Technology for Education

What the Data Tells Us About our Self Help Group App Community

Over the two and a half years that our Self Help Group (SHG) app has supported facilitators of this high-impact program model, we have seen our user community grow to almost one thousand users. As we look to the future to plan how to further improve the resource, we wanted to share and summarize how and where the app has been used to date.

The Self-Help Group app is a digital resource for facilitators who are actively learning facilitation skills and mobilizing and mentoring active SHGs. If you’re not familiar with the SHG model, we’ve summarized it briefly below before exploring what the data tells us about our community of users.

A Quick Introduction to Self Help Groups

Self-Help Groups are microsavings and microcredit groups who voluntarily come together, both for social support and to provide the group with savings and access to credit for their businesses or income-generating activities.

They usually comprise about 15 members who meet weekly, buying shares in a joint savings pool that grows substantially over time and is used to give business loans to members with interest. Members also typically pay into a social fund that is used to give emergency loans to members for personal reasons, interest free.

SHGs differ from another savings and credit group model called Volunteer Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), most significantly because the group stays together over many years and does not pay out the join savings pool, but rather allows it to accumulate into what can become sizable capital.

When we first started to digitize the SHG program model, we did so because we found this approach to social and economic empowerment to be among the most effective and long-term that we’d seen, both for individual members and the larger community.

Our Reach to Date

So far, thanks to the support of private donors and the UK Department for International Development (DfID), we have been able to introduce the SHG app to both Tearfund and World Vision International, for their SHG and their VSLA programs respectively. Although the app’s curriculum for groups follows the SHG, and not the VSLA, model, we have heard from VSLA facilitators that it remains an effective resource for facilitators.

To date, the community of SHG members whose groups are using the app numbers approximately 1,000, at around 75 installs for groups of about 15 members each, taking into account the devices that Code and our developers use for testing, and that prospective partners are exploring to see if the app is a good fit for their savings and credit group programs.

Between Phase 1 (Ethiopia only, 2014) and Phase 2 (Ethiopia and Tanzania, 2015-16), our user base has grown by a factor of ten. It is our goal in future iterations to double our community base, and a stretch goal to multiply our numbers by another factor of ten, in this case to reach 10,000 total SHG members. Our three to five-year goal is to reach one million SHG members with this resource, although clearly we have a long way to go to get there.

Our Geographical User Base of Supported and Unsupported Users

self help group app platform graph of installs by country
self help group app platform graph of installs by country

When we look at the data about where the app is being downloaded, we see something interested and unexpected for this stage of our app’s development. We are still in progress building and testing the app, and collaborating actively with our facilitators and user community as we do so, to co-design and truly create a useful product for our clients, i.e. SHG facilitators supported by organizations and governments all over the world.

Even though the app is not finished, we see that only 35% of our installs are from facilitators supported by partner organizations in Ethiopia and Tanzania. The rest of the installs are from groups or facilitators that are unsupported by our team directly, and we see from our administrative back-end that many of these installs are active, i.e. they are hosting groups with names, who meet regularly and move through the curriculum, and even answer our in-app evaluation questions to provide us with valuable member data.

This observation is particularly interesting because of 27% of our total installs come from unsupported groups in India, where the Self Help Group model originated and where the government has institutionalized the SHG model as an effective poverty alleviation strategy.

This remains unexpected and will be an interesting metric to track over the coming months and years. In future app versions, we hope to add a data field when new groups register that encourages them to provide contact information, so that we can learn more about what is happening.

Hardware Connectivity Challenges for Self Help Groups

self help group app platform graph of installs by app version
self help group app platform graph of installs by app version

We built the SHG app to be used without mobile data or wifi connectively, once the device has been installed and the language options selected by the user. In the areas where our facilitators work, the cost of data connectivity can be prohibitive, even when there is signal available – and usually, a data signal can be hard to find.

This poses a challenge when we release new versions of the app, because if facilitators cannot access the new version wirelessly by using their data – and most of them cannot, nor do we expect them to – a program coordinator is responsible for physically visiting the facilitators and installing an APK by hand onto their device from their laptop.

This is rather arduous and time consuming, so we attempt to limit new versions to only one per quarter, and to coordinate with our partners so that they are confident of how to perform and troubleshoot an APK install of the app onto multiple different devices.

About 50% of our installs are currently running the latest version of the SHG app, while approximately 35% of the rest are running quite recent versions that include notable user experience and user interface improvements from our initial app. This leaves approximately 15% of users who are likely running a very old version of the app that has not had an opportunity to connect to any network or update itself.

Whether this is because of connectivity issues or attributable to other things, we understand the importance of having facilitators use the most recent app version and of working with coordinators to ensure that they have an opportunity to update the app on their program hardware, whenever possible.

Hardware Availability where SHGs Operate

self help group app platform graph of installs by app device
self help group app platform graph of installs by app device

Another important area for us to focus what type of Android device is being used to access the app. The majority (62%) of our users are on unknown devices and less than 10% are using the program-provided Tecno tablets purchased locally in Ethiopia and Tanzania.

This is promising, as we chose to purchase hardware for partners who were eager to pilot the app within their program models as an incentive to reduce the risk of them joining our user community. However, we understand that providing hardware is neither sustainable nor advisable as we move from our initial pilot towards a more mature product and are already bridging away from this model.

Already, we have partners who do not rely on us to support the costs of hardware, but as we scale we anticipate potentially continuing to cover the cost of a small portion of devices upfront, as we have seen it reduces the risk for new communities who want to use the app as a digital resource but who do not yet have the wider organizational buy-in to pursue large-scale hardware purchases.

As smart phone penetration continues to increase, and we believe strongly that these trends will continue, we anticipate the need to purchase hardware for new partners to rapidly diminish. We have already observed that Android handsets, rather than tablets, are owned by a growing portion of SHG facilitators and even by some SHG members. In addition, to further decrease barriers to using the resource, we hope to make a feature phone-accessible version of the app for users who are on older and more affordable devices as well.

