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What are your favorite M4D interventions? Tell us so they can get funded!

By Wayan Vota on March 28, 2012

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a major retailer of technology in the USA. It is looking to grow its corporate social responsibility to focus on supporting information and communication technology programs in the developing world that use mobile phones and they want our help. They were seeking answers to two questions that I bet you have an opinion on:

1. What M4D programs should they be looking at?


They asked me how they could get their millions of customers involved in mobiles for development (M4D). They are initially thinking of having a fundraising drive where their customers donate to one or a few causes. Aggregated over their customer base, it would mean millions of dollars in new funding. But they are not sure which programs to support. Here is where you can help with answers to a few questions:

What M4D programs do you think are effective? Which ones are also attractive to American consumers? Do they have the capacity to absorb a large donation? How could a large donation effect real change in their impact?

From example, I was thinking of Yoza, which uses mobile phones to support reading and writing by youth in South Africa. Because there are more mobiles than books in most teenagers’ homes, Yoza proved to be a legitimate alternative and complement to printed literature and increased youth literacy practices of reading and writing. Yoza has a great potential to scale across the continent, even around the world. Most developing countries are book-poor and mobile phone-rich, after all.

2. What else could they do to support M4D programs?

Donations would be a first step. Overall, the company wants to get deeply involved with ICT4D. They want to directly involve employees and customers in programs, harnessing their excitement to go beyond donations in supporting real transformational development that leverages technology. But they are not sure what involvement would be best.

How can a large company support a M4D program beyond donations? How can that support involve employees? How would it increase employee motivation or satisfaction within the retail company? What other companies have similar, holistic supportive activities with development partners?

Going back to Yoza, I can see the company using its massive resources to make sure Yoza is available in every country. This could be talking with mobile operators to integrate Yoza in their service offerings, helping set up and maintain Yoza servers at multiple mobile phone operator headquarters, and getting employees and customers excited about creating and sharing mobile-formatted content.

Help me help them, and your favorite M4D program

Be sure to give your input in the comment section below. The technology retailer will be watching this post and reading the comments, and I’ll be using your input to give them further advice as their strategy evolves.

Also, this isn’t the only company that’s asked me which M4D programs they should support and how they can move their support beyond just donations, so your input will have a far-reaching impact.

Update: A major international donor just alerted me that they too are also following this blog discussion with interest to see what is worth funding. So get your ideas in now!


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Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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11 Comments to “What are your favorite M4D interventions? Tell us so they can get funded!”

  1. nelson Agyemang says:

    There is a Partnership involving Youth Development Foundation(YDF),Farmerline and Coalition of Farmers Ghana(COFAG).YDF is to provides counterpart funding, overall management and administration for the project, including reporting and contact with funders, Farmerline provides the Engineering, Systems design and development and technical delivery and rationality for the Project(including contacts with all mobile phone service providers in Ghana), COFAG gives Social mobilization of farmers, social marketing avenues through FBOs and rural links, demand driven content to the service, solidarity and ownership of the project as a farmer representative Organization, so that Farmers see this as their own. Three Top Farmer Leaders are involved in the drafting of this Concept note. There is an MOU, modus operandi, Partnership and Project Implementation Committees and governance structure among the partners for the purposes of this Project..This is aimed at at least 2,000,000 farmers mostly women.
    An SMS functionality that is to offer farming information and advisory services to farmers based on subscription. 2. An alternative voice service for the Majority of farmers who are illiterate.3. A web interface for farmers who have access to the web and have computers also on subscription bases. We build all these using freely available technologies and tools. This feature allows farmers to ask questions by calling a toll free helpline (short code). The extension officers are able to answer the questions via a web interface and answers sent to farmers as voice sms. Farmers are also able to browse through questions and answers by other farmers using the system. The voice-based feature (voice forum) also overcomes the difficulties faced by those unable to read or write, greatly improving their knowledge of good farming practices. Farmers are also able to browse through the set of questions asked by other farmers and answer them if they can. This complements the agriculture information provided by the experts (extension officer).

