Technology

  • Moving forward in Asia through mobile financial services

    Josh WoodardThe World Bank estimates that about 2.5 billion people worldwide lack a formal bank account at a financial institution. In most of the countries where development organizations operate, the need for safe and affordable financial services is quite high. At the same time, mobile phone ownership continues to expand rapidly: Recent estimates by GSMA Intelligence put unique mobile phone subscriptions at more than 3.6 billion people globally. It is no wonder that articles in The Wall Street Journal and The Economist have recently proclaimed that mobiles offer a promising path for the world’s unbanked to gain financial inclusion.

    More than 100 experts gathered at the Mondato Asia Summit last week in Singapore to discuss mobile financial services in emerging Asia. Participants heard from big names like Google, MasterCard, Visa, Discover, Amazon, MetLife, Uber, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, as well as from several companies that you may not have heard of yet but will likely soon, such as mHITS, a global mobile money remittance service, and Gatecoin, the first global digital currency exchange.

    Speaker after speaker at the summit emphasized the importance of putting the customer first — commonly referred to as human-centered or user-centered design — in the development of any mobile financial service. It seems fairly self-evident that products should be designed based on what users want. Apple was touted as the gold standard for designing products based on an acute understanding of their customers’ wants, needs and aspirations. Yet, as anyone who has ever found themselves desperately trying to speak to a live person on a bank’s automated phone system knows, this is not always the case.

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  • Technology alone is not enough

    In 1879, Thomas Edison unveiled his incandescent light bulb. Within six years, electric power had spread across the nation and ignited an explosion of invention that created new industries and thousands of jobs and transformed every aspect of society. A century later, in 1978, Steve Jobs introduced the Apple personal computer and unleashed another wave of innovation that reaffirmed our faith in the power and potential of technology to drive human progress.

    I was reminded just how high our expectations are for technology at two events in September: the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Frontiers of Development conference and the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting, each of which showcased inventions, tools and concepts to improve public health and raise living standards. A few of the breakthrough innovations highlighted at these events or in recently announced grants include:

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  • Pioneering the Mobile for Reproductive Health program

    Did you know that 220 million women and girls have unmet needs for family planning? In particular, Tanzania has one of the lowest doctor-patient ratios in the world — 1 doctor for every 50,000 patients. With those limitations, how are individuals supposed to make informed choices about their health when they can’t access information about their options?

    This is a question being asked by the maternal health and global health community. As studies have shown, improved access to comprehensive sexuality education and modern contraception increases opportunities throughout a woman’s life. This includes the ability to pursue education and earn an income leading to a healthier life for a woman, her children and her family.

    With mobile technologies advancing in developing countries, we can now get health information and support to many more women and couples. Text messaging (SMS) in particular, offers benefits:

    • Messages are available to all mobile phone users regardless of phone type.
    • Mobile phone users typically carry them everywhere, making maximum program reach likely.
    • In many cases, text messages are less expensive than voice calls.
    • Text messages can be automated and efficiently delivered, reaching many people.

    With this in mind, I developed Mobile for Reproductive Health or m4RH, in 2010 with FHI 360, Text to Change, and ministries of health and NGO partners in Tanzania and Kenya.

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  • Anticipating the impact of cutting-edge technology on democracy and development

    What might nongovernmental organizations, governments and world leaders have done differently if, fifteen years ago, they could have predicted the transformative effect that mobile phones and Internet access would have on the world’s poorest countries? What can we do now, if we look far enough down the road, to anticipate the next waves of revolutionary technology?

    Technology has brought us to the doorstep of a world once only imaginable. Google cars now drive themselves across California. An autonomously piloted drone can be purchased on Amazon.com. Computers are acting more and more like people. This year, one passed the Turing test, a measurement of a machine’s ability to mimic human behavior. There are working prototypes of spray-on skin and mind-controlled prosthetic limbs. A thousand robots can work together to complete a common task. Things are changing fast.

