04:41:09 +0000 sharakarasic 9197 at MobileActive08: Critical Analysis of Mobiles for Social Change <p> Three hundred and eighty people gathered from all over the world in Johannesburg last week to discuss how mobile phones might be used for social and political purposes in developing countries. The event crackled with the kind of energy that happens when people gather on a topic for the first time. Russell Southwood, a prominent researcher and analyst in South Africa,  <a href="" target="_blank">looks at the issues raised by the event</a>. Excerpts follow. </p> <p> At the core of all this energy was a very simple notion. The technology device of choice for the majority of people in developing continents like Africa is the mobile phone. If you want to deliver messages to people or get them to respond then SMS or voice is an obvious route to go down.</p> <p>But mobiles are not just a delivery channel but are fast becoming a media in their own right. National consumer surveys in Balancing Act’s report African Broadcast and Film Markets showed that between 3-9% of respondents in a variety of countries named the mobile as one of the most used daily sources of information.</p> <p>But like the old Hollywood saying, there were only really five stories at MobileActive 08. These were identified by snappy tags like M-health or M-education: indeed, M- almost any development sector you care to think of. Well, there were actually eight areas of M-something: health, education, rural livelihoods (agriculture), governance (political campaigning), disaster warning and women.</p> <p>Mobiles are now being used to: send out bulk mailings to key target groups (nurses); mobilise supporters; poll people and gather data; to provide answers to enquiries; to offer information support for activities; and raise funds. The majority of this activity is based on the 160 characters available in SMS. In other words, it’s an instantaneous, wide angle media but you can’t say that much using it. But you can send several messages to overcome this limitation. However, as one-long time veteran of using technology for development in Africa told me:”Everyone knows how to use it and most people have access to it.”</p> <p>The sheer inventiveness of many of the different services was impressive. For example, I attended a presentation by Zimbabwe’s who used the call centre functionality of Asterisk to create Freedom Fone. This was designed to counteract the tight control of media in that country by allowing users to phone in and listen to short radio-style programming. In the example aired musician Thomas Mapfumo talked of a campaign of “tough love” towards the Government.</p> <p>The early pioneers of using mobiles for social purposes go back in Africa to the funding of the agricultural pricing service pioneered by Senegal’s Manobi in 1998. But like a lot of new development-based activity, the use of mobiles seems to operate in a memory-free present tense. The early precursors of this activity were those who gathered at the beginning of the millennium to try and use the Internet as way to break out of seemingly intractable development issues: technology would provide a magic pill that opened up new solutions. On the one side you had the wild-eyed (often American) tech enthusiasts and on the other side, the mumbling choir of African policy makers who seemed to want something called the Information Society. And somewhere in between were the development professionals who were trying to make sense of it all.</p> <p>The hopes for technology as a magic solution were dashed upon the rocks of a lack of infrastructure, a consequent shortage of users and the inability of the mumbling choir to remove the policy blockages to achieve the much-mentioned Information Society. The disillusioned and pragmatic headed in a number of different directions. Some of them moved from focusing on the Internet to thinking about how to use mobile phones. People like Peter Armstrong of One World who set up an SMS jobs service in Nairobi’s Kibera were part of this group... </p> <p>Unlike the initial world-changing promises for the Internet, those working with mobiles make more modest claims. Cell-Life which works in HIV-AIDS information says that missed appointments at Themba Lethu clinic in Johannesburg among the 9,000 patients using TxtAlert has dropped from 10% to 3%. SocialTxt which uses the 120 unused characters on the “please call me” message to insert calls to action about HIV-AIDS has driven an increase in people calling national helplines. One call centre reported that over two weeks 41% of users had accessed services following a campaign of this sort.</p> <p>These claims are merely illustrative of the various ways in which mobiles can change social circumstances favourably. Others included: using MIXIT to teach basic maths; mobilising protest by using SMS; “dating” agricultural growers with produce buyers using text alerts (TradeNet in Ghana); getting people to speak out against domestic violence (WOUGNET in Uganda); gathering data using Java-apps to create simple menus; weekly farming tips to farmers (CELAC project in Uganda); using a mobile phone on a table for conference calls with farmers; and many, many others.</p> <p>So whilst NGO professionals now make far greater use of PCs and the Internet in their work (according to the Worldwide Worx survey for 2007, 99% of South African NGOs use e-mail), there is a growing acknowledgement that mobile phones can be used effectively for wider communication. As Peter Benjamin of CellLife told me:”There’s a huge demand for information. Very good information already exists (in the HIV-AIDS field) and there are high levels of cell-phone usage. (For most of the people we want to talk to) e-mails and the Internet are from another planet. The mobile is the device in the hands of the majority and it can do interactions.”</p> <p>So if it’s such an obviously good idea, why can’t I name more successful, long-standing projects that have begun to change the fundamentals of communication or the lives of people? On the fingers of one hand, you have the aforementioned jobs service from One World and Safaricom’s M-Pesa service (which was initially funded by DFID through Vodafone) and errrr…that’s it? Readers may wish to write and tell me what a fool I am for forgetting to mention other long-standing projects but I doubt that I will find myself using the fingers of more than two hands.</p> <p>The immediate and seemingly reasonable response is that many of these projects are in their early stages. There did not seem to be a single project I spoke to at the conference that was not a pilot: in other words it will be funded for a year to three years and then may disappear. However, the early pioneers stretch back further and few have found their financial feet or scaled up in such a way that they have made a significant major impact. Indeed one might ask: with so many pilots around, when are we going to see some flying?</p> <p>An uncomfortable circle of circumstances involving what the service is, who might use and how it is funded chases its own tail to no little or no effect. You need scale to demonstrate effect. Scale takes time and money to establish. SMS itself in Africa did not spring out suddenly newly-formed with millions of users, it took time to develop. With certain notable exceptions, donors and foundations are keen to seed but do not take a long view.</p> <p>Impact only comes with scale. A few hundred users is hopeless, a few thousand users is promising, a few hundred thousand users is suggestive and over a million means you’re actually getting somewhere. For complex systems, like agriculture, you need to have “critical mass” across several countries. Faced with the daunting cliff of “scaling-up” or “rolling-out”, some in the development community go squishy and start saying things like cultures are different and things work differently in different places. But whilst this is undoubtedly true, these are what we know technically speaking as “excuses”.