    The Voice Platform presents an approach different from all other services currently in Ghana, and becomes the centre of our business model with several unique features: Agro-businesses and related commercial entities can advertise to farmers using the voice forum, thereby complementing income levels for the project sustainability. The model includes in-kind payment mechanisms through COFAG, for farmers who want to pay their subscriptions with agro-produce instead of cash. The demand driven farmer-led approach of the model ensures Organizational sustainability of the project and control over the results of this project, being able to determine impacts based on subscriptions through the Farmer Networks. In order not to be flawed by the unhealthy competition existing between mobile service Companies, Our model uses all providers instead of only one or two. This also enables us to negotiate rates for our farmers across board and be efficient in price mechanisms. In future the system, using the voice mechanisms will be a useful tool for farmer power and farmer and rural rights advocacy for farmers to be at the centre of Agriculture and development policy instead of the current state in which their involvement is peripheral and tokenism. This will have more lasting results when they demand their rightful position at the centre of all National policy making and a fair share of the National cake as a matter of right, after all they constitute at least 12 million of the current National population of 24 million.
    Information provided are: Pricing and Market information, Transportation and distribution network of agro-produce, storage facilities, financing sources, agro-inputs, Climate and weather information, extension services announcements, cooperatives services, Services of Farmers Associations, agro-demonstrations, Agro-NGO services, agro-experts, agro-shows/fairs, agro-produce sellers, agro-processing plants, group marketing and group transportation services. Using mobile phone to increase access to expert agricultural information has the advantage of providing real-time support, and could be a more cost-effective way of distributing updates as well as complementing or reinforcing other sources of information that help farmers such as introducing new farming practices, securing better prices for crops and increasing the productivity of farms improves communities’ standard of living. It also helps to save farmers time, making it possible to supplement their income with other employment opportunities. Also, by analyzing the calls, the platform will help agricultural specialists and research organizations build a more accurate picture of the challenges rural people face and the trends in agriculture.

  2. Dickson Gachuche says:

    I think introducing Yoza in Kenya would be a great way for that company to help especially the youth.I am chairman of the Board of Governors of a secondary school upcountry and just last saturday 24th march we were discussing how to improve the reading culture in the school.

    The school has a population of 360 students. We have no library and considering that we have other priorities like toilets, dormitory and dining expansion for the boarders, water, a teachers house, school transport, the library is several years down the line. Many schools are worse off than us.

    It is also good to note that although the penetration of mobile phones is high,students may not have internet enabled phones and electricity for charging is scarce. The company may have to support the hardware side of Yoza.

    We would be happy to be assisted and to even pilot such a project instead of the more expensive laptops for schools project.

  3. Wayan Vota says:

    While I mentioned Yoza in the post above, there are a number of other programs in the mobile space that impress me, and I would put these 3 on a short list of ideas worth a deeper dive:

    – Tostan has come up with an intriguing way to teach basic literacy and numeracy, by tying it to the use of mobile phones, through their Jokko Initiative in Senegal

    – The Math4Mobile development endeavors to engage all students with mathematical ideas. It provides a collection of activities to support students’ mathematical skills, conceptual understanding, and creative mathematical thinking.

    Worldreader is working to put ebooks into the hands of one million children in the developing world by 2015 – with a huge focus on getting local books into digital format and delivered cheap/free to schools. This is in the context of very few, if any books in African schools today.

    More ideas can be found here: https://edutechdebate.org/tag/meducation/

  4. Hi Wayan,

    An interesting and timely post. Perhaps we are speaking to the same European donor … and U.S. company? (There are also a few new-ish foundations quite interested in this area as well.)

    One problem of supporting efforts in new or frontier areas is that often times people have compelling concepts or ideas, but no track record of implementation — or, alternatively, groups are experienced working in an OECD environment but wish to transplant their ideas, concepts or programs to a less developed country about which they know very litte. (Ideal, of course, would be finding an organization with a track record of introducing a successful innovation in this regard in one less developed country that could be funded to expand its actions to a country with a similar context.)

    Given my position here at the World Bank, it is probably not appropriate to recommend *specific* projects for funding. Instead I’ll offer a few areas where some interesting things are happening related to education which could perhaps benefit from some increased support. It shouldn’t be too difficult to identify a shortlist of worthy/leading initiatives, or people with very promising ideas, in these sorts of areas:

    – a project that supports increased literacy by making available compelling educational content to (already literate) young people in places where such content is currently in short supply

    – a project that supports efforts to help low-literate people develop basic literacy skills using mobile phones, especially using compelling, game-based approaches

    – a research project to pilot innovative uses of mobile phones to help reduce teacher absenteeism (perhaps linked to a mobile payment system)

    – a project to provide access to supplementary learning materials (linked to the existing curriculum) in mathematics via mobile phones

    – a national SMS-based helpline to support secondary school teachers with specific queries on individual lessons in the curriculum

    – existing, successful projects that offer information services in the education sector where an SMS-based component could be added to broaden/extend the scope of the project

    – a project to crowdsource information about use of school funds and the state of school infrastructure utilizing SMS

    (I would note parenthetically that South Africa has been a particularly vibrant place to observe innovative projects in this area, and that we do mention a number of interesting initiatives when we post about the use of mobile phones in education over at the World Bank’s EduTech blog)

    One approach that might be worth exploring would be to explore how mobile phones could come ‘pre-loaded’ with educational apps of these sorts, and/or to work with a mobile phone provider to promote a given mobile educational service or activity (perhaps linked in certain cases to special shortcodes) as a way to increase engagement with its existing customers.

