mobile

Self Help Groups Catalyze Women's Economic and Social Empowerment

This week, we’re sharing video content that helps to explain the impact of Self Help Groups—the groups that we support by building a customized, open source digital platform. This week’s first video focused on how SHGs build resilience and the second looked at the social transformations that SHGs make possible.

Today we’re sharing two new videos, both exploring how women benefit, in particular, from membership in Self Help Groups.

One of the major gains available to SHG members is financial independence from their husbands. Instead of relying upon unpredictable sources of revenue from their partners, SHG members work together until they can meet their needs, take loans and invest in their businesses.

As SHG Facilitator, Stella Millanga says, “Women don’t want to depend on their husbands. They want to lift themselves from the challenges of poverty.”

Elie Calhoun, Principal at Code Innovation elaborates, “People already know that women are likely to spend their money to help secure the well-being of their children and their families. Self Help Groups can amplify the impact of this good decision making, by helping women to profit and become independent financial actors.”

The business and financial literacy of our curriculum draws on more than a decade of field-tested materials from India and Ethiopia, where Self Help Group programming has a rich history.

We are proud to aggregate the highest quality content and then move it into the Creative Commons where it has the greatest likelihood of benefiting people around the world.

It’s no surprise that social empowerment goes hand-in-hand with financial independence. Where SHGs take root, gender roles and social roles can become more fluid. The power dynamic in a household can flip.

Young women may start to see role models emerge from an older generation, as women support one another through their learning and entrepreneurship.

There are truly inspiring stories emerging from the community of SHG members: members who started off by saving handfuls of grain can be running their own network of dump trucks back and forth across national borders moving commodities by the ton.

There are limitless ways to rise out of poverty and SHGs help vulnerable populations to hone in on the most strategic pathways while minimizing the downside risk.

Stay tuned for our next post that explores the impact of mobile technology on SHGs in particular.

The Telegraph Interview on the Future of Food

Earlier this year we were interviewed by The Telegraph UK for a longer feature about the future of food and emergent food technologies. The author focused her interviews on the entrepreneurs making lab grown meats or egg substitutes or meals-in-a-glass. But we appeared on her radar for holding views slightly outside the mainline of Silicon Valley thinking. As the article concludes, the Telegraph spotlights our concern that new food technologies may be brought to market in ways that create dependencies, especially in low-income countries. While we are excited about animal proteins that can be produced without damaging the environment and productive new crop lines, we’re conscious of the delicacy of international supply chains and the tempting nature of monopoly control of something as vital as nourishment.

Our own work in the field of food will continue to build food security in vulnerable communities by raising the sophistication of agro-ecological food production methods.

African Tech Hubs: iLab Liberia

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Technology and innovation hubs in Africa interview series: iLab in Monrovia, Liberia (www.codeinnovation.com) As part of our ongoing African Tech Hub interview series, we sat down with Carter Draper, Interim Country Director of iLab Liberia to ask him what it’s like to work in ICT4D in Monrovia and be bringing exponential technologies to help solve the country’s challenges.

Code Innovation: Hi Carter. Thanks for sitting down with us. Tell us a bit about your background and how you got started in technology.

Carter Draper: I currently serve as Interim Country Director at iLab Liberia. My passion for computing goes as far back as to high school in 2000. Upon graduation, I enrolled at several local computer institutions – and opposed my father’s desire for me to study forestry and agriculture at the state university. I now hold a BSc in Electronics Engineering and a Microsoft Information Technology Professional certification from Koenig Solutions in New Delhi, India, in additional to several certifications for web development, coding, networking and hardware.

During the civil crisis of 2001-2003, I co-operated several Internet cafes, which then served as the major gateway to connecting families and relatives abroad. Immediately after the war, I was employed with the National Legislature – a post I merited as a result of my professional ethics and services rendered my nation while operating Internet cafes during the heat of the civil crisis.

African women and girls learn technology skills for workforce development at iLab Liberia in Monrovia (www.codeinnovation.com)

I served for five unbroken years as Computer Technician at the Legislature, providing tech support to both the Senate wing as well as the House wing. While serving with the Government, I was also teaching Electronic Data Processing at the Stella Maris Polytechnic in Monrovia. In 2010, I got a scholarship to earn my MCTS and MCITP in New Delhi. Seven months after my return, I was employed by Ushahidi Liberia, a non-profit technology initiative that monitored the Liberian 2011 elections using technology.

Code: How did iLab Liberia get started? How are operations being run now?