</p> <p>Mobile phones and the practice of using them differs from country to country but that hasn’t stopped them rolling out in every country in the world. The same will be true for services on mobile phones and their use as media: ways will be differ but certain things will be the same and the challenge is to make it so useful that people can’t fail to want it.</p> <p>It’s not about technology, it’s about what makes people’s lives easier. The big abstract concept areas of development (like health) may sound important and “do you good” but they have to fit into how people lead their lives and their sense of priorities. For as Mark Davies of TradeNet (who wrestles with the complicated issues affecting farmers) said:”It’s all about understanding the agents of change and that’s anthropology not technology.” People in development all too often think they know what’s good for people and for all the rhetoric about “bottom-up approaches” simply fail to observe what people are saying or doing.</p> <p>To be fair, that listening process is not as simple as it sounds. Gary Marsden of University of Cape Town ran a session that looked at the important relationship between potential users and developers. The design community’s version of “bottom-up” is “user-centred design”: the user becomes part of the design team in a warm, humane Scandinavian version of co-creation after you show them a prototype.</p> <p>The real difficulty faced by developers, according to Marsden, was that the potential users had no familiarity or conceptual framework to make a useful input. To use an analogy, it would be a bit like showing a pre-automobile, horse-rider a car and asking for design input. Why are there no stirrups? One Mexican group simply watched closely the intended users making use of the tools provided and used paper to sketch out what might happen with them.</p> <p>But this observation probably applies better to more complex apps for computers or menu-driven apps for mobiles, not SMS. But even with SMS simple design flaws can upset the process. One application for data collection using SMS involved using the hash key as separators but the hash key was different when the phone was in SMS mode for some users. From my own experience, African users want to be helpful and will often consciously or unconsciously simply mirror back what the project’s initiators want to hear.</p> <p>The conference had a session on “sustainability” which is one version of development-speak for: how will it pay for itself?...  In truth, there are only three broad, long-term answers and none make very comfortable listening for those who want these projects to succeed. The user pays, the Government pays or as with other media, a sponsor or advertiser pays. There is an interesting sub-set of the user pays which is political issues and the campaigning that goes with them: Greenpeace Argentina can use phone calls to find supporters and ask some of them for funds to pay for this work. If it’s important to you and you want it enough, you’ll find a way of paying for it.</p> <p>The development sector usually assumes that if people are poor, then a service will need to be “free-at-the-point-of-delivery”: it costs money to have the service but it comes out of general taxation. But at one level poor people are not so different from the more well-off. The Orange Foundation ran a scheme in a poor part of Mali’s capital Bamako. Mothers would bring their babies to be weighed and the weights of the babies would be mailed to a paediatrician. He or she checked their progress and if and when weight progress fell below a certain level, advice or medication would be provided.</p> <p>There were 300 subscribers paying US$1.05 a month and by any description this is a health insurance scheme. As with using mobile phones, the poor will pay for what they really value. Therefore one challenge is to produce a service that they really value and large number can afford to pay a small amount for: Safaricom’s M-Pesa has 2.5 million users because it is a service that is really valued by its users. No capacity building workshops were run to help users, they taught themselves based on the service’s marketing information.</p> <p>There will be some services that cannot be commercialised because they are simply a public service: these will either need to be fundraised for or ultimately become part of the budget of Government. For the latter, the justification for spending will be two-fold. It communicates more effectively with a group of people and/or it is more cost effective. So for example, collecting data electronically is challenging but almost certainly quicker and cheaper than its paper and physical collection equivalent. But for African Governments, it implies overhauling a sclerotic and often inert civil service by moving money out of existing ways of doing things into new more effective ways of doing them.</p> <p>In terms of advertising and sponsors, the level of activity needs to be at a critical mass to attract interest. Praekelt Foundation’s use of advertising slogans on Call Me messages can reach 13 million people daily in South Africa. But for only 120 characters, the few thousand dollars they charge per million users seems reasonable. Nevertheless nw advertising media take time to establish themselves.</p> <p>But whatever the challenges and limitations of using mobiles as a media, this one will run and run as all those involved wrestle with different ways to make it work. </p> <p>The full article by Russell is <a href=" " target="_blank">here. </a></p> <p>Photo courtesy of our excellent colleague at Rhodes University,  <a href="" title="Link to jmathurine's photostream"><b>jmathurine</b></a> </p> Advocacy Citizen Media Community Organizing Democratic Participation Disaster & Humanitarian Relief Education Environment Health Livelihood & Economic Development mobileactive08 russell southwood Fri, 24 Oct 2008 16:45:55 +0000 KatrinVerclas 9192 at The Meek Shall Inherit the Web -- via their mobiles, no less <p>MobileActive is a member of a new <a href="" target="_blank">working group on the 'mobile web' for social development</a>. (Discloure: we underwrote a recent event in Brazil of the group). Now the Economist has <a href="" target="_blank">written</a> a piece on the working group. Here are some excerpts and some thoughts and critiques of this effort.</p> <p>The Economist states the case: </p> <blockquote><p>".. the number of mobile phones that can access the internet is growing at a phenomenal rate, especially in the developing world. In China, for example, over 73m people, or 29% of all internet users in the country, use mobile phones to get online. And the number of people doing so grew by 45% in the six months to June—far higher than the rate of access growth using laptops, according to the China Internet Network Information Centre.... It is not just China. Opera Software, a firm that makes web-browser software for mobile phones, reports rapid growth in mobile-web browsing in developing countries. The number of web pages viewed in June by the 14m users of its software was over 3 billion, a 300% increase on a year earlier. The fastest growth was in developing countries including Russia, Indonesia, India and South Africa."</p> </p></blockquote> <p>There is more and more data on this and the numbers are indeed impressive.  A recent <a href="" target="_blank">report by Nielssen</a> found that the BRIC countries -- Brazil, India, Russia and China -- show some of the fastest growing rates of mobile Internet access, primarily for entertainment.  