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I heart mobile


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There are lots of things about mobile I find fascinating, but none of them as much as its ability to deliver information and services to people who could never access them before. …

There are lots of things about mobile I find fascinating, but none of them as much as its ability to deliver information and services to people who could never access them before.

There are lots of examples of how mobile is being used to deliver health care, education, banking and information in developing countries. They demonstrate a deep understanding of technology
and local context, and they are a truly inspirational example that can help us create better mobile services for our own, "developed" world.

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  • Hi. I am Belen, and I love mobile\n
  • There are lots of things that I like about mobile, but my favourite one is its ability to deliver information and services to people who could never access them before. I am talking about people in developing countries and emerging economies, people in rural areas and with little resources.\n
  • Mobile is the most widespread technology in the world, and it has become a platform for delivering all kinds of services, from finance to health, in very innovative ways. \n
  • When I look at these mobile services from developing countries, it is clear to me that the people who create them know a lot about 2 things. The first thing these people know a lot about is the context in which their services have to operate. They know a lot about the problems that need to be solved, about the opportunities available (because yes, even very tough environments like developing countries have strengths), and they also know a lot about how people adopt and use mobile technology.\n
  • the second thing these people know a lot about is mobile as a medium. Because mobile is a communications medium, just like print, radio, cinema, TV or the Internet are. As a communications medium, mobile has a very peculiar thing. It is made of a multiplicity of communication channels. Some of those channels (but not all of them) are represented in this slide: voice calls, SMS, web, MMS and native apps. Each of these mobile channels has a different reach: in 2009, all mobile phones in the world could do voice calls and SMS, 95% had a web browser, 80% supported MMS, and 13% allowed their owners to download native applications. That’s what the mobile industry calls a smartphone: a phone to which you can download native applications. Not all mobile applications are native though, and you can download non-native apps to feature phones, which are the phones that are not smartphones.\n
  • Let’s see how all this knowledge shows in some real world examples. \n
  • m-pesa is a bank account on your mobile phone.\n
  • The problem m-pesa set to solve was the low level of access to banking services in Kenya\n
  • The opportunities they leveraged was a high mobile penetration rate, and the fact that local shops could be used as “bank branches”, which allowed them to establish themselves all over the country, even in remote areas.\n
  • But here is the most amazing thing about m-pesa. Safaricom, the mobile phone operator who created m-pesa, did not invent the service. People in Kenya had long discovered they could exchange their mobile phone credit for cash. Safaricom simply observed this behaviour in their environment, and decided to create a formal vehicle for it.\n
  • How? Using a SIM card app (yes, you can have applications on SIM cards), combined with secure SMS. Both channels guaranteed maximum reach, which is what you really want for a banking service.\n
  • The result? A roaring success that no other country has yet been able to replicate. M-PESA is the world’s most successful mobile financial service.\n
  • Another example.\n
  • mPedigree allows people in Nigeria to check if the drug they just bought in the pharmacy is genuine\n
  • Because unfortunately fake drugs are a huge problem in Nigeria and other places in Africa. And they not only lose money to pharma companies producing the real thing: they also kill people... as many as 700,000 every year.\n
  • The person who founded mPedigree is a Nigerian social entrepreneur. He didn’t have any money, but there are local pharmaceutical companies in Nigeria that would gladly contribute some money to the cause of getting rid of fake drugs. They are financing the service.\n
  • Again, reach was critical for mPedigree to take off, so they decided to use a mechanism they knew was already familiar to Nigerians. mPedigree would be like topping up your mobile phone...\n
  • ... via SMS of course. The system is very easy. Pharma companies put a sticker in their drugs. When you scratch the sticker, it reveals a code that you send by SMS to a free phone number. That SMS queries a database (kindly) hosted by HP, which immediately fires an SMS back to the sender saying OK (the drug is genuine) or NO (it’s fake: return it). \n
  • Again: a roaring success. The service has already been replicated in Ghana, a more countries are in the pipeline.\n
  • And the last example: BabaJob.\n
  • BabaJob is a job seeking service in India, with a twist\n
  • Most job seeking services in India focus on white-collar, skilled jobs. Nobody was paying attention to blue-collar workers\n
  • who, by the way, constitute a very big chunk of the Indian job market\n
  • The technology insight is so obvious, that it might look dumb. The poorer you are in India, the less likey you are to use the web. But even people who cannot read or write (and unfortunately there are lots of them in India) can speak on the phone.\n
  • So when it came to using mobile channels, BabaJob implemented a voice service, on top of the SMS and Mobile web ones. \n
  • Success... again.\n
  • When I look at services like these from developing countries, and compare them to the mobile services we are creating in our developed world, I can’t help feeling a bit embarrassed. Because I don’t think our services show as good a knowledge of the mobile context of use and of mobile as a communications medium, and I believe quality and adoption rates are suffering as a result. So next time one of our clients comes to us seeking advice on how to bring their services to the mobile space, I think we should stop for a second and think. Do we know enough about the context: the problems that need to be solved, the opportunities available, do we know enough about how people have adopted and use mobile technology? Also, do we know enough about mobile as a medium? Have we considered all the mobile channels available, and how we can use them for the benefit of our client and their customers? Or are we just taking the easy way out and telling them to do an iPhone app? Just something to think about.\n
  • \n
  • Transcript

