The scale of technology has increased tremendously in the last 13 years. From an internet speed of 1 mbps/ person, we are now at 1000 mbps/ person/ month. This has led to the emergence of a host of technology and technology empowered solutions.
However, technology, by itself, is not useful to the BOP. Above the oft-heard murmur of challenges in infrastructure and access impeding technology reaching millions, technology needs to be designed, customized, extended and packaged to serve real needs of the BOP customer. At a recently panel discussion on ‘Technology Empowering Millions’ at the Impact Forum, the following emerged as focus areas for tech to be useful for the market it seeks to reach:
1. Multi-functionality, not form or access is a tech product must-have
When contemplating technology and products for the BoP, the first question that arises is ‘What aspects are truly considered must-haves?’ As it turns out, it’s not price, form or accessibility but multi-functionality that is the most important for BoP consumers. An example of a product that combines various applications is the mPowerPad by Third Wave Power. Consisting of a solar panel with a battery system and interchangeable cassette, it can transform into a Wi-fi receptor, eye diagnostic tool for glaucoma and a charger for a cell phone or camera, amongst other uses.
2. Technology should help create new jobs
The road to inclusion through technology has three parts that go hand-in-hand – Catalyzing Impact Sourcing through early stage Impact Investing, skills training and creation of an enabling environment.
Addressing problems at scale mandates technology and financing coming together. Africa poses a unique problem – 50% youth unemployment, which leads to social unrest and dislocated. The traditional university degree is replaced by the need to move up the value chain, without the time, money or inclination for formal education. In parallel, a new spurt of technical infrastructure growth is sowing the seeds for a new model in education. An organization that has capitalized on this growth to set itself a lofty target is Digital Jobs Africa. It is an initiative by the Rockefeller foundation that aims to create 1 million jobs in the next five years in Africa, riding on Information and Communications Technology. Their model is Impact Sourcing, a growing segment of Business Process Outsourcing that creates employment opportunities for high potential but disadvantaged youth in emerging countries. The creation of these opportunities is done by companies such as Digital Divide Data, that utilizes youth in Kenya and other countries to provide quality data management services.
Closer home, enterprises like Head Held High and Rural Shores are taking jobs to the rural youth and providing high quality knowledge management services for global information outsourcing needs.
Courtesy: Nokia Life
3. Subscription models can create BOP jobs AND widen reach
Technology is an easy enabler of business model innovation. It creates a new series of “jobs” – that of village entrepreneurs – whereby a villager buys a device or technology and uses the pay-per-use model to sell or lease the service to the rest of the village. Combined with the concept of “Micro-Packaging” (or breaking down services or products into affordable packets), the reach of a technology is multiplied manifold.
Lumeter is a company that has changed the way electricity is delivered, by offering pre-paid off-the-grid electricity solutions. They first place an electricity meter in each house in a village. Based on a villager’s affordability, he then purchases activation codes for the meter from rural agents – who are typically shop keepers. The electricity itself is provided by a village entrepreneur who operates a micro-grid, which could range from a simple 40W Home System all the way up to utility companies providing systems of 100kW.
4. True empowerment happens when technology informs
A fundamental enabler of empowerment is access to information, and that’s where the full power of technology can and should be harnessed. Nokia Life uses the omnipresent mobile network and capitalizes on the penetration of its low-end phones in rural areas to deliver information services in education, health, entertainment/news and agriculture. It has already scaled up to 95 million users in China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and has launched recently in Kenya. Success stories include farmers who charge better prices due to information access to trading prices in neighbouring areas, and better crop yields due to cultivation methods learnt through the Nokia Life system.
As Dexter of Kalibrr, an online training social enterprise, puts it, “Success of any enterprise is based on POST– People, Outcome, Strategy and Technology. The order is important – technology always comes last. The very first things to know are who you are building for and the outcome that you want to achieve”.
Author: Kavitha Karthikeyan for The Alternative.
The Alternative is an online media publication focused on sustainable living and social impact.