The graph above show mobile web growth rates and while many regions are not seeing as impressive a growth rate as Asia, growth is consistent across the developing world - at least until the end of the first quarter in 2008. Admob has a mobile web ad tracking report every month and <a href="" target="_blank">notes</a> that "Mobile Internet usage is growing across Africa, with particularly strong growth in Nigeria and Egypt. AdMob has seen traffic increase 21 percent since the company began tracking the Africa market in Q1 2008."</p> <p>It is interesting to note, however, that with rising food prices, phone useage and particularly expensive data services will see slowing growth rates. For Africa, mobile web use is already slowing in the second quarter of 2008. </p> <p>The Economist again: </p> <blockquote><p>"Jim Lee, a manager at Nokia's Beijing office, says he was surprised to find that university students in remote regions of China were buying Nokia Nseries smart-phones, costing several months of their disposable income. Such handsets are status symbols, but there are also pragmatic reasons to buy them. With up to eight students in each dorm room, phones are often the only practical way for students to access the web for their studies. And smart-phones are expensive, but operators often provide great deals on data tariffs to attract new customers.</p></blockquote> <p>While this may be true for emerging mega-markest like China, most countries in Africa are not providing any deals yet as the markets there are not nearly as saturated. Web pages eat about 1 MB of data and a five-minute YouTube clip can gobble up about 3 MB. A combination of Web video and surfing several times a day can easily be 8 or more MB. With expensive and opaque data costs across much of Africa, mobile data is still very much beyond the price capacity of most users -- including NGOS.  </p> <p>Telcoms in Africa are realizing that value-added services are their competitive advantage as competition and penetration rates increase.  One Office, a service from Celtel, for example, allows subscribers in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to access Internet services for a flat fee whatever their location.</p> <p>At the end of 2007, a colleague in Kenya <a href="/mobile-web-not-helping-developing-world-and-what-we-can-do-about-it-guest-writer-nathan-eagle" target="_blank">published an article on</a> that noted eloquently that the mobile web is not ready for development and that it is a fallacy to focus on it.</p> <p>Nathan Eagle wrote: </p> <blockquote><p>The phones that are designed and marketed for the 'developing world' today aren't data enabled, they have no browser or any ability to function as a traditional data device. We're dumping hundreds of millions of devices into these regions that are essentially crippled - and their legacy (the average life span of a phone in Africa is many times that of it's Western counterpart) will affect mobile internet usage in these regions throughout the next decade. Furthermore, in the small Kenyan village where I live it's significantly less than 1 in 10 phones that can support the traditional 'mobile Web' experience, and it's probably closer to 1 in 1000 phones that have ever successfully connected to the web. Most of the phones I see in the village were originally manufactured well before 2003. (The most popular selling phone in my village is an old Ericsson that stopped being made back in 2001.) The local mobile operators should take some blame as well - many simply don't have the equipment or expertise to role out a data network on top of their rapidly expanding GSM net. It took me over 10 days of phone calls with my local Kenyan operator to get my phone activated for their new EDGE network. Most people I know give up after the first couple of hours of configuration. And that's assuming they actually have the right phone... </p> </p></blockquote> <p>Costs are still too high today and handsets too old for the mobile web to be anything but an add-on and out of reach for most people and NGOs in most of the truly poor coutries of the world.Given this, should we then not focus much more on applcations that are possible now and can reap immediate benfit?  </p> <p>The Economist goes on to its next point:  </p> <blockquote><p>"For the W3C, M-PESA and its ilk [mobile payment services ] are harbingers of far mor sophisticated services to come. If mobile banking is possible using a simple system of text messages, imagine what might be possible with full web access. But it will require standards to ensure that services and devices are compatible. Stéphane Boyera, co-chair of the new W3C interest group, says its aim is to track the social impact of the mobile web in the developing world, to ensure that the web's technical standards evolve to serve this rapidly emerging constituency. The right approach, Mr Boyera argues, is not to create "walled gardens" of specially adapted protocols for mobile devices, but to make sure that as much as possible of the information on the web can be accessed easily on mobile phones." </p></blockquote> <p>However, in is report from the 2006 meeting of the consortium, the group itself said: </p> <blockquote><p>While everybody agreed on the great opportunity during this event to gather people working on new technologies, and people with field expertise and experience, it is clear that there is still a gap between these two communities in terms of the potential of the technology, and the reality of needs and usage on the field....It is very important not to forget the real goal of providing ICT in developing countries. The point is not at all to connect people to the Web but to provide services (health, banking, government service, education, business,...) which would improve the life of people in developing economies. Using mobile phones as the support for services is clearly considered the right way to go. However, using the Web and Web technologies as the software platform for developing those services is not yet a reality."</p> </p></blockquote> <p>At the next meeting in 2008, the group <a href="" target="_blank">noted:</a> </p> <blockquote><p>"Many governments are still not considering the potential of the mobile platform, and therefore are not providing the appropriate regulatory context that would trigger or facilitate the development of mobile services. It was acknowledged that the regulatory context, and the requirements governments put on mobile operators could be either an enabler or a barrier. It is therefore essential in the future to explore the type of regulation and policies which could serve as an enabler. For that task, it will be essential to involve both Government representatives (federal and local) and specialists in regulation and policies, which were barely represented in the workshop." </p> </p></blockquote> <p>So what are then exactly the goals of this working group?   While we think that better coordination and collaboration among NGOs and other players is critical -- a point noted repeatedly during the workshop and a major goal, of course, of <a href="" target="_blank">MobileActive08,</a> our event in Johannesburg in October, costs and policy are two issues that, in many ways, trump the approach for mobile web standards the issue that is W3C domain expertise.  </p> <p>More importantly, the definition of what the Mobile Web Iniative is talking about the 'mobile web' is not clear.  The W3C group seems to conflate other services that are, for example, stricly SMS-based in its charge.  However, in that case standards - that what the W3C as an industry consortium is good at -- are not really needed, they exist already. As do 3.5 billion phones that are able to text now.  