Mobile Network Operators Serving the Digital Self Help Group Community

self help group app platform graph of installs by app carrier
self help group app platform graph of installs by app carrier

Although almost half (44%) of our installs do not have carrier information to share with us, we can see the major East African mobile network operators (MNOs) are represented by our community: MTN, Safaricom and Airtel. At the moment, this data is not particularly useful, however, if we were to create a feature phone version of the SHG app and want to use shortcodes, knowing which MNOs are most accessed by our community in any given country would help us chose the correct carrier or carriers to partner with.

In Summary

We are at an important juncture in our SHG app project, and it’s important for us to share where our community is, what devices, networks and app versions they’re using, as this data can help us as we look to the future, where we hope to finish our app build and further grow our user community.

We hope that this overview has been useful to the ICT4D community and are eager to learn from others doing similar work and facing similar challenges. If you’d like to get in touch about using the SHG app in your programs, or you’d like to learn more about the project and our plans for the future, please get in touch by emailing info@codeinnovation.com.

PRESS RELEASE: Global Partnership is Crowdfunding to Create Digital Resource for Volunteer Rape Crisis Counselors

Indonesia, 22 February 2016 –  Code Innovation is leading a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to create a Rape Crisis Counseling mobile app to support rape survivors and their advocates as they access medical care anywhere in the world. “One in five women will be raped in her lifetime,” says Elie Calhoun, Director at Code Innovation. “Where rape crisis centers and their volunteer counselors exist, they provide a vital resource to survivors and their communities. But rape crisis counseling isn’t a luxury – it should be available to everyone who needs it, regardless of where they live. And anyone who wants to become a volunteer rape crisis counselor should be able to access the basic training they need to support survivors as they access critical health services.”

“DCRCC is pleased to be collaborating on this important global initiative,” says the DC Rape Crisis Center, the oldest rape crisis center in the U.S. “It is important that the International Community come together to not only address gender based-violence, but create resources and tools to enable self –determination and freedom for all. This mobile app does just that, it is a game changer for being able to educate and access resources for sexual assault survivors in a timely manner.”

The Rape Crisis Counseling app will digitize information and training for volunteer rape crisis counselors, who accompany and advocate for sexual assault survivors in emergency rooms as they access crucial medical services to prevent pregnancy, HIV and STIs. The app will also serve as an in-hand resource for family, friends or colleagues who accompany a rape survivor to the health center, and for survivors accessing medical care alone, to help navigate the medical system and to get the care they need to begin the journey to healing.

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To support the campaign, visit: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/rape-crisis-counseling-app/x/3176191#/story

For updates, visit http://codeinnovation.com/blog/.

About the DC Rape Crisis Center

Since 1972, the DC Rape Crisis Center has been making a significant contribution to the health, economic, social and cultural well-being of society. Dedicated to creating a world free of sexual violence through conscience and action, DCRCC’s call to action obliges us to build the capacity to respond to survivors of sexual assault with compassion, dignity and respect, regardless of race, class, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, immigration status, ability, age or religious affiliation.

About Code Innovation

Code Innovation digitizes and scales programs that help vulnerable populations. We create educational materials and social innovations that strengthen communities and enable them to lift themselves out of poverty. We've had projects in more than a dozen countries and specialize in challenging, low-resource environments.

For more information, please contact:

Elie Calhoun, Code Innovation, Tel. +62-812-3802-3425, email: elie@codeinnovation.com

PRESS RELEASE: Code Innovation Launches a Crowdfunding Campaign for Rape Crisis Counseling App to Help Survivors Get Medical Care

Crowdfunding our Rape Crisis Counseling app for survivors of gender-based violence to receive emergency medical care (www.codeinnovation.com)Indonesia, 14 February 2016 - To celebrate V-Day today, a global day of action to end violence against women, Code Innovation launched our Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to build a Rape Crisis Counseling mobile app. The resource will digitize the training that rape crisis counselors receive to become volunteer emergency room advocates for sexual violence survivors. A coalition of U.S. rape crisis centers, gender-based violence experts and women's rights defenders and non-profits are partnering with Code to adapt and create the content so that it's relevant and applicable for the international community. A network of experts and non-profits eager to use the free, Creative Commons resource in their own communities are ready to translate the content into Arabic, Farsi, French and Spanish. One of the crowdfunding campaign's perks is to allow a supporter to determine which language we add next.

"One in five women will be raped in her lifetime. That's more than 700 million women and girls. We're launching the campaign on V-Day to join our efforts with the global day of action to end violence against women. The Rape Crisis Counseling app will put advocacy resources directly into the hands of rape survivors, their family and friends, and would-be volunteers. Anyone who wants to be of service to survivors of sexual violence should have access to the information and training resources they need, wherever they are in the world," says Elie Calhoun, a Principal at Code Innovation.

Since the 1970's, rape crisis centers have provided advocacy and support services to survivors of sexual violence in their local communities. These non-profits train networks of volunteers to become Rape Crisis Counselors, who accompany sexual violence survivors through the process of getting life-saving emergency medical care, including services to prevent pregnancy, HIV and sexually-transmitted infections.

"Even in industrialized countries with well-resourced hospitals, a rape survivor isn't guaranteed to receive the medical care they need," says Calhoun. "In any context, health care providers can let their cultural beliefs and personal opinions about rape and sexual violence interfere. Even in the U.S., there are numerous cases of doctors and nurses being unwilling to provide full emergency services. This is why Rape Crisis Counselors are so important.”

"In other countries, health systems may be under-resourced and health care providers may be unaware or unable to provide a survivor with the services they need. In those cases, it's up to the survivor and whoever accompanies her to the health center to understand and advocate for her needs. Right now, there's no mobile resource that helps them do that,” says Calhoun.

Smartphone ownership and adoption is growing rapidly around the world. According to GSMA Intelligence’s most recent Global Inclusion report, “an additional 1.6 billion citizens worldwide will become mobile internet users over the next six years, bringing the total number of 3.8 billion, or around half of the world’s expected population in 2020.”

"We see smartphones as an essential tool to empower rape survivors, their family and friends, and the wider community to help ensure that survivors get the emergency health care they need,” says Calhoun. “Even if just one person in a community is able to access the Rape Crisis Counseling app in their language, they can share about the resources and help to educate others."