    It will also be interesting to see if there are interesting proposals that emerge out of USAID’s Grand Challenge: All Children Reading that do not get funded, or only get funded in part.

    Good luck!

  5. Sarah says:

    There’s a mobile services company (created in the Middle East, but also active in East Africa, Haiti, Morocco, etc) called Souktel (souktel.org)that is doing really great work partnering with development orgs on M4D projects. They use text messaging to connect job seekers to employers in places where it’s a challenge to find work (ie. much of the developing world) and they also help aid agencies communicate with people who need help, and with their own staff in the field. Everything they offer can be accessed with a simple Nokia-type phone, so it’s incredibly effective in places with low internet access, but lots of mobiles. During the 2008 conflict in Gaza, for example, Red Cross/Red Crescent staff sent out emergency alerts to thousands of people asking for blood donations, and Relief International sent out text surveys asking how much food each family had left in their homes and what was needed urgently. Survey text responses come in instantly (and are accessible right away on a database) so agency staff can respond in time to make a difference.
    Since Souktel is used to working in conflict zones and developing countries, they can anticipate problems and adapt to tech requirements that change constantly. They’re even using voice response technology now so that low-literacy communities aren’t left out of the loop.

  6. Kevin says:

    Interesting opportunity, Wayan – thanks for the post.

    To start, I would recommend the company think carefully about their value-add in the space. What core competencies do they have, and how can that complement or improve ongoing work. For a retailer, that could very well be in improving the commercial aspects of the nascent technology communities in many countries. Benefiting from their business know-how is as important as the technological expertise. Some companies, especially in consulting, have CSR programs aimed at transferring this knowledge: could this company do similar, providing their expertise to M4D and mobile start-ups?

    Secondly, if they want to go the route of monetary donations, it could be interesting to look at Give Directly (http://givedirectly.com/). Although there are plenty of interesting ideas, this one has recently been of interest to me. There is strong evidence that cash transfer programs are developmentally beneficial, and the team (many of them academics) behind Give Directly are trying to use mobile money to expand the practice. It’s an early-stage idea, but one worth investigating.

  7. Inspired by Sesame Street, PBS Kids, Curiki and Hooked on Phonics, iLearn4Free created Smart4Kids; our mission is to enable non-english speakers to enjoy learning with digital, interactive activities.

    Smart4Kids is a literacy tool which can be used on mobile devices and computers. It has been designed to adapt to different languages, and its universal design approach enables us to reach out to many communities.

    iLearn4Free has 501C3 non profit status, and to be able to develop our application under more plateforms (like Android) and for more languages, we are looking for an impact investor or CSR funds.

  8. Darlington Kahilu says:

    Despite its potential, the agricultural sector in Zambia has performed below expectations. One of the factors that have been repeatedly mentioned as responsible for this dismal performance has been weak research-extension-farmer linkages.
    However, this is now a thing of the past as Zambian farmers are using their mobile phones to send questions on the problems they face in carrying out their farming activities and receive answers within shortest time possible.
    With financial and technical support from the International Institute of Communication for Development (IICD), the department of National Agricultural Information Services (NAIS) has developed an Internet based platform where farmers are able to use mobile phones and send questions on the most pressing problems they are faced with in their farming activities to NAIS and receive appropriate answers within the shortest time possible.
    This SMsize platform allows farmers to send their questions on mobile phones in form of SMS to the platform and receive answers to their questions.
    The platform is accessed by NAIS programme producers and agricultural specialists and other identified stakeholders so as to give appropriate answers to the farmers’ questions.
    Now that the platform has been finalized, the system will helping improve the feedback system between farmers, programme producers and the agricultural specialists in the Ministries of Agriculture and Livestock and other relevant agricultural institutions in the country.
    Each SMS on the system costs 900 Zambian Kwacha (US$ 0.18) and this will reduce the current expenses farmers are incurring to post or send their discussion report forms for possible solutions to their farming problems.
    The platform has been tried with farmers’ groups in Kasama district of Northern Province of Zambia (pilot area) located about 900 Km from Lusaka. Farmers were happy with the new platform and they see it as a tool that will help them bridge the existing disconnect between them and agricultural experts.
    The SMsize platform was recently introduced and demonstrated to the Permanent Secretary and all the Directors in the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. The idea behind this demonstration was to create awareness and allow policy makers in the ministry see how it works and so as to have management buy-in.
    Management was excited with this system and the Permanent feels the system has been developed at the right time when his ministry is faced with a serious challenge of shortage of frontline extension officers and promised to support the project by lobbing for cheaper rates for farmers to send SMSs which are currently pegged at K900.00 (US$ 0.18).
    The Platform is up and running and has since been launched by the Minister of Agriculture and Livestock.