It would behove us all to be very clear in defining what we mean by mobile web versus mobile apps to strategically harness resources and expertise and collaboration where there is actually traction, activity, and where focused efforts make sense -- all driven by what mobile users in target countries actually do (as opposed to Western wishful thinking).   </p> <p>Nathan Eagle again:</p> <blockquote><p>This is why we're building the mobile web experience using SMS and Asterisk (voice) based applications across East Africa. Taking content from the internet (via rss feeds, text crawling, etc) and piping it to users via SMS isn't a new idea - but it's one that is exponentially growing in the developing world. In Kenya there are countless SMS-based applications that provide subscribers with a different mobile web experience: helping people find jobs, keep up to date with sports scores, get weather information, find a date, get information about commodity prices, etc... All content we expect from a mobile web-experience, but now it can be accessed on any phone in Kenya. I don't believe it is wrong... to hype the potential of the mobile web in the developing world; however I am doubtful that forcing inappropriate, expensive, and fragile technology on these billions of mobile phone users is realistic or beneficial. Instead, I believe we need to start thinking about how to leverage the existing infrastructure of phones present throughout these regions to serve as portals to the internet for the masses.</p> </p></blockquote> <p>We believe that the goals of the W3C consortium  -- collaboration, resources, and community -- are good ones, though they are not exactly in the domain expertise of a group that is focused on standard development and comprised of industry and academics with no NGO activey at the table, currently.  </p> <p>We encourage better definition of what is meant by "mobile web" versus other "mobile services" and a more crisp discussion about how this broad charge fits into the work of the WC3. We also encourage better NGO representation and hope to bring this to the table.  </p> <p>To that end we again invite key leaders from the group to MobileActive08 where many of the stated goals are being advanced with hundreds of NGOs at the table where we will have discussions with key stakeholders on mobile applications, areas of strategic focus, and the mobile web - much more narrowly defined. We hope to see the Mobile Web Consortium there! </p> <p> </p> Communications Access and Infrastructure developing countries economist Livelihood & Economic Development mobile web Mon, 08 Sep 2008 16:56:23 +0000 KatrinVerclas 9135 at What is the M-PESA of Mobile Health? <p><a href="">Mobile banking</a> has been touted as such a wild success story for one simple reason: mobile phones have penetrated the market in rural areas of developing countries in the last five years more successfully than traditional banks have been able to over the past 100 years. You can travel to any remote village just about anywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa and it is rare that you will find a bank; far rarer that you will find an ATM. (I remember waiting three and a half hours to use an ATM once in Namibia.) But you are guaranteed to hear ringtones.</p> <p>Once banks realized that basic financial transactions (deposit, withdrawal, payment, check balance) can all be done over a mobile phone, they <a href="">understood</a> that the banking services they offer can finally reach customers in places where just a few years earlier they had never dreamed of doing business.</p> <p><a href="">M-PESA</a>, a mobile banking program of Safaricom in Kenya, allows cell phone subscribers to send payments using SMS messages. Jim Rosenberg who manages <a href="">CGAP's technology blog</a> notes that the majority of the M-PESA's 2.3 million registered users are migrant workers who send back money to their families based in rural communities. For example, a young construction worker from Bukura now working in Nairobi might deposit 10% of his weekly pay into his mother's M-PESA account. She will then receive a text message letting her know that a deposit has been made and she can then walk over to her local general store to withdraw the money. (How to send and receive money using M-PESA is explained <a href="">here</a>.) Thanks to M-PESA, banking has now arrived to Bukura.</p> <p>This week I am at <a href="">Rockefeller's Bellagio Center</a> in Italy with 25 or so representatives from the mobile phone industry, the healthcare sector, and philanthropy. They have all <a href="">gathered</a> here for a week to think deeply about what is essentially a single question: What is the M-PESA of mobile health? Or, to put it another way, just as mobile banking brings financial services to customers without banks, how can the mobile phone help bring healthcare to patients without hospitals?</p> <p>Over the next few days I will be interviewing some of the participants here to get a better understanding of the current state of <a href="">mHealth</a> and what future applications might be developed on mobile phones to improve health care in the developing world.</p> Bellagio Communications Access and Infrastructure eHealth Health kenya M-PESA mhealth mobile health Rural Issues Safaricom Tue, 29 Jul 2008 22:50:02 +0000 dsasaki 9106 at SMS as Information Channel in Post-Election Kenya <p>Post-election violence has exploded in Kenya in the wake of the December 27 presidential elections. Ethnic killings -- which today's <a id="-" title="New York Times" href="" target="_blank">New York Times</a> suggests may have been carefully planned -- have increased, and estimates of the death toll range from <a id="bxbt" title="650" href="" target="_blank">650</a> to over <a id="khn4" title="1000" href=",,2-11-1447_2253814,00.html" target="_blank">1000</a>. In the midst of this, people both in and outside the country are using mobile phones in innovative ways to communicate political knowledge and circumvent the media blackout.</p> <p>In the days after the election, the Kenyan government <a id="onut" title="banned all live radio and television broadcasts" href="" target="_blank">banned all live radio and television broadcasts</a> and <a id="g5am" title="warned Kenyans about circulating news via SMS" href="" target="_blank">warned Kenyans about circulating news via SMS</a>. “The ministry of Internal Security urges you to desist from sending or forwarding any SMS that may cause public unrest. This may lead to your prosecution," read an SMS message that Global Voices editor <a href="" target="_blank">Afromusings</a> received via Kenyan operator Safaricom. However, SMS has still been widely used to exchange news, and according to <a id="ynj." title="Reporters Without Borders" href="" target="_blank">Reporters Without Borders</a>, "news was now circulating mainly by means of SMS messages." </p> <p> Independent media organization <a id="bx" title="Kenya IndyMedia" href="" target="_blank">Kenya IndyMedia</a> has been interviewing people via mobile phone, for example. The organization sends airtime via mobile banking service <a id="m8r3" title="M-PESA" href="" target="_blank">M-PESA</a>, which the interview subject then uses to call an IndyMedia reporter. The interviews -- many of which are personal stories of the way that individuals' lives have been affected by the violence -- are posted on the <a id="oxq4" title="website" href="" target="_blank">website</a>. As Nancy Scola wrote on <a id="uzkn" title="WorldChanging" href="" target="_blank">WorldChanging</a>: </p> <blockquote><p>In partnership with an <a href="" target="new">Illinois IndyMedia branch</a>, Kenya IndyMedia solicits contributions of either cash or airtime minutes from not only within East Africa but from around the globe. Text messages with sufficient minutes attached are sent out to potential interview subjects, who then ring up one of IndyMedia's reporters. With the interview recorded, either John or a fellow activist then trudges over to one of Nairobi's cyber cafes. Paying about $1 an hour for Internet access, they're interviews are posting posted online for all the world to hear. Some of these SMS-enabled recordings have appeared on the Kenya IndyMedia website. Others are now airing on international radio.