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#rapecrisiscounseling

To support the campaign, visit: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/rape-crisis-counseling-app/x/3176191#/story

For updates, visit: http://codeinnovation.com/blog/

About Code Innovation

Code Innovation digitizes and scales programs that help vulnerable populations. We create educational materials and social innovations that strengthen communities and enable them to lift themselves out of poverty. We've had projects in more than a dozen countries and specialize in challenging, low income environments. For more information about our work, visit http://www.codeinnovation.com.

For more information, please contact:

Elie Calhoun, Code Innovation, Tel. +62-812-3802-3425, email: elie@codeinnovation.com

 

Scaling Up our DIY Self-Help Group App with Partners in East Africa

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Community-savings-and-credit-group-rural-Tanzania-East-Africa-open-source-mobile-app-code-innovation In early 2015, Code Innovation and our partners at One Hen Inc. visited the implementing partners for our Self-Help Group app in Ethiopia and Tanzania. After a successful pilot in 2014, our plan was to scale up the use of the app by 1000% focusing on new users in food insecure areas of both countries.

We met with partners at Tearfund Ethiopia and with Tearfund Tanzania's local NGO implementers, the Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT) to decide on a viable plan for multiplying our impact and rolling out a new-and-improved iteration with content that we estimated would last for about six months worth of weekly Selp-Help Group meetings. According to our previous coordinator, during our 2014 pilot in Ethiopia this was about the time it took for new groups to raise enough capital and develop enough business acumen and group momentum to begin to give their first loans.

This is a write-up of how Phase 2 of the project went, in terms of fidelity to our plan and also around ICT4D best practices and lessons learned. Wherever possible, we'll tie what we're doing and learning into the Digital Principles because we're proud to be one of the endorsing organizations contributing to this emerging field of practice.

 

An Overview of our DIY Self-Help Group App

(If you're already familiar with our project, feel free to skip this section. You can also read more background here and here.)

For those of you new to the project, in 2013 we began working with the US non-profit One Hen Inc. to digitize and scale Tearfund Ethiopia's successful Self-Help Group model of savings and credit groups, themselves adapted from the model pioneered by Myrada in India. The groups have shown a cost-benefit ratio of approximately 1:100* with long-term and far-reaching social and economic impacts on members and their communities, lifting people out of poverty over time with very little outside support.

Working closely with Tearfund Ethopia, we adapted their Self-Help Group modular curriculum to a mobile interface on a free and open source Android app you can download from the Google Play store here -- although it's very much still in Beta for now. Over a 12-week pilot, we found that the facilitators thought the app was a useful professional tool and facilitation guide and that they'd already begun using it to start new Self-Help Groups not officially involved in our pilot.

 

Our Plan for Phase 2, a.k.a. How to Scale 1,000% in Six Months

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Based on the positive feedback we got from Self-Help Group facilitators, we sought to expand our reach in Ethiopia and begin working in a new country, Tanzania, with the same organizational partners. With DfID funding, we were able to focus on food insecure regions facing hunger because of the failure of the previous year's rains. Due to a poor harvest because of the drought, families and communities in these regions were considered particularly at risk for hazards related to food insecurity. Our partners selected the Humbo and Angacha regions in Ethiopia and Kongwa in the Dodoma region of Tanzania to scale-up our pilot with 25 new Savings and Credit Groups to be created in each country over six months of field implementation.

Because we were working in two districts in Ethiopia, and also to see if closer supervisory support would yield better weekly reporting data, we tried a new approach to coordination, appointing one District Coordinator for each area, supervised by a single Project Coordinator based in Addis Ababa. In addition to regular check-ins by email and phone, the Coordinator visited every other month in person to ensure the District Coordinators were feeling supported with the technology and the savings and credit group formation process.

In Ethiopia, we worked with experienced Self-Help Group facilitators working in new parts of the country starting groups of primarily young people out of school and over age 18. The focus on youth created some challenges because there was an assumption that young people did not have any source of income, although Tearfund's program model specifically addresses this assumption with a reframe of available local resources and close-to-home economic activities. Nonetheless, we did see below average group retention rates in Ethiopia because the SHG system itself was not established in the communities we selected and was, instead, fairly unknown. Accordingly, parents and youth members were quick to get discouraged and to discourage others from attending the groups. In the Nazaret region, where we first piloted, SHGs had been established for over a decade and belonging was considered to be admirable and beneficial, so this was our first time as a partnership facing a situation where people did not show up with motivation because of a favorable context. Also, in some cases youth decided to enroll in school or move to urban areas to look for work during the pilot program period, so SHG membership was more variable than is usual for Tearfund Ethiopia programs.

In Tanzania, our partners at CCT decided to work with entirely new and inexperienced facilitators in regions where Pamoja groups ("Pamoja" means "together" in Kiswahili and is CCT's name for our Savings and Credit Groups) had not yet been established. This created a number of early challenges that were evaluated to be worth the extra effort because of the acute community need for this kind of support system, given the hazards and risks members were facing around food insecurity and with the drought. It meant that our Coordinator spent half of his time directly working with and training facilitators on the mobile technology, app functionality and reporting protocols, but also that the gains that we saw over time there showed that the program can work in a new and extremely challenging use case.

Because we're still early in the app development and digitization process, we continued our system of weekly feedback from facilitators to get specific inputs on areas of the curriculum that worked well and that need expansion. This system continued to give us the real-time, actionable data that we need to make strong iterations between phases, and we anticipate continuing it in the future until we move out of Phase 2 (testing with new countries, partners and in new world regions). Phase 3 will happen when the app can be used by a new, inexperienced facilitator to successfully learn facilitation skills, recruit and start a group, and save and lend while building group ties over time. We have a ways to go, but we'll get there!

 

What Went Well in our Rapid Scale-Up

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We are happy to report that a number of key areas went extremely well. We're going to summarize them here, but do get in touch (info@codeinnovation.com) if you'd like to hear more details as we're keen to share what we know with our ICT4D community.

