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6 Ways to Reach Rural Woman via Mobile Phones Even If They Do Not Own One

By Guest Writer on March 4, 2016


In order to reach rural women through mobile technology, they need to be able to access phones that work at the precise moment you are trying to engage with them. This isn’t always easy.

While some women have their own phone, many find themselves in a range of different sharing situations, giving them partial access. Even those who are phone owners experience issues like poor network, no electricity and expensive credit that can restrict their ability to use the phone.

Despite these challenges, actions can be taken on your end to better accommodate the range in access that rural women tend to have, to ensure your program is accessible to them. This third blog in the series concerning rural women goes into detail with recommendations and reasoning.


1. Allow rural women to reach you on their own time by including pull content, or incoming call capabilities, in your program

If you allow a woman to call in to access the content she can call when she feels it is convenient. This could be when she is with her son who has a phone and just after the phone has been charged. Without being able to call in, she may not have had access to the phone when the content was sent out, meaning your information never made it to her.

Some services are also more powerful when accessed at a key time. For example our partners HNI have a service called 321 that was partially motivated by the experience of end-users who wanted to access information on diarrhea at 2am on the day they have it, rather than on the predetermined moment when it was convenient for the NGO field staff to tell them about it.

To ensure the content is free women should be able to flash in and be called back with the content, as incoming calls are free.

2. Make it easier for people to pass on the phone to the target audience, who may not be the primary holder of the phone

For IVR, consider providing an opportunity in the introduction for the phone owner to potentially go and get the target end user. One option would be to require a button to be pressed before continuing onto the content. This way, the phone owner could have time to go and get the target end user, and when she is ready, she would press the button and then receive the entirety of the content. A mix of this idea and the one above is to tell the phone owner to flash back in once the intended participant is present.

For SMS, consider including the user’s name in the content, so the phone owner knows to pass the phone onto the target end user. The SMS is helpful with shared phones as the target user doesn’t have to be around but can be passed the message hours or even days later when it is convenient. Another option: start with an SMS to signal the phone owner that he/she will soon get a call with IVR content, and so should go and get the target end user.

3. Send calls at a standard and convenient time

For ongoing initiatives, stick to a regular day of the week and time and send reminders so families can plan for the phone handoff in advance. You should work with participants to find out the exact timing that is ideal for rural women to have phone access. For more information on when it is most convenient, see this previous blog post.

4. Consider providing physical phones

To target users without access to a phone you could consider a solution that installs a phone in the community such as Question Box, who deploy public call boxes (think pay phones) in underserved communities. These physical installations allow for anyone in the community to access a program’s services.

If your budget is higher you could also provide phones to all of the end users to ensure they have access. Of course, this is only viable when the phone is a core part of the initiative.

5. If you know your target end users, group them appropriately by sharing status

Ask your target end users whether they are phone owners or not, and then you can group your subscribers by sharing status. This would be particularly useful for implementing the first two recommendations or having a service that is different for each type of user.

6. Use a technology solution that fits the context of poor network, low credit, often uncharged batteries and more

VOTO Mobile’s software makes it easy to resend calls automatically and on a fixed schedule to those who did not pick up either because it was a bad time or network didn’t allow. We also allow users to flash back to reengage with the content if the phone line cuts or even days go by before they recharge their phone. Our platform can even be set so that when the users flash back, they can resume where they left off. Finally, in many countries VOTO allows customizable sender IDs, so that it looks like the call is coming from a local or special number to increase pick-up rates.

Read the rest of this post and the others in VOTO Mobile’s Engaging Rural Women series by Hilary Stone

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