</p></blockquote> <p>A website called <a href="" target="_blank"></a> -- Ushahidi means "witness" or "testimony" in Swahili -- allows people to report post-election violence in Kenya <a id="x6ia" title="via SMS" href="" target="_blank">via SMS</a> or email. The information then appears on a Google mash-up on the website and is verified and utilized by NGOs. A <a id="vr.q" title="report" href="" target="_blank">report</a> from January 20 reads,</p> <blockquote><p>mobile telephone with relatives in this area have informed us that they slept outside for the last two days and tonight various houses are being burnt by men with arrows. the police are not able to help because they move in large numbers as large as 30men who vandalise and steal livestock and burn houses. security is not provided because it appears that the police are overwhelmed by the incidents</p></blockquote> <p>According to <a href="" target="_blank"></a>, Safaricom and Celtel customers can SMS their report to short code 6007. Normal text messaging fees apply.</p> <p> Other blogs and online forums, such as <a id="qeof" title="Mashada" href="" target="_blank">Mashada</a>, have been accepting <a id="svj8" title="SMS comments" href="" target="_blank">SMS comments</a> about the post-election crisis. However, as <a href="">Joshua Goldstein</a> points out, the majority of Kenyans don't have Internet access to view the comments submitted via SMS. "While these innovative SMS tools are allowing more people to contribute opinions and information, none of them can directly reach the majority of Kenyans, who need Internet access to see the posted messages," he writes. Twitter provides an alternative, as no Internet access is needed to view responses. Twitter channels like <a id="pcxw" title="KenyaNews" href="" target="_blank">KenyaNews</a> and <a id="hoze" title="afromusings" href="" target="_blank">afromusings</a> provide frequent news updates and reflections from Kenya for people in the US and UK.</p> <p>If you hear of other news channels utilizing SMS and mobile phones, please leave a comment!</p> africa citizen journalism citizen media Citizen Media Citizen Media citizen reporting Communications Access and Infrastructure Crime, Safety, and Victims’ Issues Disaster & Humanitarian Relief Human Rights Monitoring kenya m-payments m-reporting mobile Political Parties, Politics sms election Voting and Elections Mon, 21 Jan 2008 17:46:05 +0000 CorinneRamey 8924 at Is mobile fundraising the next frontier for charities? <p>The numbers speak for themselves: There are currently 236 million cell phone users in the U.S. – an astounding 76% penetration. In December of last year alone, 18.7 billion text messages were sent — up 92% from 9.7 billion in December 2005. Estimates for this year are topping 195 billion text messages sent in 2007. That is 600 million text messages a day.</p> <p>Needless to say, fundraisers and nonprofits are salivating at the potential of reaching all of these people where they are, at the moment they are moved by a cause, and when they are able to GIVE – with their thumbs. </p> <p>Mobile fundraising for worthwhile causes are indeed beginning to make headlines. So what is the truth behind the hype? What can fundraisers and nonprofits promoting a cause do and expect as results, and what creative ideas have gone untapped so far?</p> <p>In America, the most visible and widely publicized campaigns have been so-called premium SMS campaigns (SMS refers to text messaging) have been those for disaster relief, notably the Asian Tsunami and more recently fundraiser for Katrina victims and those of the California Wildfires. Mobile customers of participating mobile carriers could send a text message to the short code "2HELP" (24357) containing the keyword "Help" to make a tax deductible donation to the American Red Cross' relief efforts. Short codes are often referred to as the “mobile URL” – short, five digit codes or even vanity codes that customers can text to receive information or participate in a campaign. </p> <p>These donations via premium SMS then appear on customers' monthly bills or are debited from prepaid cell phone account balances.</p> <p>The city of New Orleans tried a different route: they worked with PayPal which has a <a href="" target="_blank">PayPal mobile</a> option to raise cash via text and online. The ‘Text to Give” campaign was slated to raise $1 million but the actual amount raised fell far short of that goal. </p> <p>Amnesty International and UNICEF have experimented with mobile Paypal as well. Donors simply text the word “AMNESTY” or “WATER” to a short code to receive a link to donate $10 to their chosen organization. However, a potential donor needs a PayPal account to make for a smooth and quick transaction and even then there is a multi-stepp process that may deter potential donors. </p> <p>At <a href="" target="_blank">Text for a Cure</a> you can make a donation and get messages from breast cance survivers. But the site <a href="" target="_blank">reveals the actual cut for the charitable effort</a>: for a $5 dollar donation, the amount received by the charity is only $2.10; that is, more than half is eaten up by various charges.</p> <p>Premium SMS is the easiest way to raise money over the phone by billing charges to the customer’s bill but it has clearly shortcomings for nonprofits. The initial idea by the carriers – through 3rd party vendors -- was to sell entertainment, and not causes. Maintaining a short code is expensive --$500.month for a basic short code and about $1,000 for a vanity short code if you want to maintain your own code. However, to make this process easier, many mobile vendors maintain short codes and up-charge their nonprofit customers a small portion for the use of a shared code. </p> <p>The other drawback is the limit that carriers will let a group donate via premium SMS, currently capped at $10. Carriers also hold the money for PSMS donations up to two months before releasing the funds – once the customers’ bill is paid. </p> <p>Lastly, the carriers take a substantial cut of the donation – as much as 40% to 50%. There are several mobile vendors who have been – for a year now – tried to change this to allow for much reduced charges for legitimate charitable purposes but so far to no avail. It is worthy to note that the carriers waived their fees for the Red Cross relief campaigns. </p> <p>So what is an enterprising nonprofit to do? How can the ubiquity of mobile phones be leveraged for a just-in-time contribution when a potential donor is inclined to give – say, when seeing a particularly effective advertisement or appeal? Even though premium SMS is only marginally viable for micro donations and to build a mobile list (and should not be underestimated for this purpose), there are other ways in which nonprofits can think creatively about integrating cell phones into fundraising campaigns. </p> <p>Internationally, there are many clever examples of innovative fundraising campaigns: </p> <p>• <a href="" target="_blank">Meir Panim</a>, a network of soup kitchens in Israel, recently ran “SMS for Lunch”, a promotional interactive campaign: On their website a boy was seen, facing an empty plate. The site invited you to donate through SMS. The moment the system received the SMS, the banner changed: the plate filled and the boy smiled. The amount of the donation -- each SMS -- covers the cost of one meal for a child, according to the site. <br />• In Australia, a special exhibit called <a href="" target="_blank">“The Human Zoo”</a> - an experiment which places humans in animal zoo enclosures – allowed visitors <a href="" target="_blank">to vote by text messaging</a> for their favorite human beings with the proceeds of the premium SMS going towards the construction of a new enclosure (with animals, presumably).