  • App Functionality and Usability: The app did not require repeated training for new facilitators to use, especially around the key curricular areas of meeting content.
  • Expanded Content around Case Studies, Games and Stories: We hoped to include content in the app that would take group members well into six months of weekly meetings, and we succeeded in doing that with our expanded curriculum around social business skills development, conflict resolution and disaster risk management/disaster risk reduction. Facilitators and group members enjoyed the illustrative content in particular, and over the course of Phase 2 we've collected a wealth of additional content to help us build out the curriculum further.
  • Facilitator Training: Our new module created a step-by-step training guide for new facilitators to learn basic skills, recruit group members and develop self-organized learning for their own professional development. We heard from facilitators throughout field implementation that it was an appreciated part of the content.
  • Facilitator Preparation: Before each module throughout the content, we expanded the information needed to prepare facilitators for their weekly meeting. We heard that this was an extensively used part of the app this time around and were requested to continue building it out as a resource for planning meetings.
  • Hardware: We selected locally-purchased Tecno tablets available for about $200 in Ethiopia per device and about $100 in Tanzania per device. The higher cost in Ethiopia is due to national taxes on ICT, as the tablets themselves were almost identical. Every device continues to function without damage at the time of writing, a testament to the care with which our facilitators treated them and also to the durability and appropriateness of the tablets themselves in rural East Africa.
  • Reporting and Supportive Supervision: Weekly reporting kept facilitators, coordinators and us in close contact to problem-solve proactively and ensure that our content and UI/UX was meeting their needs in running groups and also in their own professional support and development. In Tanzania, reports were sent via facilitators' Gmail accounts and our users created a What's App group on their own initiative to share success stories, keep in touch and help each other resolve group, tablet or meeting challenges.
  • Secondary Benefits of Accessible Mobile Technology: In most cases, facilitators used their tablets for professional and personal development, including engagement with LinkedIn, online news and Facebook social networking. In many cases, facilitators began to pass around the tablet during meetings so that members took turns facilitating the key discussion points during group meetings. In a few cases, facilitators made their tablets available to community and group members to access the internet, creating strong secondary benefits in areas that did not previously have easy access to mobile technology.

What We Learned for Future Partnerships

There were some key areas for lessons learned as well, detailed in brief here. Again, please do get in touch (info@codeinnovation.com) if you're keen to hear more about these, as we'd love it if no one in ICT4D ever made these same mistakes again!

  • Solar Chargers: In all cases where hardware is provided, we will be advising partners to purchase locally sourced solar chargers to enable the tablets to be charged directly by the facilitators whenever needed. Relying on local charging stations is both time-consuming and expensive, and could in the future be a source of low motivation to use the app.
  • App Updates: Because access to mobile data is so slow and wifi is often completely unavailable, we needed a new system to update new app versions so that facilitators would be sure to be using the latest app version. We are using our Coordinator's laptop and installing APKs directly onto tablets during field visits in the future. But this is a function of our beneficiaries being in unusually remote areas underserved by electric infrastructure. If we were targeting robust growth in an urban area, this recommendation would likely not apply.
  • New Group Formation: We had anticipated that 25 groups would be fairly easy to form over six months in each country, but in fact we will only reach our target in late 2015/early 2016. In Ethiopia, working in a region where SHGs were not known by the community made their establishment slower than anticipated. In Tanzania, new facilitators were only ready to create new groups after their existing ones had been established for about three months, so relying on facilitators to create multiple groups should anticipate some phasing delays. At the moment in Tanzania, new group creation is on hold because members would not have the income needed to contribute to savings, since it is the very end of the dry season and family resources are very scarce. A few weeks after the short rains begin (in December or January, we hope), members will once again have the financial resources and be able to begin group savings.
  • UI/UX and Usability Testing: Secondary app functionalities were not as easy for new users to navigate as the curricular modules, namely our Community (or social media) section and our group login system. Based on usability testing directly with facilitators in Tanzania, we have a great list of priority fixes in this area.
  • Multimedia When Possible: Adding photos and illustrations, especially for case studies, will help to make the content more personal and come alive for members and facilitators. It was a repeated ask from our group interviews and something we're looking into while keeping in mind that we don't want the app (already around 10MB) to become too heavy to download in low-bandwidth areas.

 

What our Self-Help Group App Group Members Had to Say about the Project and our Process

During a recent field visit to CCT's Pamoja Groups in Kongwa, Dodoma region in Tanzania, we were able to interview nine groups in four village areas.

In our Self-Help Group model, each group member contributes weekly through buying two types of shares, social shares and savings shares. Each week, each member contributes one share to the social fund, for use by group members in emergencies. In addition, they can buy savings shares at a minimum and maximum set by the group.

In all Pamoja groups, the social fund is repaid without interest and had minimum 1 share @ 500 Tsh contribution per week, slightly less than $0.25 at the time of our visit.

In Mautya Village in Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, participants reported:

  • "We are facing hunger in our families and communities because we are primarily agricultural and because of the lack of rains last year and the failure of our crops."
  • "We are using the social fund to buy food."
  • "Group social ties give us strength to face the challenges of the drought together. We do not feel alone."

In Nguji Village in Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, participants reported:

  • “We are facing hunger in our families and communities because we are agricultural and because of the lack of rains and the failure of crops.
  • "We are using the social fund to buy food and pay school fees."
  • "Because of the group, we are not facing too much hunger at the end of the dry season and we feel supported by each other."
  • "Belonging to the group helped to improve my existing business and my profits have increased."

One-third of the participants in Nguji owned their own mobile phones and 80% had their own businesses.

In Machenje Village in Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, participants reported:

  • "There is no rain, and everyone here are farmers. Bad harvest means hunger. Lack of rain increases the price of food."
  • "If I don’t have money, I can take a loan to invest in a business and use the profit to pay back the loan and buy food for my family."
  • "Our economy is so much affected by the drought because we depend on agriculture and there is no rain or harvest. It is difficult."
  • "Because I now have a small business, I can buy food and eat with my family."
  • "If someone is sick, a loan [from the social fund] can take them to hospital and pay for their immediate needs."
  • "If a group member has any emergency, anything in life, we can support them."
  • "These groups are good. We encourage anyone to join. However, know that if you take a loan, it can be challenging to pay it back so that another person is able to take a new loan."
  • "The community originally thought that these groups were a trick, but now that they've seen our success and the capital we've raised, they themselves want to join."
  • "I had a business before, but I was inexperienced. Belonging to the group helped to improve my business skills and share with others. Now, I am helping my family to have a good life."
  • "Belonging to the group has really helped my family. With a loan, I have been able to expand my tomato selling business."
  • "This is a bad year because of the lack of rain, so buying shares every week is difficult, especially now that it is dry season. My savings come from collecting firewood in the bush and selling it in the village."