  9. KUZA Doctor – Kenya’s 1st Mobile Farming Toolkit

    The Backpack Farm Team, an internationally recognized social enterprise continues development of Kenya’s 1st mobile tool assisting smallholder farmers to manage their production from ‘farm to fork’ in either English or Swahili. KUZA Doctor supports almost 2,000 smallholder farmers using the most basic mobile phones with critical knowledge to increase their rates of production and subsequent incomes while learning the value of local biodiversity and conservation farming.

    Our existing sms toolkit will soon be augmented with a more robust smart phone package including SIM card, content, phone and bandwidth costing less than $100 USD. The BETA version will launch to a trial audience of 1,000 farmers in August 2012. A nationwide launch will begin in late September 2012.

    The agriculture content has been developed by the Backpack Farm team, an expert social enterprise actively engaging with smallholder farmers in Kenya through a network of training farms. In addition, we provide a link to affordable finance through an existing partnership.

    Agriculture content will include:

    1. BASIC SMS CONTENT: Support 20 crops with 4 layers of interactive questions in more than 47 technical topical areas.
    2. FARMING 101: 7 Categories on Conservation farming with a large focus on water management including seven (7) different models for rainwater harvesting and the impact of drip irrigation.
    3. CROP MANAGMENT: Specific content for more than 32 different crops from primary production to harvest.
    4. THE EXTRAS: Aquaculture 101, Indigenous Chickens & Apiculture – Indigenous Honey & Processing
    5. CROP CALENDAR: Once a crop is selected, a farmer is promoted with tips and reminders about best practices.
    6. SME BUSINESS TUTORIALS: 3 unique courses designed for smallholder farmers to transform their current production into profitable business models.
    7. WHITE BOARD: Helping farmers connect to each other as well as to new markets

  10. Marianna says:

    I would like to mention here the Mobile for Reproductive Health (m4RH) program, which has been already successfully implemented in Kenya and Tanzania through the partnership between FHI360 and Text to change (TTC), since 2009.

    The program uses mobile technology to disseminate family planning information to the general population. For this purpose a custom Short Message Service (SMS) platform was designed by TTC and text messages content within the 160 character limit – related to specific contraceptive methods, their correct use, benefits, and side effects as well as other reproductive health information – were developed by FHI360.

    To access the m4RH system the user needs to text “m4RH” to a SMS free short code promoted through posters, palm cards and flyers.

    The program reached more than 13,000 mobile users from Kenya and Tanzania, but follow up researches had shown that these users, besides learning more from family planning methods, they also shared this information with their family and friends. This indicates that the actual impact is greater than the measurable numbers.

    The program is an example of a cost-effective way to inform – on a large scale – people via their mobile phones on family planning methods or any other educational purposes; moreover it’s perfectly scalable to other regions or countries.

    Because the work is done in transparent way, measurements of the results of the program can be easily followed by customers and employees during the whole process real-time. Another way to create involvement could be, for instance, the implementation of the same program within the employees of the company. This would allow the employees to experience the program themselves. They receive the same kind of text messages and can respond anonymously. Afterwards their results could even be compared to the results of the real program, making it more alive.

  11. Annie says:

    mWater (www.mWater.co) is a mobile phone-based social network that provides a crowdsourced, virtual water monitoring infrastructure to communities that currently lack this capacity. The new social enterprise is an Echoing Green semi-finalist and a current Knight Networks Challenge applicant.

    mWater offers health workers a cheap and easy water test kit that can be read with a mobile app. Additionally, the mobile app can be used by community members to find the location of working taps around them and the taps’ contamination status. mWater’s pro app can be used by researchers to conduct epidemiological evaluations of water and water seeking behavior over time.

    UNICEF recently announced that 89% of the world’s population now has access to improved water sources. Unfortunately, up to 30% of the shared public taps are contaminated at any given time. Now that the access problem has been largely achieved, the quality and contamination problem is the greatest hurdle to achieving a drop in infant and child mortality due to diarrheal disease. All over the world, mostly women spend hours a day collecting water for household use. Increasingly, these women have mobile phones. mWater is a plug-and-play water monitoring infrastructure for regions of the world that do not currently have the capacity to monitor their water.

    For more information, follow @mWaterCo on Twitter and mWater’s founders: @AnnieFeighery, @Rocketboy76, and @DeanZambrano