An MVP for Africa: Adapting Poverty Solutions to New Continents and Contexts
Editor’s note: This post is the fourth in a series that explores the way in which the Graduation strategy, a program that helps families in extreme poverty “graduate” into sustainable livelihoods, is changing the lives of millions of families – and how Fundación Capital is changing and adapting the program to reach even more people. The first post can be seen here, the second, here, and the third, here.
We know that the world is coming together to end poverty. And we’ve talked about how Graduation programs have the potential to play a big part in this through proven methodologies.
Now comes the question: How do you take what has proven successful in one context, and adapt it to another? While we at Fundación Capital have explored this question within and between countries in Latin America, we have also spent the past year seeking answers in Tanzania and Mozambique. Noticing the success of our programs on the other side of the Atlantic, policymakers in Africa expressed an interest in bringing these programs to their countries, and we answered the call.
Currently, we are working with governments in Tanzania and Mozambique to adapt Graduation methodologies to their specific needs and contexts, and integrate them into national social protection policies. In Tanzania, one part of this work is redesigning our digital tools, especially APPtitude, a mobile application that teaches entrepreneurship concepts and strategies to populations in extreme poverty, using stories, games and real-life examples to guide them through a series of training modules. We’ve had to adapt these tools to meet the needs and questions of not just a new language but a whole new culture and context.
All of our digital tools, and all of our programs, undergo extensive evaluations, adjustments and iterations when translated to a new country. Moreover, it is crucial to understand the problems and potentials of each new context and population, since these are at the heart of any changes or new inventions. Whether it’s what the illustrations in the APPtitude modules look like, what the stories talk about, or how the local government programs are structured, everything needs to be considered and adjusted.
In all of our work, we use iterative and inclusive methodologies to co-create innovative solutions. Our methodology starts with listening and learning, to develop an in-depth, firsthand understanding of the needs, ideas and challenges of the people we work with. Beginning with a pre-design phase, we use ethnography, semiotics, experimental economics, an evaluation of needs, and/or a range of other quantitative and qualitative methodologies to understand the demand, characterize the population, and work to generate new ideas and new adaptations.
These insights then inform the design phase, where we use roundtables, hackathons and other methodologies to align objectives, evaluate the concept, and design instruments and tools. This culminates in a proof of concept, where we test ideas and get insights to improve the user experience and work toward implementation of a pilot project. For example, in evaluating the proof of concept we ask: What are participants actually learning (and is it what we were trying to communicate)? Is the form (e.g. the graphic line, the tone, the examples) working? Do participants feel like they are represented and reflected in the lessons that they see in the tool developed?
If all these questions are satisfactorily answered, we move on to the pilot phase, where the rubber meets the road – or, more accurately, the tablets or smartphones meet the fingers. Here we are testing the new program or tools in the field through pilots and accompanying process evaluations. This allows for real feedback that can help to decide whether, and how, to adjust the idea before scaling up (or, sometimes, going back to the drawing board). When a pilot is successful, and adjustments have been made, we then move into a scale-up phase, working to reach more individuals and families, and measuring and evaluating the impact.
‘Entrepreneur’ in Swahili is …
In Tanzania, we started by going out to talk to smallholder farmers about their lives, their needs and their situations. We talked to government agencies about their programs and the needs they had identified, to the private sector about the options available, and to other organizations about their programs and their experiences. We set up exchanges, sharing knowledge between Latin American and African partners to talk about lessons learned and new opportunities.
All of these inputs are now going into a new APPtitude storyline, to help these farmers learn about financial education and entrepreneurship in a way that they can recognize and identify with. There are new illustrations, so that the people and the settings in the application speak to the lives and contexts of program participants. There’s a new language, so that the stories are understandable to the predominantly Swahili-speaking population. And there’s much more.
What exactly do these changes look like? Well, for one, users in Latin America prefer realistic illustrations, but given the popularity of cartoons in East African media, we decided to test both realistic and cartoon illustrations of the same scene. Within Tanzania, we thought it was important to research the acceptability of illustrations on a nationwide basis; most of the population is Christian but Zanzibar has predominantly Muslim communities, so our illustrators were tasked with developing characters from the mainland and Zanzibar to test with users.
We are a year into this work, and will be taking the first module of the new application – our Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – out to the field in the weeks ahead to see what users think. In this round of testing, we will use tablets to show the designs and stories and to give the actual look and feel of the characters. That’s an evolution from our first days of testing in Latin America, where potential illustrations were printed on posters and taken to the field for feedback.
A Minimum Viable Product and Beyond
This is the next piece of our work; iterate, and then iterate again. All of our work involves testing ideas and iterations with those who will actually use the product.
We are not just working with Tanzania. We have other programs under way in Mozambique and, starting in West Africa, are exploring conversations with more countries in the region. In each case, we bring our experience and lessons learned, sitting together to co-create solutions that can leverage technology at scale. And we’re developing MVPs for each one, because it is only together that we can reach the scale to truly bring an end to poverty.
Illustrations courtesy of Fundación Capital