30% of the group members had businesses before joining and 46% do now. 58% own their own mobile phones.

In Laikala Village in Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, participants reported:

  • "Life is difficult. I joined this group to get out of poverty."
  • "In most cases, we struggle to pay for school fees and because of the group, we make sure that we pay for all the school expenses."
  • "Using the tablet has introduced me to new things and ideas, and it is good for me."
  • "The social fund is for problems or unexpected disasters."
  • "Our group made an IGA whose profit goes back into the social fund, because we depend on it so heavily now. The IGA involves buying sugar and rice wholesale and each members sells some and returns with the profit."
  • "People should join groups because they are sustainable. Members are there for each other and will continue to be there to help each other."
  • "This community depends on agriculture. Without rain there is no food. We have hunger and no money to buy commodities. We are all affected."
  • "Without a good harvest, there is no money and without money, you cannot buy anything. There is no water for gardening."
  • "Without food at home, after a poor harvest, loans help our families to eat."
  • "With the problem of the lack of rain, most people are bankrupt so others can’t help, but the group can help, especially with a small business."
  • "I didn't have a business, but then I took a loan and now I have a profitable small restaurant."

13% of the group members had businesses before joining and 52% do now. 55% own their own mobile phones.

Next Steps for our DIY Self-Help Group App

We are in discussion with CCT, Tearfund Tanzania and Tearfund Ethiopia to continue to scale up with their new and existing Pamoja and SHG facilitators in the coming months and into 2016. In addition, we have a new partnership with World Vision Tanzania working with their Volunteer Savings and Loan Associations with groups in the Babati regional cluster (of Tanzania). Stay tuned for more developments early in the new year, when we'll be releasing a new-and-improved iteration based on what we learned during this Phase 2.

Our own goal at Code is to scale the Self-Help Group App impact to 1 million direct beneficiaries within three years. Because of the economic and social need, we hope to concentrate mostly in sub-Saharan Africa but it will depend where we find implementing partners and funding. Of course, as we iterate closer to a stand-alone app with full functionalities, , our own inputs for consecutive iterations will become less necessary.

We hope to find partners in all parts of the world, but in Africa in particular, who are interested in using our Self-Help Group app to train and support facilitators starting their own groups in their own communities, helping to empower people to create social and economic support systems that reduce their vulnerability to stresses, shocks and poverty.

Want to partner with us on this or other projects? Get in touch (info@codeinnovation.com)!

* Cabot Venton, C et al (2013). “Partnerships for Change: a cost benefit analysis of Self Help Groups in Ethiopia.” Tearfund, Teddington, UK.

African Tech Hubs: eMobilis in Nairobi, Kenya

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computer teaching training a young woman at eMobilis technology institute in Nairobi, Kenya African tech hubs and innovations labs train the next generation of African leaders and entrepreneurs who will use technology to solve challenges faced by their countries and communities.

In order to help bridge their work and make connections between African tech leaders and Silicon Valley, where we spend the summer teaching at Singularity University’s Graduate Studies Program, we’re profiling a handful of African tech hubs and innovations labs.

In this ongoing series at Code Innovation, we’ll be asking tech leaders from across Africa how they work, what their business model looks like, what challenges they face and how those with capital and resources can support them.

Our intention is to encourage connections and collaboration between the African tech scene and Silicon Valley.

In our first interview in the African Tech Hubs series, we’re profiling Ken Mwenda, co-founder and Managing Director of eMobilis Technology Institute, based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Code: Hi Ken. Welcome to our interview series! Would you share a little bit about who you are and how you got started in technology?

Ken Mwenda: Hi. I’d be happy to. eMobilis is a software development training institution and incubation hub based in Nairobi, Kenya that has been in operation for the past five years.

We train youth and develop custom mobile applications for organizations both locally and globally – everything from e-learning mobile apps to business apps designed to streamline operations.

Our organization was founded at a time when Safaricom, the creator of Mpesa, overtook East African Breweries as the most profitable company in East Africa. That, and the entry of four new telecom companies into Kenya, marked the advent of a boom in the telecommunications sector and the dire need for more talent to avoid the rampant poaching of network engineers and mobile product developers.

When we opened our doors to students, we were the first of our kind in sub-Saharan Africa. It was necessary to pioneer this kind of training to respond to digital opportunities in a focused way, as no other colleges or universities were doing so at the time. From courses on network infrastructure, GSM, the evolution of 3G and radio propagation, we then progressed to launch programs on Java, PHP, mySQL, HTML5, Android and Windows Phone. As the industry evolved, it become clear that there were also phenomenal freelance and entrepreneurship opportunities presented in the exploding mobile software development space, as a result of global app stores and the low barriers of entry for developers with a globally appealing software product.

eMobilis is accredited through the Government of Kenya and has trained over 2,200 students to date, 65% of these on scholarships funded through industry collaborations.

Our vision is to empower local youth to tap into the myriad opportunities that the mobile and software development industry offers so that they can innovate, create and improve their situation in life through use of digital tools.

student learning mobile programming at emobilis mobie technology institute in Nairobi, Kenya

Code: How did your organization get founded and how is it being run now?

Ken: eMobilis was founded by 3 directors who pooled together capital and resources from personal savings. We set up in an area known as Westlands within Nairobi’s core and now have 3 fully-equipped labs and an incubation room. Each of the three labs has a capacity of 30 students at any given time and part of our commitment to students is to offer high-speed internet, high performance PC’s and a conducive environment for learning that includes test devices and a test server.

It took us one and a half years to get government accreditation through the local Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. This rigorous process vetted our teaching staff, and included inspecting our premises and also scrutinizing the curriculum.