    These technologies will shape the future of the world and change development as we know it.

    Funders, governments, practitioners and technology leaders need to anticipate the impact of emerging innovations on democracy and human rights and plan accordingly. Technology can empower activists and dictators alike. To be prepared, we should start asking questions, such as: How will development and civic engagement change when citizens in the most remote parts of the world have access to the Internet? How might drone journalism provide safe, reliable access to conflict-affected parts of the world? How can wearable technology innovations like Google Glass make citizens freer or, conversely, be misused by governments to monitor and control citizens?

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  • The future of Myanmar is online

    Today, Myanmar has similar mobile phone usage rates to North Korea, Eritrea and Cuba – less than 10 percent of the population. At the same time, technology restrictions in the country are easing. Three mobile operators are racing to roll out services, which will rapidly bring the 60 million people who live in Myanmar into a digital reality, practically overnight.

    On August 6, 2014, FHI 360 convened a workshop in Yangon to explore the role of information and communications technology and development in Myanmar, attended by leading technologists and development experts from Myanmar and across the Asia Pacific region. The workshop centered on three questions that address technology’s impact on government, civil society, business and most importantly, people’s lives:

    1. What are the social and cultural impacts when a country goes online virtually overnight?
    2. What will the people of Myanmar find on the Internet of today? Or tomorrow?
    3. Who will benefit when all of the citizens of Myanmar have a digital voice?

    While attendees touched on many points throughout the discussion, and did not always agree on the answers to our questions, we did find general consensus that by 2018, Myanmar will have a very different technology landscape.

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  • Technology for economic growth: How mobile money expands financial inclusion in Malawi

    What is mobile money?

    Mobile money is currency stored on your mobile phone. Typically, a customer will bring cash to a local agent who deposits the cash onto the customer’s phone in the form of mobile money. Agents are also able to withdraw money from a customer’s phone and provide cash. These agents, often local shopkeepers, are selected and trained by mobile network operators.

    Why is mobile money important?

    An overwhelming majority of Malawi’s population lives in rural areas, where agriculture is the source of income for more than 85 percent of the population, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). A 2009 FinScope Demand Survey found that 55 percent of Malawians do not have access to any type of financial institution, and only 19 percent of the total population uses a formal bank. Because bank accounts are so rare, mobile money offers an accessible alternative for safely depositing, withdrawing, transferring and even saving money.

    Why has mobile money been adopted so quickly in Malawi?

    FHI 360’s Mobile Money Accelerator Program has been working to create an environment that is ready to receive and adopt mobile money systems. We provide financial literacy trainings that help increase understanding and acceptance of mobile money.

    The Government of Malawi has shown its support by signing and participating in the Better Than Cash Alliance, which aims to transition government cash payments to electronic payments in an effort to increase transparency and expand financial inclusion across the country.

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  • Innovative technologies address youth unemployment in Iraq

    What is the Foras project?

    The word foras means “opportunity” in Arabic, an apt name for this project, which seeks to dramatically accelerate individuals’ access to employment opportunities in Iraq. USAID-Foras has launched web-based and mobile technology platforms to overcome barriers to employment, linking jobseekers with employers. Our immediate goal is to increase the number of youth and adults placed in jobs, but ultimately we want to introduce a more efficient model for how employers hire their workforce.

    Why is this project needed in Iraq?

    What USAID-Foras is doing in Iraq is essential to growth of the country’s economy and its stability. About 50 percent of the population in Iraq is 25 years or younger, and roughly half of that demographic is unemployed. Even more alarming, about 400,000 new jobseekers or eligible workers are added the economy yearly, but a vast majority of these individuals remain unemployed. This problem will only worsen without intervention.

    What technologies has Foras launched thus far and who has access to them?

    In 2013, we launched an online jobs portal, which is used by jobseekers and employers looking to hire. We adapted our portal from a similar tool developed by Microsoft in partnership with Silatech, a Qatar-based nonprofit organization. The original portal allowed jobseekers to upload a personal profile and resume or curriculum vitae (CV) and to look for available positions. We improved on this portal by adding a feature that matches jobseekers based on their skills and experiences to jobs that have been listed on the site by employers. We also made it available in English and Arabic.