<br />• Amnesty UK is experimenting with a digital wallet, a service of a mobile company called <a href="" target="_blank">LUUP</a>. Using LUUP allows more money and in larger amounts – up to £800 - to go to the human rights organization instead of the network operators.</p> <p>In addition to LUUP and mobile payment providers like mobile PayPal (which is very cumbersome to use for a potential donor), organizations are experimenting with mobile Internet sites, also called WAP sites, where people with WAP-enabled phones can interact with the charity and make donations as well as purchase ringtones, games and wallpapers. </p> <p>Others, such as the <a href="" target="_blank">New York Philharmonic</a> are selling ringtones for use on increasingly multi-media phones on their website. Mobile content is a useful awareness-raising and, to some extent, fundraising tool but most nonprofits will have a hard time generating the PR or viral ‘buzz’ to create significant volume of sales to make it worthwhile and developing and providing mobile content which can be technically challenging. </p> <p>The times are changing, however, and mobile payment services will become increasingly available, and not just in Japan or Africa where mobile payments are easy and fast. <a href="" target="_blank">M-Pesa in Kenya</a> is one of the better known m-payment services that allows mobile pre-paid customers to transfer airtime between phones. In fact, airtime is de facto currency in an increasing number of countries, and, as such, is a potential source of revenue for local NGOs. Tourists before leaving the country, could, for example, be encouraged to donate what is left of their airtime to a local cause. </p> <p>In the United States, <a href="" target="_blank">Obopay</a> allows a user to authorize payment from a pre-paid account via SMS. Similarly, one can imagine authorization via SMS for a credit card on file, especially when the information of the donor is firmly integrated with the NGOs customer relationship database. With Visa (and already Western Union) entering the mobile space with a vengeance, mobile payments are not far off in the United States.</p> <p>The most promising way to raise money right now using mobiles is probably the old-fashioned way – by using the VOICE feature of the phone. The Edwards presidential campaign, through its vendor <a href="" target="_blank">Mobile Commons,</a> sent everyone on its mobile list (those individuals that had opted in to receive text messages by signing up at events or on the Edwards website) an SMS asking participants to listen to a special message from Elizabeth Edwards. Those that made the call (15% of recipients on the mobile opt-in list) were then directed – after Elizabeth’s appeal – to press 1 to be connected to an operator to make a donation. About 10% of those 15% did -- with an average donation of $120. </p> <p>While the sample was small in this case, interactive voice response systems activated via mobile and phone donations show definite promise and can motivate a person to give (and considerable amounts just in the moment he or she is engaged in a cause – and without having to forfeit small proceeds to a wireless phone company. </p> <p>Lastly, two other mobile fundraising ideas with a bit of a twist: “A number of companies now run schemes to collect old handsets, selling them on – often into developing markets – and then passing on the revenue to the participating charity. In countries with mature markets, handset recycling can be a useful source of additional income for non-profit organizations, particularly those with large membership bases (such as Oxfam, who have raised over $600,000 through their UK-based handset recycling scheme). Companies such as Lifeline For Africa in the USA, and Fonebak in the UK, collect and make these handsets available to non-profit organizations.” (hat tip to Tactical Tech.)</p> <p>Similarly in America, Working Assets is offering <a href="" target="_blank">charity-branded handsets</a> and mobile plans to sell and promote to an organization’s members. Both Amnesty and the National Wildlife Federation are <a href="" target="_blank">offering their own phones and plans through Working Assets Wireless, now called Credo Mobile.</a> Working Assets gives 10% of the cost of the calls to the given charity. </p> <p>It a mobile revolution and nonprofits are well advised to pay attention to it – for campaigns, for keeping constituents and members informed and engaged, and most definitely for fundraising. </p> <p>Photo credit <a href="" target="_blank">Adrian MB</a></p> Advocacy charity Citizen Media Democratic Participation Disaster & Humanitarian Relief Education Environment Fundraising Health Livelihood & Economic Development mobile mobile fundraising mobileactive premium sms sms Thu, 29 Nov 2007 19:27:11 +0000 KatrinVerclas 8861 at Upwardly Mobile In Africa and India: Economic Development and Mobiles <p>We are starting a series of articles on mobile phones in economic development this week and to kick it off, Business Week in its current issue published a few interesting summaries of the state of affairs in mobiles in economic development. This apparently just to make it easy for us to get MobileActives around the world up to speed!</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Upwardly Mobile in Africa</a> describes farmers in Kenya using mobiles to bring their products to market and mobile payments using the Keyan mobile payment system M-Pesa. The article describes <a href="/directory/practitioner-0" target="_blank">Grameen Foundation's Village Phone Program</a> that we will be featuring in our next article that is expanding into Uganda in collaboration with the local carrier MTN where there are now 13,000 Village Phone Operators renting out a mobile phone with the help of microcredit and discounted airtime. </p> <p>The article points out the high cost of mobile calls and the cultural artifacts of 'flashing" or sending a "call-me-back" message to another person to avoid an expensive call or SMS and of SIM card and phone sharing as well as switching back and forth between carriers, depending on who offers a deal.</p> <p>For those who ahve been following these trends, there not much new here and there is no discussion whatsoever of mobiles in democratic and civic participation and advocacy, topics we here at MobileActive are particularly interested in, of course, and where the mobile revolution is equally as pertinent. </p> <p>In the same issue of Business Week, <a href="" target="_blank">Online Extra: India's Cell Phone Ride out of Poverty</a> in the same issue describes small entrepreneurs and business owners in India and how they are using mobiles to increase their earning power. </p> <p>A much more comprehensive and very engaging report on India is the <a href="" target="_blank">Mobile Development Report</a> by the <a href="" target="_blank">Center for Knowledge Societies</a>. We'll be interviewing the author on the key findings later this month, but it is a must-read for anyone interested in mobiles in development in India.