Typical courses run between 1 month and 3 months and all require creation of a mobile app as part of the hands-on methodology. We expose students to the publishing process and give them some ideas on how to monetize their skills.

We also offer off-site Boot Camps and have partnered with top universities in Kenya to conduct certain trainings at their campuses. Over the years, we have worked with the University of Nairobi, JKUAT and Africa Nazarene to train their students in mobile programming.

eMobilis has been engaged by both Google and Microsoft (Nokia) to conduct specialized training programs. In the case of Google, it involved a series of workshops to assist small and medium sized businesses to set up their own websites using the GKBO (Getting Kenyan Businesses Online) tool.

Our software development division is 2 years old and sprung from the numerous requests we were getting from companies that wanted a specific, custom mobile app created and the whole project managed by a vendor. Having expertise and a reasonable amount of experience and accumulated research on mobile apps, we ventured into creating apps for companies on contract.

Code: What is your business model?

Ken: Our business model is multi-pronged. We run some programs where students pay full tuition while other programs are on full scholarship.

For instance, in the mlab East Africa program, where the mandate was to grow and develop the mobile technology ecosystem, the best and brightest students were shortlisted competitively and given full scholarships for a 4-month training program. Many have gone on to form start-ups, some work on a freelance basis and another 60% have been absorbed into employment by banks, IT companies, small businesses and multinationals, typically in their IT departments. Funding from Infodev, a division of the World Bank, enabled us to offer full, merit based scholarships at the mlab facility with our lecturers and curriculum.

eMobilis is also a co-founder of mlab East Africa, a World Bank initiative consisting of 5 regional mobile laboratories around the world tasked with incubating start-ups, hosting a major developer pitching conference, training, mentoring start-ups and supporting the growth of the mobile tech ecosystem. The consortium hosting the lab consists of iHub, University of Nairobi and eMobilis.

We seek out partnerships with corporations to offer custom tailored programs. One such partnership was with Nokia before they were bought out by Microsoft. Their goal was to promote local content on their devices through relevant and exciting mobile applications that helped them sell more phones. Nokia would fully fund a program for students that helped up-skill and expose strong developers who create useful and appealing mobile applications.

We have partnered with organizations such as Google, Microsoft, Safaricom, Salesforce and KEMRI to offer youth trainings on Android, website development through HTML5, Windows Phone and USSD mobile software development programs.

On the software development division, we have worked with different international organizations including Code Innovation and One Hen Inc. to develop a ground-breaking, multilingual mobile app that enables facilitators of Self Help Groups in Ethiopia and Tanzania to effectively learn and manage groups through mobile tools, resources and the app’s user-friendly interface.

Our model is also to seek out partnerships to create amazing apps for private as well as for non-profit organizations that want to leverage the power of mobile and to extend their reach and effectiveness with their customers or constituents.

computer lab at emobilis mobie technology institute in Nairobi, Kenya

Code: Do you work in open source? What is your experience with the open source community?

Ken: We do. When we run programs on Android, HTML5, and others we build on curriculum and resources openly available through the open source community. We also direct our students to developer forums and communities so that they can contribute and also further their research as they code.

We consider the open source community an amazing place to share ideas and learn best practices from each other.

Code: What has been most challenging?

Ken: There are numerous challenges, many of them that come with the territory when you decide to pioneer a concept as novel as mobile software development training in Africa. Code schools and academies are still fairly uncommon. In the early days there was very low awareness on this area of training. Traditional education and institutions did not teach mobile software development and so we had to spend heavily on marketing and awareness building so that potential students could get excited about the opportunities afforded by the mobile space and how they could learn through us.

As a start-up, we had cash flow issues and lack of bank financing as software related businesses in Kenya typically do not qualify for bank loans and are considered high risk. Expenses spanning rent, salaries, quality equipment and marketing proved quite high as we raced to ramp up and attract solid student numbers to cover operating costs.

Being in the Education sector, we also needed to get accredited by the Government and that took a great deal of time and effort to help the Quality Assurance department at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology understand our curriculum, process and the outcomes of the training. This was long and rigorous but important to us since as an organization, we wanted to be compliant and to be able to assure parents and students about the quality and value of what we offer.

Additionally, there was the challenge of both finding highly qualified and passionate lecturers who understood this relatively new field, had developed their own apps and could communicate effectively to train students and motivate them as developers.

Another challenge to contend with is adapting to the rapidly changing technology landscape where technology companies fold, new programming languages emerge, standards compete, equipment becomes obsolete and staying on top of all this to remain relevant is not entirely painless.

graduating students at emobilis mobie technology institute in Nairobi, Kenya

Code: What are your organization’s specific areas of expertise?

Ken: Software development training – Android, Salesforce, HTML5 and so forth, youth capacity building, and mobile software development for private firms and non-profits.

Code: What are the issues or problems that you care most about?

Ken: Solving the unacceptably high rate of unemployment in Kenya, which stands at 40%; ensuring that globalization does not leave our youth behind as the world rapidly goes digital and we lose out on opportunities for work; facilitating creativity and unleashing the potential of our youth to innovate; establishing Kenya as a hub of excellence for software development globally and to ensure we train top-notch talent; building the tech ecosystem, including attracting venture capitalists to invest in African start-ups to solve the funding issue and to provide mentorship; and growing as an organization and escalating our impact.

Code: What projects are you most excited to be working on?

Ken: Mobile software development projects with partners who can pilot, who have the reach and ability to roll out our mobile apps across Africa and have the desire to collaborate with us to iterate and grow together on various projects with proven social impact potential.

Code: What are your plans for the next few years and what sort of help do you need to achieve them?

Ken: To open 4 more centers with fully equipped labs across Kenya, form 10 key partnerships with mobile value added services companies, hire 2 dedicated staff for business development and to secure software projects, expand the range of programs and courses that we offer as technology evolves, work on 8 innovative and meaningful mobile app projects by Dec 2016, secure a $70,000 grant to allow us to offer scholarships to approximately 100 bright youth from East Africa over the next 12 months, and hire for an Alumni and Jobs Manager to strengthen our job placement office.

Code: What companies or organizations would do you most like to be connected to and why?

