infoDev, a team within FPD, is committed to supporting promising entrepreneurs.
At infoDev, we’re fortunate to work with exciting technology startups in emerging and frontier markets every day. One of the questions we ask ourselves frequently is whether a startup team could achieve high-growth if it weren’t for the barriers they face that are specific to their local environments. These could include anything from a lack of experienced role-models and mentors, to inadequate early-stage financing, to challenging regulatory environments and the lack of an interconnected innovation ecosystem.
Wanted: Mobile apps for African agriculture (Credit: infoDev)
Today, there are close to 900 million mobile phone subscribers in Africa. Sixty-five percent of the continent’s labor force works in agriculture or related sectors and it accounts for 32% of the gross domestic product. Mobile innovations are already improving efficiencies in the agricultural value chain; research shows that grain traders with mobile application usage experienced income growth of 29% and banana farmers in Uganda saw their revenues go up with 36%.
The mAgri Challenge, a business competition, has been designed to identify and support entrepreneurs developing mobile apps for agriculture in Africa. If you have worked with mobile tech entrepreneurs in Africa over the last few years, you might be thinking: “Not another mobile apps challenge!” This ‘competition fatigue’ is not completely unwarranted. Too many quick competitions for mobile apps, which at first seemed cool and generated lots of attention, have left in their wake a pool of mobile entrepreneurs confused about the next steps they can take to grow their business.
With as many as 12 million mobile phone users, mobile is booming in Afghanistan (Credit: USAID, Flickr Creative Commons)
Afghanistan has made significant progress in its development since 2001. Yet, these achievements remain fragile due to a volatile security situation and limited human capacity. Of an estimated 30 million inhabitants, 46 percent is under the age of 15 and with high population growth, the country is experiencing a classic youth bulge. In addition, literacy rates remain at extremely low levels (approximately 43% for men and 12% for women).
It has become mainstream to think that digital technologies will have a significant role to play in addressing the financial inclusion challenge in developing countries. This may be so, but if all we in the financial inclusion community do is merely add the mobile phone (or the smart card) to our stock of dearly-held beliefs, we will accomplish little. Technology will not work additively; if technology-based models work it will be because they will have changed pretty much everything. I’m not saying that everything will change: I’m just saying that that should be the bet.
Note: This blog post is adapted from a much longer discussion by the author under the same title that was published at Tekedia on January 7, 2013. You can read that blog post here. Small sections of this article are identical to segments of the original article.
The problem in brief
Africa is experiencing a boom in entrepreneurship due to proliferating Internet and mobile computing technologies. Simultaneously African startups face the often life-threatening impediment of inadequate access to seed and early stage venture capital. Fortunately, a number of developments in other parts of the world point to the contours of an approach to solving that problem in a manner that necessarily starts out small, but that can eventually be scaled in a meaningful way.
Please watch Women Entrepreneurship to Reshape the Economy through Innovation in MENA, at the European Development Days live on Tuesday October 16 at 11:00 AM cet
Across the developing world, women business owners are far more prevalent at the informal and micro-scale than growth oriented small and medium sized enterprises. Women still face an uneven playing field in education, employment, earnings, and decision-making power.
The Middle East and Northern African (MENA) region faces its own particular set of challenges. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the development of strong economies and opportunities for both men and women to pursue a livelihood without barriers is integral to the future of the region. There is an enormous enterprise and job creation agenda to be fulfilled in the Middle East. A recent study by the OECD notes that today, only 27% of women in the region join the labor force, compared to 51% in other low, middle and high-income economies, and only 11% are self-employed, against 22% of men.
In recent years, mobile money has attracted sustained attention in ways that few other mobile services have. And for good reason: from East Africa to Pakistan, the Philippines and elsewhere, mobile money services are growing and diversifying into fields such as savings and insurance. Kenya-based M-PESA remains the global leader, and the benefits from increased market efficiency, consumer risk-sharing and third party utilizations are significant. But mobile money can no longer be considered an isolated phenomenon, and as it matures, a variety of new challenges and benefits will influence its developmental potential.
Although it is notoriously difficult to make predictions about such a fast-moving and wide-ranging industry, in the new edition of Information & Communication for Development 2012, we highlight some emerging issues in mobile money that will likely become relevant in the upcoming years.
OK, not exactly an App, but investors in Kenya will soon be able to buy T-bills and bonds offered by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), as agents of the Treasury, through their mobile phones (with or without a bank account)!
This innovative project, led by CBK, with the support of the World Bank, is known as Treasury Mobile Direct. It will aim to extend the use of mobile technology beyond money transfers and broaden the choice of savings products for retail investors. Potential investors will only need a mobile phone line and a subscription to a mobile money service, which will enable telecoms operators open an electronic account with the Central Securities Depository (CDSC) or CBK on their behalf. These accounts are a requirement if you wish to invest in Government debt. The service will include purchase, interest payment and redemption of securities (short-term paper and bonds) through the mobile platform.
“SRN: Smart Rickshaw Network” by Aadhar Bhalinge – a prolific technology developer from India – is the winner of m2Work, the mobile microwork innovation contest that infoDev and Nokia launched in February. The infoDev team has taken a closer look at his and the other five finalists’ backgrounds, and we found some helpful insights about new sources of innovation, their promise, and their needs.
To put these lessons in context, let’s take a look at the microwork ecosystem before m2Work. Microwork platforms, like Samasource and MobileWorks, were already connecting thousands of people in developing nations with jobs like moderating websites, tagging images and video, and so on. But these platforms were most useful for workers with access to computers with broadband, which are the exception rather than the rule in many regions.