</p> <p>Also, check out the famous Robert Jensen study on the now proverbial economic success of fishermen in Bangladesh upon introduction of mobiles in their small businesses. "Economists have long emphasized that information is critical for the efficient functioning of markets,” Jensen writes in “<a href="">The Digital Provide: Information (Technology), Market Performance and Welfare in the South Indian Fisheries Sector</a>.” And yet “questions such as how much market performance can be enhanced by improving access to information, how much society gains from such improvements, and how those gains are shared between producers and consumers remain largely unanswered.”</p> <p>In India, “the benefits of ICTs can be found among fishermen or farmers, not just software engineers or call-center workers,” Jensen writes. This is not an isolated case. “In fact, it has become increasingly common to find farmers, fishermen, and other producers throughout the developing world using mobile phones, text messaging, pagers, and the internet for marketing output.”</p> <p>In the ongoing debate over the digital divide, “many critics argue that investments in ICTs should not be a priority for low-income countries, given more basic needs in areas such as nutrition, health, and education,” says Jensen. “However, this argument overlooks the fact that…for most of the world’s poorest, living standards are determined largely by how much they get for their output.”</p> <p>Read the journal article <a href="">here</a> and stay tuned to much more to come this month on how mobiles are changing the economic lives of people around the world. And with economic empowerment often comes political empowerment. The mobile revolution is alive and well. </p> <p> </p> <p> </p> <p> </p> africa business week Communications Access and Infrastructure Livelihood & Economic Development mobile economic development mobile phones mobileactive Tue, 18 Sep 2007 17:17:08 +0000 KatrinVerclas 8716 at Mobile Phones and Social Activism - An Ethan Zuckerman White Paper <p>Ethan Zuckerman has written a solid overview of mobile phones in international activism. It is re-posted here under its Creative Commons license. For additional resources, see also the <a href="/guides" target="_blank">Strategy Guides</a> on using mobile phones in elections, advoacy, and fundraising. </p> <p>From <a href="" target="_blank">Ethan's blog My Heart's in Accra:</a></p> <p>"If you ask a US-based activist the most important technical development of the past five years, they’ll likely tell you about the rise of citizen media, the use of blogs and web community sites to disseminate information, organize events and raise money. Bloggers helped make Howard Dean a contender for the democratic nomination for president in 2004, and many of the people involved with his online campaign have gone on to develop increasingly complicated software, helping support efforts towards Congressional transparency as well as political organizing. Because blogs were such a visible manifestation of political discourse, they’ve been extensively <a href="">studied</a> and <a href="">reported on</a>, which leads to a sense of the importance of these media for the campaign’s impact. </p> <p>Ask an activist from the developing world the same question and you’ll get a different answer: the most important activist technology of the last five years is the mobile phone. The reasons for this are simple - for most of the world, mobile phone penetration vastly exceeds internet usage. (<a href="">In China in 2005</a>, there were 350 million mobile phone users, and 100 million internet users. In sub-Saharan Africa in 2004, there were 52 million mobile phone users and approximately 5-8 million internet users.) While analysts in the North talk about users receiving information on three screens - the computer, the television and the mobile - users in the South are usually looking at two screens, and users in rural areas of the South are looking at one: a mobile phone that might be shared by all the residents of a village.</p> <p>Market estimates suggest that there are over 2 billion mobile phone users in the world today, heading towards <a href="">3.3 billion in 2010</a>. The parts of the world where mobile use is growing the most quickly - the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia are markets where the mobile isn’t a replacement for existing land-line technology, but is allowing people to have a personal communications channel for the first time. <a href="">97% of people in Tanzania</a> reported that they could have access to a mobile phone - their own, a friend’s or one they could rent - as compared to 28% who could access a land line. <a href="">(A map of mobile phone coverage in Uganda from MTN</a> gives you a sense for how thoroughly some nations have become connected via wireless technology.)</p> <p>The only technology that compares to the mobile phone in terms of pervasiveness and accessibility in the developing world is the radio. Indeed, considered together, radios and mobile phones can serve as a broad-distribution, participatory media network with some of the same citizen media dynamics of the Internet, but accessible to a much wider, and non-literate audience. <a href="">Interactive Radio for Justice</a>, a participatory radio show in the Ituri region of the DR Congo uses SMS to let listeners ask questions about justice and human rights to a panel of Congolese and UN officials, who answer the questions over the air. </p> <p>The questioners to Interactive Radio for Justice are anonymous. The producers ask callers not to identify themselves for fear that some pointed questions - “Are soldiers allowed to stay at my house and eat my food without paying for it?” - may lead to retribution. In general, the anonymity of mobile phones is one of the key reasons they’ve been so useful to activists. In the US, we consider most mobiles to be highly traceable - generally, mobile users have a phone number associated with a permanent address and a credit card. But mobile phones in most developing nations are sold on a pay-as-you-go basis. Some countries require registration of a phone’s SIM card using a validated ID, but most don’t, either for the SIM or for “top-up” cards. As a result, it’s not difficult for an activist to have a single phone with multiple SIMs, one which is closely correlated with her identity and one which might be used to send messages to organize a protest or promote a cause.</p> <p>Anonymity makes these protests unusually difficult for police or other authorities to block. “Smart mobs” of activists, brought to demonstrations by text messages, have led to political change in <a href="">the Phillipines</a> and <a href="">the Ukraine</a>. In 2001, SMS messages about political corruption helped turn the tide against Joseph Estrada, and led to SMS-organized street protests and Estrada’s eventual ouster. (Filipino activists have organized subsequent text-based protests, many focused on lobbying for mobile phone user’s rights. The organization <a href="">TXTPower</a> started as a consumer rights’ organization and has now become active in broader political protest.) SMS messages in Ukraine helped mobilize tens of thousands of young demonstrators in the streets of Kiev in late 2004 to protest election fraud and demand a revote.</p> <p>In both cases, calls to take to the streets spread organically - virally - with recipients forwarding the messages to multiple friends. Blocking the ability of a single phone to send messages would likely do little to stop the spread of the message. (Activists have discussed the wisdom of using <a href="">SMS gateways</a>, web-based services which can send SMS messages to hundreds or thousands of phones. An argument against using gateways is the fact that they are single points of failure that could be blocked by a government anxious to stop the spread of a smart mob message.)