Ken: We would like to be connected to organizations that fund scholarships and those that want to outsource software development work and are willing to form a partnership either for knowledge transfer or collaborative social impact projects. We would also like to connect to Singularity, Stanford and MIT for exchange programs and teaching partnerships.

Code: This has been great, Ken. Thanks for the interview! How can people get in touch with you?

Ken: Karibu! They can visit our website, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or get in touch with me directly by email at ken@emobilis.org.

Global Gardener: Mobile Learning for Food Security

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Global Gardener mobile learning for food security (www.codeinnovation.com) In the context of food production and the world’s poor, it can seem like the data and the money are moving in two very different directions. Even as a steady stream of reports conclude that empowering small scale farmers with the skills to produce food sustainably is essential to poverty alleviation in Africa, technology for agriculture interventions designed for large, industrial farmers and cash crops seem to soak up all the money.

The glitzy, future-tech of hands-free and vertical farming needs no assistance to develop—enthusiasm for this sort of tech is frothy and the market is full of incentives and funds to support it. Poor farmers in vulnerable communities, meanwhile, need assistance immediately and they need it optimized for their real world circumstances.

We’re currently building a coalition of knowledge partners, technologists and implementing partners to create an open source mobile application that can help to spread agro-ecological design practices where they are most needed. We want to help farmers to visualize the medium and long term implications of different strategies and interventions on their land and then to connect them to a supportive community of practice that can guide them through the implementation of whatever strategies they select.

By making careful use of the data that we collect through this undertaking, we intend to build algorithms that can help to provide free, real-time guidance for farmers, taking into account all of the subtleties of their growing circumstances and their economic situation. Ultimately, this means putting artificial intelligence at the service of small scale food producers, helping them figure out the free (or lowest cost) interventions for strengthening the resilience, diversity and nutritional prospects of the land at their disposal. But for now, we just need to connect the agro-ecological designers, permaculture specialists, water and sanitation experts and related mentors with the fast expanding demographic of the rural poor, newly connected to cellular coverage and using basic, low cost smartphones.

Naturally, we understand that this needs to be designed along with the food producers that we are targeting and we will follow the ICT4D Principles that have come from our experience and that of our colleagues.

If you’re interested in joining up or helping out, please feel free to email us at info@codeinnovation.com.

Why the Self-Help Group Model is Ready for Mobile

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self-help-group-app-version-1-ethiopia-code-innovation In June 2013, Code Innovation began working with partners at One Hen Inc. and Tearfund Ethiopia to "appify" Tearfund's Self-Help Group approach. To document Phase 1 of our project and share what we've learned with the ICT4D community, we're writing a two-part series about the Phase 1 of the project. We’re just beginning Phase 2, so there will be updates about this project phase through 2015.

A Brief Background on the Self-Help Group Approach

Since 2002, Tearfund Ethiopia[1] has been working on developing and scaling an innovative Self-Help Groups (SHG) approach to help lift people out of poverty. Unlike many aid and development projects that struggle to show impact, the SHGs have demonstrated a cost-benefit ratio of 1:100 and an organic growth rate of 20-30% per year.[2] When we first learned about the project and saw these numbers, we knew that Tearfund's SHG model was special.

Tearfund adapted its SHG model from an SHG program run by an Indian organization called Myrada. After a few program visits to India to see how things worked, Tearfund Ethiopia's leadership began to implement the approach locally. In the 13 years since, Tearfund has supported local leaders in establishing and operating more than 12,000 SHGs around Ethiopia that have impacted more than one million people.

When we started to look more closely at how the SHGs effectively create long-term, holistic benefits, we learned that the impact of this approach lies in a participatory group model that is based on relationships. Facilitators help to catalyze the groups and guide the progress of their weekly meetings, but they are not leaders and do not exercise authority over group members. Instead, they lead members through a self-organized learning process that empowers members to take charge of their own development process.

How is the Self-Help Group Approach Different from Microfinance?

The original approach to microfinance, pioneered in the late 1970's by Muhammad Yunus at the Grameen Bank, relies on external capital to set up small business loans for groups of people who have little of what banks traditionally consider assets. The model relies on banking institutions to see the poor as potential customers and to create saving and loan products specifically for their context and needs.

Yunus’ model has enjoyed widespread adoption in the decades since he first developed it. In 2006, Yunus and the Grammen Bank received the Nobel Peace Prize and microfinance is now a pillar of banking services around the world. However, the microfinance model's centralized approach means that communities eager for microfinance must wait for a bank to reach out to them with appropriate products and services. Self-starting in this model is not an option.

SHGs are a similar to traditional microfinance groups in that they include approximately 15 to 20 people living in the same geographical community and with roughly the same economic status. However, their difference lies in the fact that SHGs target the poorest of the poor, many of whom don’t qualify for microfinance. Although both models are created by affinity, SHG members self-organize around a predominantly decentralized approach and do not need external institutions to begin their microsaving process. Together, SHG members establish their group’s bylaws, which are the operating principles that will guide the group as it begins to save and then loans its slowly-growing microcapital to members. The bylaws change and evolve with the needs and values of the particular SHG, forming an important structure for participatory processes of group decision-making.

In the SHG approach, groups slowly save enough for their first loan, collecting savings during weekly meetings and talking through agenda items that the group members identify themselves. Once members have discussed and agreed on the basics of group formation, saving and loans, the facilitator may lead the group through collaborative discussions around other topics of mutual interest to members, including issues like maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS and group members' vulnerability to hazards and disasters. Discussions are interspersed with activities and games that encourage the group members to brainstorm risk reduction, problem solve, and build trust in each other and themselves.

In addition to their savings pool, SHGs often set aside money for a social fund that they use as a form of emergency assistance for themselves and members in their communities. If an unexpected tragedy occurs, the social fund is disbursed to offer unconditional assistance to the person or family in need, helping to build the capacity of the community to meet the challenges they face. The social fund can also be used for community development projects that the SHG decides to undertake for the good of their community. Microfinance groups often have a social fund as well, but SHGs regularly act as powerful and self-reliant local development actors within their own communities.

