tech4dev

Our Primer on How to Use Open Source and the Creative Commons in Aid and Development

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Open source and creative commons primer for aid and development code innovation (www.codeinnovation.com)

As technology becomes a part of more and more aid and development programs, how and why we decide to incorporate new tools is increasingly important.

Over the last few years, the ICT4D community has developed Principles for Digital Development that guide the ethical approaches and process of our work. Number Six is, “Use open standards, open data, open source and open innovation.”

Open source and the Creative Commons are different, but related, concepts. If you're never heard of open source or the Creative Commons, they can be confusing to navigate. That's why we created a short primer for humanitarian aid and international development workers to better understand  these concepts and to explore some ways to apply them.

We've found these ideas to be pivotal in our own work and it’s a pleasure to share what we’ve learned with you. We hope that our contribution encourages you and your organization to start a conversation about putting them into action. You can download a PDF version of the primer, which is still in-progress, here.

"Open always wins," says Abundance author and futurist Peter Diamandis, and so far, he seems right. The push for more free and open societies and systems, for more and more of our human heritage to be held not just by a few, but in common, are some of the most relevant and powerful trends of our time.

Those of us working for the public and global good, and taking public funds, have a responsibility to create solutions that feed free and open collaboration, rather than the profit of shareholders or the longevity of our organizations.

If you take away one idea from this primer, we hope it's that the “open” movement is built upon the value of collaboration and the idea that working together yields better and more broadly distributed results than competition. If you feel that this is disruptive, you’re right – sharing breaks down separation.

Whenever we decide to make software open source, or to release our content and works into the Creative Commons, we create a more equal and collaborative world. And isn’t that why we’re working in aid and development in the first place?

The Primer covers these topics:

  • What is Open Source?
  • How Can I Make my Work Open Source?
  • How Do You Make Money from Open Source?
  • What is the Creative Commons?
  • How Can I Use Creative Commons in my Work?
  • What Does “Open” Mean for the Future of Aid and Development?

We hope that the Primer will help to catalyze discussions about what “open” means and how it could be right for you, your work and your organization.

To get in touch about how to you might use open (and Digital Principle #6, “Use open standards, open data, open source and open innovation”) in your aid and development work, email us at info@codeinnovation.com.

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.

mHealth for Trauma Intervention Post-Ebola

Our mHealth trauma project is taking one of the most impressive mental health innovations we've seen to scale, digitizing the approach pioneered by Second Chance Africa in post-conflict Monrovia and reaching freshly traumatized communities in the wake of the Ebola outbreak. Our one-pager outlining the project, for which we're actively seeking impact investors, is here. We're pushing the envelope in making low-cost trauma services easily available to low-resource populations where, in most cases, the national health system is still struggling to meet basic needs.

The thousands of Liberians who have graduated from Second Chance Africa’s 8-week program report a 60% decrease in their trauma symptoms -- things like panic attacks, hand tremors and hyperventilation -- and that they're able to return to normal lives thanks to the program. By taking the approach mobile for community health workers, we're helping to network mental health for trauma into the package of basic services.

Now that we're teaching at Singularity University's Graduate Studies Program for the summer, we're feeling challenged to take things a step further. At the moment, we're relying on impact investors for the seed funding that will enable us to create the mobile app for community health workers and test it with implementing partners in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Gaza and Rwanda.

Facilitators who run the app-based program will have, at the end of the 8 weeks, a cohesive and motivated group, ready to join the economy and begin to build their lives back. What if we could reach those people with entrepreneurial training, for those that want it, and vocational training that creates revenue streams to support the project's scale?

We're in the early stages of trying to bring in a social business component to our mHealth trauma app, . After all, while we need seed funding to get this started, we don't want to create a system that constantly needs external funding. Lucky for us, Singularity University is now partners with Yunus Social Business, so we've got some of the best support and thinking on this available.

If you'd like to learn more about how your impact investing could improve the lives of people affected by emergencies and disasters, including Ebola, get in touch (info@codeinnovation.com) to continue the conversation.

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.

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.

Community Mental Health

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Community mental health program in Liberia by Second Chance Africa (www.codeinnovation.com) The Washington Post recently profiled Chris Blattman's research into the economic and security benefits of therapy for at-risk youth in Monrovia, Liberia in "Jobs and jail might not keep young men out of crime, but how about therapy?". The gatekeepers of the psychiatric industry are losing power and a much-needed variety of healing will quickly become accessible on a global scale.

It bodes well for individuals, families and communities everywhere that psycho-social services are starting to be democratized. When people assumed that therapy or counseling required one-on-one time with a highly trained specialist or a regular supply of expensive proprietary drugs, emotional support was effectively a luxury (and, indeed, it has been routinely satirized as such with bored and wealthy TV characters gobbling pills from their indulgent therapists).

Bold new approaches to therapy are delivering powerful results for incredibly low costs, indicating that psychosocial services may soon become available to the hundreds of millions of people struggling with the effects of trauma.

Our partners, Second Chance Africa, pioneered a group therapy approach in Monrovia for ex-combatants that ran over five years, eliminating symptoms of trauma in 60% of the people who went through the program. We’re currently looking for funding to help digitize the curriculum that made this possible and to create an open source mobile resource for Community Health Workers to facilitate group therapy sessions of this variety.

We’ve got a rigorous, clinical monitoring and evaluation protocol lined up that leverages the expertise of PHD candidate Jana Pinto, who studies at the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the Sydney Medical School, at the University of Sydney. And we’ll be testing the approach simultaneously with culturally diverse members of the refugee community in Sydney to gauge the effectiveness of our content and method for a wider audience.

If you’re interested to help make this happen, contact us at info@codeinnovation.com.

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

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