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  • Center on Technology and Disability: Leveling the field for all learners

    What is the Center on Technology and Disability and how is it unique?

    FHI 360’s Center on Technology and Disability is a collaborative effort with American Institutes for Research, PACER Center and an experienced team of researchers and practitioners. Together, these partners strengthen the ability of individuals and institutions to understand and embrace evidence-based technology, tools and strategies that level the playing field for children and youth with disabilities in the United States.

    The scope of FHI 360’s collaboration is unique in terms of audience reach and the breadth and depth of professional and personal development activities. Individually, each organization has made major contributions to technology and education. Combined, the CTD team will make available to the field the most influential and knowledgeable thought leaders in assistive and instructional technology. CTD will provide accessible information resources and universal and targeted technical assistance to children and youth with disabilities, families and service providers, state and local education and health agencies, teachers, teacher preparation programs, researchers, parent training and information centers, and family advocacy organizations.

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  • Expanding the Contraceptive Armamentarium

    Armamentarium. It’s a big word. It’s what we in the U.S. like to call a fifty-cent word. An armamentarium refers to the full range of resources that are available to tackle a problem, often in the arena of health care.

    Today, we have an unequivocal need to expand the contraceptive armamentarium for women around the world.

    In some cases, this means expanding access to existing, underutilized family planning methods. In too many settings, women do not have adequate access to a full range of options, including long-acting and permanent contraceptive methods. Barriers to access include frequent stock-outs of commodities; a lack of adequate health care facilities or trained staff to administer contraceptives, especially in rural areas; prohibitively expensive client fees; a lack of comprehensive, accurate information for clients; a provider bias against the provision of long-acting methods to some women; and opposition from family members or community institutions.

    This week, over 3,000 program implementers, health care providers, researchers, faith-based leaders, donors and policymakers gather in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the third International Conference on Family Planning. The theme of the week-long event is “Full Access, Full Choice.” The organizers explain that this is more than just a conference; it is part of a movement to garner commitments globally to implement evidence-based solutions targeting the persistent barriers to access that women and men face every day.

    In addition to identifying effective service delivery and policy approaches to increase access to existing methods, we must also take advantage of this moment in Addis to make a long-term commitment to expand the contraceptive armamentarium to include new, innovative methods. The basket of family planning methods available has remained largely unchanged for several decades. There are gaps in the method mix that, if filled, could result not only in increased uptake of contraceptives by women, but also in improved continuation rates by better meeting individuals’ needs and desires.

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  • The award-winning power of Mobile for Reproductive Health

    FHI 360’s Mobile for Reproductive Health (m4RH) project has been nominated for a prestigious 2013 Katerva Award, which recognizes “the most promising ideas and efforts to advance the planet toward sustainability.” This nomination adds to the considerable recognition that this innovative mHealth information service has already received. In June of this year, m4RH was one of ten recipients of the first African Development Bank eHealth Awards. Just a year earlier, Women Deliver 50! selected m4RH as one of the top 10 innovative technology programs supporting women and girls.

    The Katerva Award nomination highlights m4RH’s innovative packaging of reproductive health information and behavior change components in a single mobile phone technology. Using mobile phones, m4RH disseminates family planning information to the general public, as well as information on the nearest clinic that offers these services. One of the few text-messaging services globally that provides family planning information as a means of education and behavior change communication, m4RH has revolutionized the concept of informed choice in the provision of family planning information. With m4RH, any person with a mobile phone can access standardized, essential and comprehensive information in simple language. One user said, “m4RH is using terms you can understand, it has clear knowledge on what you want to know. It is simple to understand, simple language that everyone can understand.” Given that more than 85 percent of global citizens have mobile connectivity, the potential impact of this simple service is truly exciting.

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