Carter: iLab Liberia came into existence through Ushahidi Liberia operations. We realized the need for an open space for information sharing, access to Internet and incubating innovation, which Liberia was in dire need of then. It was with enthusiasm for technology, access and innovation for all. iLab is a technology hub that continues to narrow the technology divide in Liberia. Over our four years of operations, we have impacted doctors, teachers, students, the Government of Liberia, INGOs, NGOs, civil society organizations and grassroots intellectual groups, by providing them not only a space where they access the Internet for free, but take free courses and events as well as developing technology solutions to leverage the traditional ways of doing things here on the ground. iLab is a US 501c3, a non-for-profit organization that depends on donor funding for its operations. We’re a small organization with a staff of ten, including me, our Country Director.

Graduating in a technology course for workforce development at iLab Liberia in Monrovia (www.codeinnovation.com)

Code: What is iLab Liberia’s business model?

Carter: To avoid depending on our donors to fund our entire annual budget, starting in 2013 we began charging INGOs minimal funds to collaborate with us. This is intended to allow us to generate 25% of our annual budget. However, due to the Ebola virus, there has been a huge drop in paid services, taking us back to depending fully on donor funding this 2015.

Code: Does iLab Liberia work in open source? What is your experience with the open source community?

Carter: Among the many things we do, open source platforms and applications are at the center. We’ve trained entrepreneurs, MSMEs, and startups in GNUCash, an open source version of QuickBooks, Scribus, for desktop publishing, Audacity for audio editing, Cinderella for video, as well as many other open platforms. All our systems run FOSS operating systems (Ubuntu, Linux) and we’ve encouraged institutions to take that direction by training them in Ubuntu, in addition to sharing copies of the OS to nearly everyone that visits our hub.

Code: What has been most challenging?

Carter: Unlike other tech hubs, iLab operates in an environment with no stable electricity, limited and very costly Internet connectivity, and very poor technology infrastructure. In fact, there is only one  institution of higher learning in information technology or its related courses in Liberia. This has caused a very slow emerging technology community.

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

Technology for workforce development at iLab Liberia in Monrovia (www.codeinnovation.com)

Carter: We specialize in promoting open source systems and applications, web technologies, mobile technologies, trainings and organizing tech events.

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

Carter: Liberia being a developing country, using technology to develop my nation is my highest dream.

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

Carter: Innovative projects that tackle and contextualize real problems. Helping nearly every sector improve their service delivery through technology.

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

Carter: My plan is to improve the skills of staff at iLab and to expand our mission and activities actively in rural Liberia. I will appreciate anyone who’s willing to help in the improvement of our staff abilities to continue and expand the work we are doing here with new expertise.

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

Carter: Companies that believe technology can improve the lives of people and processes in Africa as well as institutions that are willing to come to Liberia to share their expertise to help make this country a better place.

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.

How Mobile is Disrupting Development

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mobile-is-disrupting-international-development-and-humanitarian-aid-code-innovation-codeinnovation.com A few weeks ago, best-selling author and Singularity University co-founder, Peter Diamandis, sent out an email newsletter titled, “Mobile is eating the world,” where he calculated that an estimated three to five billion people will connect to the Internet via smartphones in the next five years, effectively democratizing access to the Internet. (You can see the presentation by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz that inspired the post here.)

What does this mean for international development and humanitarian aid? Well, for starters, it means that projects can now be designed with the direct input of beneficiaries. Real-time monitoring will let us adjust approaches when things aren’t working and open source standards will lead to more people creating more solutions, solving what have seemed like intractable problems in record time.

At the end of 2014, it was estimated that there was one mobile connection for every person on the planet. In June 2014, mobile Internet penetration in sub-Saharan Africa was at 38% and growing at 7% a year. By 2020, half of all mobile connections in the region will be using data; mobile traffic in sub-Saharan Africa is increasing at double the global rate.

This means that development, like mobile, is democratizing – a shift that will disrupt the organizations that are heavy on international staff and a shift that will favor smaller non-profit and social business start-ups that respond to people’s changing needs more quickly. So get ready for the status quo of foreign experts to shift towards DIY development – and it’s going to happen fast.

For the last year and half, in anticipation of this trend, we’ve been working on how to take a very successful analog development onto a mobile platform. It started with a conversation with a friend, development economist, Courtenay Cabot Venton who is the International Director at a US non-profit called One Hen. She’d just finished evaluating a microcredit program run by Tearfund in Ethiopia and was deeply impressed by the results, which showed benefits worth over $100 to the community for every $1 spent running the program. We started talking together about how to take the approach to scale using mobile and put a proposal together that quickly got support to pilot the idea.

The idea of taking a successful program and adapting it to mobile is one way to answer the persistent challenge of scaling in development projects. What if we could create a version of the program that could be run entirely by smartphones? What if facilitators could be trained on their mobile devices and assisted in running meetings and collecting data for monitoring and evaluation? Easier said than done, of course – but that’s the point of the ICT4D principles: build with your users, test, get feedback, improve and repeat. Soon, we’ll have a tool to seed microsavings groups from scratch anywhere in the world – no outside support, capital or programming required.

