October 5

Kishor Nagula

Day 1 at SOCAP 10: A Visceral Response

“If the people focusing on the BoP don’t go beyond MFI to reach the SME, we’re SOL” – page 11 in the SOCAP brochure. Had I said something like that to my friends, they’d think I’ve been around too many highlighters. But here at SOCAP, with language like the sample above thrown around almost everywhere, I finally feel at home! The energy is infectious, the mood intoxicating, the people empowering.

In this entry, I’ll briefly touch on a few key points made during the sessions I attended and conclude with some closing thoughts that I’d like to open up to the NextBillion community.

The first session I checked out – Mobile Mojo: What is Aall the Buzz About – laid the groundwork for follow up discussions on the growth of mobile technology. The panelists. Katrin Vercias of mobileactive.org, Rachel Payne of Google, Mike Macharg of Simpa Networks, and Karen Doyle-Grossman of Mercy Corps, moderated by Ken Singer of Ondeego, were brought in to not only talk about their particular mobile product, but to discuss trends across the field and difficulties encountered thus far.

One of the themes that I observed throughout the day was the contrast between perception and reality. Under this particular session, the debate on whether to use SMS text message or a drop down menu like with USSD for information polling seemed moot – USSD costs too much and everyone knows how to text. But in reality, mobile phone users often use jargon specific to their region, so deciphering terms couldn’t be done. Additionally, colloquialisms like the Uganda phrase ’ go live’ lose their intended meaning when translated by external people (to those who don’t know, ’go live’ refers to having sex without a condom).

The next session that touched on the above theme was another mobile phone exhibit. Building the case: from idea to inception brought in Nigel Waller of Movirtu and Ashley Menger and Michael Cetaruk from Frog Design to discuss the idea of marketing and brand design for a product to the BoP. Movirtu is a mobile platform where a user can access all the benefits of a mobile phone (texts, phone calls, SMS, remittances, etc…) without owning a mobile phone through a unique identification. Phenomenal innovation with massive potential for success; in order to realize this vision, Nigel went to the team at frog design to help with the product design. (Editor’s note: for more on Movirtu, read this article from our Pop!Tech coverage in 2009)

Connecting to this theme of perception versus reality, both Nigel and the folks from Frog Design believed that, because of the living conditions of the BoP consumer, they would not be tech savvy. Surprisingly, as soon as the mobile phones were in their hands for the first time, they were aptly figuring out text message and quickly learning how to use Movirtu’s unique cloud-based platform. In the same vein, unlike the often impatient user at the top of the pyramid, consumers at the BoP – as observed by Ashley and Michael – displayed an unprecedented level of patience and commitment to understand the in’s and out’s of a product.

The last session I want to comment on is Where the Action Is: The Fastest Growing Industries & Markets (read Josh Cleveland’s preview post here) – ignited some questions I had about the field. As can be seen throughout this blog, poverty-alleviating business strategies abound South Asia and Africa, with some sprinkling in East Asia. But more often than not, the latest strategies and market based approaches to address the BoP have surprisingly not exploded in Latin America. Much to my disappointment, this region was not discussed… so for the readers out there, what business strategies have you seen that specifically address the BoP in Latin America?

More from SOCAP throughout the week.

conferences, product design, SOCAP