Smartphone Means Social Enterprise in Africa
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
What if I told you that Africa’s mobile revolution is at the centre of the continent’s social enterprise? That they are using their mobiles to do things that we in the West are only starting to think about. As apart from the usual of phones being used to text, talk and make mobile money transactions; the mobile networks are also being used to spread key information about farming and healthcare to isolated rural areas exposed to the costs of disease and drought.
In Africa, where a billion people use only 4% of the world’s electricity; it has inspired phone developers to create mobiles that are more resourceful in order to forge a new culture of social enterprise. Mobile phones carry huge economic potential in undeveloped parts of Africa, and this was supported by a London Business School study conducted in 2005 which found that for every additional 10 mobile phones per 100 people in a developing country, the GDP rises by 0.5%.
The microfinance organisation, the Grameen Foundation has started to look at and use mobile phones to make a difference to farmers in Uganda. It has started a social enterprise scheme which rents smartphones to local farmers who are chosen for their command of English, community standing and entrepreneurial spirit as well as their technological know-how. These farmers receive information about seasonal weather reports, planting advice, market prices and also pass the information on to their neighbours and community. The Foundation in turn also gathers information from the farmers they register and feed it back to Grameen in Kampala, who shares the data with agricultural organisations and food programmes.
The Foundation calls these ’social enterprise farmers’, Community Knowledge Workers (or CKWs). After training the CKWs to use smartphones, the Grameen Foundation pays them a performance-based wage averaging at about $20 per month via MobileMoney, a mobile money transaction service. So far, Grameen has trained 500 CKWs in 32 Ugandan districts, reaching more than 20,000 households, or 100,000 people. Sean Krepp, Grameen’s Uganda Director says, “We’re aiming for a million and we’re looking at scaling this to several other countries.”
However, working with and using mobiles has its challenges…there’s the unreliable network coverage within the remote areas of Uganda; or the test of keeping smartphones charged in villages that do not have electricity is another. Yet, in spite of these hurdles, the Grameen social enterprise programme appears to be working and it has plans to expand beyond Uganda’s borders; it has the promise to benefit and improve other critical areas such as education and healthcare. The smartphone is fast becoming a treasured resource bringing real difference to the people of Africa.