This is what is so powerful about mobile: it puts the tools of development directly into the hands of the people who need them, allowing them to decide their own priorities and make their own choices about the kind of community they want to build and the kind of local improvements and initiatives they want to undertake. It’s not about creating new technologies, but about giving people free and open access to what we already have – and what we already know works. This is the potential of mobile, as we see it – to reach where traditional projects have not been able to go, easier, quicker and for a fraction of the cost. With mobile, development finally has a chance to scale where it’s needed most.

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.

How Senegalese Agricultural NGOs Are Adapting Mobile Technologies: Part 2

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Welcome back. This is the second post in a two-part series: “How Senegalese Agricultural NGOs Are Adapting Mobile Technologies,” based on a follow up of over 50 Senegalese agricultural NGOs who attended the U.S. Embassy’s TechCamp Dakar. The first provided background and context on mobile technology in rural Senegal. Here, we explore the results of our follow-up survey to find out how NGOs are using mobile technology in their agricultural programming.

Three months after TechCamp Dakar, CODE surveyed 30 participants to learn whether and how Senegalese agricultural NGOs were actively incorporating mobile innovations into their agricultural programming. Most organizations have more than one agriculture-related focus, with the highest concentration of work being in the following areas (see Fig. 1):

  • Working with women (83.3%);
  • Training and education (75%);
  • Building the capacity of farmers to maximize crop sales (70.8%);
  • Market access and commercial issues (70.8%);
  • Supplying seeds, tools, fertilizer, et cetera (62.5%).

Fig. 1:

Graph: What Are The Agricultural Areas that Your Organization Focuses On?
Graph: What Are The Agricultural Areas that Your Organization Focuses On?

We were also curious as to how organizations are using ICT and mobile technologies in the workplace to coordinate programs and communicate with partners. Most organizations already use computer technology in the workplace, mostly for data collection, sharing, reporting, and communication.

As you can see in Fig. 2, within organizations, most communication happens via e-mail (all organizations use e-mail), telephone, and in-person conversation. SMS, Facebook, and Twitter are used much less, which represents an opportunity for these NGOs to communicate with and reach a wider base of beneficiaries and supporters.

Fig. 2:

Graph: How Do You Communicate Within Your Organization?
Graph: How Do You Communicate Within Your Organization?

We found that organizations already use technology to communicate with those who benefit from their projects -- beneficiaries from urban citizens in Dakar to rural, smallholder farmers living across the country.

Fig. 3 shows that most communication between organizations and beneficiaries is via telephone. In fact, all the organizations we interviewed use telephone to communicate with their beneficiaries. In-person communication and email were also common outreach tools, but SMS and Facebook barely made this list.

Fig. 3:

Graph: How Do You Communicate with Beneficiaries and Receive Field Data?
Graph: How Do You Communicate with Beneficiaries and Receive Field Data?

Currently, most organizations communicate with beneficiaries several times a month (see Fig. 4), but an overwhelming majority (56.5%) wish to communicate with beneficiaries every day.

Fig. 4:

Graph: Actual and Desire Beneficiary Communication
Graph: Actual and Desire Beneficiary Communication

These results show that mobile technologies do play a part in current agricultural programming, although we found that the application of new mobile technologies is limited so far. It seems that NGO staff fieldworkers may use computer and phone technology at their office, but there is a lack of agriculture-based projects that rely on the use of mobile technology at the very local (for example, village) level.

Since TechCamp, about half the organizations have begun to explore new technologies, such as low-cost video, Frontline SMS, Mobile Money, GoogleApps, and mapping technologies, and find that learning such technologies on their own is often a complicated and confusing task.

“We used computers before TechCamp, just for administration, but not as a tool for amplifying work. TechCamp has allowed us to have a large vision, but we struggle to implement this.” - Mandiaye Pety Badj, Community Manager at Enda Graf Sahel.

Mandiaye exemplifies the experience of most of the interviewed NGOs in regards to their experience implementing new TechCamp technologies.

For those who haven’t begun to use TechCamp technologies yet, all plan to integrate them into programming to a higher degree in 2013 or after receiving further training in methods of application for each technology.

All organizations expressed the need for further training before they can successfully implement new TechCamp technologies. However, all organizations surveyed express a desire to implement mobile technologies in their workplace and agriculture programming in the future.

There is a general consensus amongst Senegalese NGOs that TechCamp was beneficial in that it brought like-minded organizations together and started the dialogue as to what these new technologies are and how they can be used. NGOs stated that the new technologies most relevant to agricultural programming are, in order of most to least (see Fig. 5): Frontline SMS, low-cost video, GoogleApps, and OpenStreetMap.