</p> <p>To stop virally-spreading messages, concerned governments might order SMS networks shut down. Some Belarussian activists <a href="">reported shutdowns of the SMS network in March 2006</a> to prevent activists in Minsk from making contact outside the capital and encouraging Belarussians in the countryside to come into the city. Similar accusations come from Ethiopian activists, who report that SMS was blocked during election protests in June 2005. Concerned about political text messages, the government of <a href="">Cambodia declared a two-day “tranquility” period</a> before governing council elections, shutting off SMS messaging and prompting accusations that the blockage was an unconstitutional limitation of speech. Observers from the National Democratic Institute report that<a href=""> the Albanian government attempted to block SMS</a> throughout their network for a week before recent elections.<a href=""> Iran may have blocked SMSs sent from Internet gateways</a> as a way of preventing “defamation” of candidates prior to elections in late 2006.</p> <p>The Shanghai police have tried another technique for <a href="">controlling SMS-spread demonstrations</a> - they used SMS messages to warn potential protesters away from anti-Japan street protests. (The technique was a mixed success - the message from Shangai police was so ambiguously worded that some recipients took it as encouragement to protest.) Belarussian authorities attempted something similar during the October Square protests, sending <a href="">SMS messages warning potential march participants </a> about their health and safety if they appeared at marches, stating that “provocateurs are planning bloodshed”.</p> <p>In smart-mob scenarios, mobile phones function as an impromptu broadcast network - if activists had access to radio stations with sufficient footprint, they could achieve similar goals by broadcasting information about rallies over the airwaves. Other activist uses of mobiles take advantage of the ability of mobile owners to create content as well as forwarding it. Activists with the pro-democracy Kefaya movement use mobile phones and their cameras to document demonstrations and other news events, including <a href="">a government crackdown on Sudanese protesters in Cairo</a> - they call, text or use MMS to send messages to the administrator of the Kefaya blog, which compiles reports into blog posts much as a newroom turns field reports into finished articles.</p> <p>A dispersed group with mobile phones - especially mobile phones equipped with cameras - becomes a powerful force for “<a href="">sousveillance</a>“. Coined by Dr. Steve Mann, “sousveillance” refers to the monitoring of authority figures by grassroots groups, using the technologies and techniques of surveillance. The use of mobile phones to monitor the 2000 presidential election in Ghana is a good example of sousveillance - voters who were prevented from voting used mobile phones to report their experience to call-in shows on local radio stations. The stations broadcast the reports, prompting police to respond to the accusations of voter intimidation. Had voters called the police directly, it’s possible that authorities might not have responded - by making reports public through the radio, voters eliminated the possibility of police announcing that there had been no reports of voter intimidation. Similar techniques have been used in Sierra Leone, Senegal and even in the US - American voters used mobile phone cameras and websites to record reports of voting irregularities during the 2006 congressional elections.</p> <p>Sousveillance has a way of trapping authority figures, even when they’re the ones holding the cameras. Egyptian blogger and activist Mohammed Sharkawy was beaten and sodomized while in police custody - <a href=",,2031198,00.html">his tormentors filmed the incident</a> and threatened to humiliate him by posting the video on the Internet. The video, posted at sites like YouTube, has now become a document demonstrating the brutality of Egyptian police, leading to criticism by the US State Department of Egypt’s human rights record. In a future where most citizens carry cameras with them at all times and have the ability to spread them phone to phone, or by posting them to a website, there’s tremendous potential for sousveillance to serve as a check to people in power. (Needless to say, there are hundreds of more worrisome scenarios made possible by the same technology, including noxious phenomena like “<a href="">happy slapping</a>“.) </p> <p>Mobiles are powerful because they’re pervasive, personal and capable of authoring content. An intriguing new dimension emerges as they become systems of payment as well. Kenyan mobile company Safaricom has introduced a new system allowing mobile phone users to send money to other users of the network - it’s called <a href="">M-PESA</a> and has moved from pilot to full-scale implementation rapidly. Once Vodaphone, Safaricom’s international partner in the project, makes it possible for people outside of Kenya to deposit money into the network, it’s likely that M-PESA will become a major tool for remittance as well as for cashless payment. Activists armed with M-PESA-type phones could do more than organize a dispered protest - they could fundraise, making it possible for groups of activists to fund the travel of an activist to a protest or the cost of leaflets. Similar projects, like <a href="">Wizzit</a> in South Africa, suggest that mobile banking is likely to become widespread in countries with a large “unbanked” population. </p> <p>These mobile payment systems have a high degree of centralization and identification - M-PESA users have to register with Safaricom with a government ID. But other emerging payment via mobile systems look more like <a href="">hawala</a>, the informal money transfer system used through much of the Middle East and South Asia. Nokia anthropologist <a href="">Jan Chipchase tells a story about Ugandan mobile phone users</a> and a system called “sente”: A caller purchases mobile phone airtime cards in a major cities, then calls his home village - he reads the recharge codes to the person in town who owns a mobile phone, giving her the credits to use. She enters the credits into her phone (validating the transaction), then gives a large percentage of the value of the credits to the person of the caller’s choice, usually a member of his family. Systems like this allow for virtually untraceable money transfer, unless phone card vendors are forced to check identification before selling phone cards. </p> <p>Finally, it’s worth remembering that the powers unleashed by the mobile phone can affect all sides of a political situation. Protests organized by SMS helped unseat Joseph Estrada in the Philippines and bring President Gloria Arroyo to power. When Arroyo found herself embroiled in <a href="">a corruption scandal</a> involving tape recordings of phonecalls to voting commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, one of the tools activists used to spread information was a ringtone. The ringtone featured a snippet of dialog between Arroyo and Garcillano and rapidly became one of the world’s most downloaded ringtones and spawning <a href="">over a dozen remixed versions</a>. The personal nature of mobile phones makes them the perfect venue for protest, even if the protest is as innocuous as having your phone chirp “Hello Garcia?” in the President’s voice every time you get an SMS. What the mobile giveth, it can taketh away."</p> <p>Photo courtesy of <a href="" target="_blank">Esthr.</a></p> Advocacy Citizen Media Democratic Participation developing countries Disaster & Humanitarian Relief Education Environment Fundraising Health Livelihood & Economic Development mobile activism mobile advocacy mobile campaigns mobile phones mobileactive sms activism Wed, 09 May 2007 20:42:33 +0000 KatrinVerclas 8644 at