Each SHG sets their own interest rate on loans, which is often a small fraction of the interest rates charged by local moneylenders in Ethiopia, estimated at around 60% in some communities. Like their bylaws, SHGs can also change their interest rates when they feel it's time. This allows them to be flexible and make loans that are well-aligned with the group and members’ interests, circumstances, and local context. Microfinance banks are usually not so flexible.

Another thing we find exemplary about SHGs is their capacity to self-organize into Cluster-Level Associations (CLAs) once there are eight or more mature SHGs in one community or area. CLAs include two members from each SHG who serve for two-year terms -- although the specifics of these logistics are self-determined by each CLA and, therefore, can vary. CLAs allow SHGs to democratically respond to and support each other through trainings, problem solving discussions, and conversations, with weaker groups benefiting from the experience and expertise of stronger groups. The CLAs’ functions reinforce the democratic processes in place at the SHG level. What's more, CLAs often seed new groups, so the SHG process effectively self-replicates without outside program support or assistance.

Once SHGs are so established that a network of CLAs exists, members form a Federation-Level Association (FLA) to host a general assembly of CLA representatives and guide other participatory decision-making processes with the aim to strengthen and support SHGs at scale. None of this would work if the groups themselves weren't making a substantial and lasting impact on the lives of their members. The SHGs' ability to self-organize into participatory, democratic FLA structures that advocate and advance their interests speaks to the powerful mechanisms at play within these groups. Some of these FLAs have even taken the steps to gain government recognition as formal associations and now use this status to further advocate for the needs of their members.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that some recent studies of micro-finance initiatives have concluded that, on their own, these initiatives are not sufficient to combat poverty. It’s our belief that the SHG model holds the promise of greater impact than any of the finance experiments so far undertaken by vulnerable or marginalized communities.

How Self-Help Groups Work to Benefit their Members and their Communities

The main purpose of SHGs is to empower impoverished community members to come together to lift themselves out of poverty. In addition to the microsavings element, relationships are key. Over the course of many meetings, the group members form strong bonds and become like family to each other. In addition to supporting one another through loans and micro-entrepreneurship, members also support one other in times of challenges and encourage each other in times of opportunity. Through group discussions and collaborative activities, members also learn about small business skills including market research, production, sales, bookkeeping, and so forth. By becoming successful micro-entrepreneurs, the members -- who are predominantly women -- lift themselves out of poverty while benefiting their communities. Women make up the majority of SHG members and their financial success has wide-reaching impacts on gender norms and roles, including women's participation in family and community decision-making.

Tearfund Ethiopia has also found that as they continue to meet, SHG members learn to speak up and more freely express their opinions and needs. As such, SHGs are often found to be an effective empowerment strategy for women and girls who otherwise would not be encouraged to express their thoughts and opinions or participate in powerful decisions that affect their opportunities and lives. SHGs have also been found to improve relationships between different religious communities because Muslims, Christians, and people of other faiths are routinely members of the same SHG.

The wealth created over time by members in their SHGs has a wide-reaching impact on their households and communities. Members also enjoy increased opportunities for leadership development and improved decision-making status and power within their households, as well as strong social and emotional bonds their SHG peers that create powerful incentives for mutual support and assistance.

Most SHGs members remain in their groups for over a decade and many express a life-long commitment to one another. There are regularly cases of SHG membership being inherited by family members when an SHG member dies, because belonging to an SHG is seen by the family and community as a highly-valued social and economic asset. Long-term relationships between group members also play a strong role in creating social resilience to shocks and disasters that may occur within the community. Even without shocks or disasters, strong SHG relationships encourage members to pursue their own empowerment and self-organized learning, helping them to become agents of change in their lives and communities.

Why We Decided to Take the Self-Help Group Approach Mobile

As mobile increasingly becomes the preferred technology platform and begins to connect hard-to-reach rural and poor communities, we are building mobile apps that extend the reach of proven high-impact aid and development programs.

The one factor limiting the rapid scale of SHGs is that, for their first few years, they require the weekly presence of a trained facilitator who understands the SHG process and the importance of collaborative, horizontal groups and a participatory self-organized group learning process. These facilitators require training, mentoring and supervision, as well as resources to adequately pay them and the NGO that supports them. Scaling in this way will take decades and huge sums of money.

Tearfund is scaling up its SHG approach in other countries, and we see mobile as a way to support this process and eventually to create SHGs that do not require direct contact with their organization. With mobile, SHGs can have the opportunity to scale globally and impact hundreds of millions of people. We hope to spread these resilient and transformative groups throughout the world and are hopeful that this will make a meaningful contribution to empowering women and their families’ lives.

Our next article will examine the SHG pilot that we ran with One Hen Inc. and Tearfund Ethiopia last year, looking at how we set up the project and what we learned.

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Thanks for reading! For more information about our work with mobile education, ICT4D and the Self-Help Group app, email info@codeinnovation.com. You can subscribe to future updates from Code Innovation here.

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[1] Tearfund actually works with a network of strong local partners who implement, support and scale the SHGs. However, to keep things simple, we’ve called the whole network “Tearfund” in our series.

[2] Cabot Venton, C et al (2013). "Partnerships for Change: a cost benefit analysis of Self Help Groups in Ethiopia." Tearfund, Teddington, UK

Debating the Future of Education on Singularity Hub

At the end of 2015, I contributed an article to the Singularity Hub that spurred a provocative and sustained debate about the role of technological education. While some organizations and politicians have recently suggested that programming (of computer code) should be taught to everybody, I argued that there are many circumstances in which this is a poor idea. It's encouraging that so many people are thinking critically about how to re-imagine education and we hope that the particular needs of vulnerable populations are given particular weight.

Check out the article here: http://singularityhub.com/2014/12/28/future-of-work-part-ii-why-teaching-everyone-to-code-is-delusional/

Our HuffPo article on Technology for Development: Shifting the Status Quo in Africa

Our article over at The Huffington Post's Impact's B-Team section is up, co-authored with One Hen partner Courtenay Cabot Venton. We share how our open source Self-Help Group mobile app is helping to scale a successful program model and bring collaborative and participatory development, including microcredit, financial literacy and business education, to the poorest of the poor. Check it out here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/courtenay-cabot-venton/technology-for-developmen_b_6581786.html