Fig. 5:

Graph: Which TechCamp Technologies Are Most Likely To Be Useful For Your Projects?
Graph: Which TechCamp Technologies Are Most Likely To Be Useful For Your Projects?

As you see in Fig. 6, most organizations expressed interest in applying mobile technologies to more than one area of agricultural focus, with the highest interest being in: sending information to project beneficiaries, communication within the organization, receiving data and comments from project beneficiaries, using SMS to follow market prices and supply, and supporting education and training.

Fig. 6:

Graph: In What Areas Would You Use Mobile Technologies?
Graph: In What Areas Would You Use Mobile Technologies?

All organizations replied that they are ready now for further training on the implementation of mobile technologies, with an emphasis on technical support and training in new technologies, networking opportunities with other organizations, and provision of mobile and technological materials.

In general, Senegalese NGOs already use computer, Internet, and mobile phone technologies in the workplace, and to a more limited extent, on agriculture-related projects. Organizations expressed interested in future TechCamps, training workshops, and access to video trainings as possible methods to master mobile technologies.

Although mobile technology plays only a limited role in agricultural programming, this is changing. The challenge? Getting up to speed on how to use the technologies in the first place.

The majority of NGOs requested follow-up video trainings on the mobile technologies presented, which Code will facilitate and share on the Facebook group. Of course, being able to access an online video posted on a social networking site assumes a high level of digital literacy, but we were assured by participants that they could access these platforms through office computers.

Thanks for reading!

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How Senegalese Agricultural NGOs Are Adapting Mobile Technologies: Part 1

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This is the first post in a two-part series: “How Senegalese Agricultural NGOs Are Adapting Mobile Technologies,” based on a follow up of over 50 Senegalese agricultural NGOs who attended the U.S. Embassy’s TechCamp Dakar. Here, we provide background and context on mobile technology and agricultural NGOs working in Senegal. In Part 2, we will explore the results of our follow-up survey to find out how NGOs are using mobile technology in their agricultural programming. TechCamp Dakar was a great entry point for Senegalese NGOs to capitalize on one of the major development paradoxes of rural Africa—while many people do not have regular access to electricity or running water, the vast majority has access to mobile phones.

I spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer working on agricultural projects in a small village of 300 people in a remote area of Senegal, with no electricity or running water. However, I rarely lacked access to communication via my mobile phone.

The villagers around me, like the majority of Senegalese citizens, rely on mobile phones as a main mode of communication. While not all individuals own phones, there is always the ability to borrow one from a family member or friend.

In Senegal, where over 75% of the workforce is dedicated to agriculture, and over 50% of the population lives in rural areas, TechCamp Dakar demonstrated the great potential for NGOs to use mobile technologies in agriculture projects to increase their impact and presence in remote communities.

Most Senegalese farmers work at the subsistence level—they eat most of what they grow—but some grains and garden crops are sold at local markets. Products are transported from rural areas to more urban centers and sold at open air stalls. Prices vary depending on season and supply.

Some farmers do currently use mobile technology to determine current market prices and when to sell crops, but in my experience, this is limited and takes the form of informal networks in which farmers call acquaintances in larger towns and cities to check current prices and decide when to sell crops. This is sporadic and often occurs within days of crops spoiling, thus there is no real option to delay sales for better profit, and most current farming practices do not incorporate informed harvest planning for maximizing profit.

Many of the technologies presented at TechCamp Dakar may offer opportunities for NGOs to address these issues by leveraging mobile technologies in order to tailor agricultural programming to the communities in which they work. By taking advantage of the more efficient and timely means of reaching beneficiaries in remote areas that mobile technology offers, the information gap that farmers, like those in my Peace Corps village, face could be mediated.

How connected are Senegalese NGOs to Internet and mobile technology?

As in much of the developing world, Senegal’s technical know-how is concentrated in the capital city, outside of which there is limited (and expensive) access to the Internet, with most people relying on basic mobile phone services to communicate.

Capital city offices have reasonably reliable access to electricity and the Internet, but as you move farther from the capital to regional and department-level offices, organizations face many challenges when relying on technology to implement work. In cities and towns where local offices are based, there may be frequent electricity blackouts, so a lot of professional communication that NGOs have with their beneficiaries relies on face-to-face contact.

Most attendees at TechCamp were from main offices either based in Dakar or other regional capitals, which oversee operations at more local level offices. The majority of these NGO offices already use technology to some extent in the workplace, although some respondents reported that they did not feel entirely confident using mobile phones and computers during their workdays.

We were interested to learn whether and how the NGO participants choose to apply mobile innovations to their agricultural programming, now and in the future.

LOOKING FOR PARTICIPANT RESOURCES? CLICK HERE.