    • 1. To boldly go where noservice has gone before
    • 2. Mobile phones are the world’s most widelydistributed computers. Even in poor countriesabout two-thirds of people have access to one.As a result, such devices and their networks(...) have become a platform on which manyother services can be built.Mobile services in poor countries - Not just talkThe Economist, Jan 27th 2011
    • 3. In-depth understanding of context Challenges Opportunities Technology adoption and usage
    • 4. In-depth understanding of mobile 100% 100% 95% 80% 13%Features of mobile phone installed base (2009)The Insider’s Guide to Mobile by Tomi Ahonen
    • 5. M-PESAPhoto by ricajimarie at
    • 6. M-PESAThe service allows users to deposit money intoan account stored on their cell phones, to sendbalances (...) to other users (...), and to redeemdeposits for regular money.The Economics of M-PESAW. Jack and T. Suri, August 2010
    • 7. ChallengeIn 2006 it was estimated that 18.9% of adultsused a bank account or insurance product.The Economics of M-PESAW. Jack and T. Suri, August 2010
    • 8. OpportunityIn Kenya, by 2008, 83% of the population 15 years and olderhad access to mobile phone technology.The Economics of M-PESA, W. Jack and T. Suri, August 2010 are some 16,000 agent points in Kenya, putting onewithin reach of most Kenyans.Bridges to Cash: the retail end of M-PESA, F. Eijkman, J. Kendall and I. Mas, August 2010
    • 9. TechnologyEarly on (…) cellphone users figured out thatthey could effectively transfer money across widedistances. Phone companies have long allowedindividuals to purchase "air-time" (...) and to sendthis credit to other users. It was a small step forthe recipient user to on-sell the received air-timeto a local broker in return for cash. In March2007, the leading cell phone company in Kenya,Safaricom, formalised this procedure with thelaunch of M-PESA.The Economics of M-PESAW. Jack and T. Suri, August 2010
    • 10. Mobile channel SIM card resident application Secure SMS
    • 11. About 38% of the adult population has gainedaccess to M-PESA in just over 2 years.The Economics of M-PESAW. Jack and T. Suri, August 2010
    • 12. mPedigree
    • 13. mPedigreeA programme that helps patients in Ghana andNigeria verify that their medicines are genuineFighting Counterfeit Drugs with Mobile TechnologyFast Company, Dec 6th 2010
    • 14. ChallengeIn November 2008 mothers in Nigeria wantingto alleviate their children’s teething pains wereunknowingly administering poisons to theirinfants. Eighty-four babies died in one of thecruellest waves of infant mortalities from fakedrugs to hit the country. It lasted about sixmonths.Fighting Africa’s fake-drugs monsterThe Daily Maverick, 30 Jul 2010
    • 15. OpportunityThe service is funded by the participatingpharmaceutical companies.HP and African Social Enterprise mPedigree Network Fight Counterfeit Drugs in AfricaHP Newsroom
    • 16. TechnologyIt’s easy for people to culturally integrate becauseit works in the same way as buying airtime formobile phones.Fighting Africa’s fake-drugs monsterThe Daily Maverick, 30 Jul 2010
    • 17. Mobile channelConsumers send afree text with the drugcode to a widelyadvertised number A database query determines if the code corresponds to a legitimate drug and responds accordingly, also via SMS
    • 18. In July this year (2010), mPedigree became thestandard for medicines sold in Nigeria and thegovernment now progressively requires that allmedicines be compliant.Fighting Africa’s fake-drugs monsterThe Daily Maverick, 30 Jul 2010
    • 19. BabaJob
    • 20. BabaJobA matching resource for blue-collar workerslooking for jobs.BabaJob: Bringing Jobs to People at the Bottom of the PyramidMobileActive, Jun 28th 2010
    • 21. ChallengeMost job-finding resources in India were designedfor people seeking white-collar jobs. Blue-collarworkers (...) had to rely on word of mouth orluck in order to find the jobs that could helpthem move out of poverty.BabaJob: Bringing Jobs to People at the Bottom of the PyramidMobileActive, Jun 28th 2010
    • 22. Opportunity
    • 23. Technology
    • 24. Mobile channel Call center + automated voice SMS + UssD Mobile web
    • 25. ? Mobile 100% 100% 95%Context 80% Challenges 13% Opportunities Technology adoption and usage
    • 26.