Design Expo 2014: Online Discussion - ICT and Social Impact

This online panel discussion at 3.30 UK time on Wednesday 11 June will explore the following questions:

  1. What are some of the ways in which the huge growth in mobile phones is benefitting people at the BoP?
  2. What are some of key challenges and success factors in rolling out ICT innovations among low-income consumers?
  3. Looking ahead, what are some of big opportunties for large scale impact through ICT?

Panelists include: Paulo Mele, Esoko; Michael Nique and Kai-lik Foh, GSMA; Anna Levy, Frontline SMS; Mike Quinn, ZOONA; Doug Ricket, SVTP.

Editor's Note:

This is a text-only, written discussion. To post comments you will need to sign in / sign up to Business Fights Poverty. A list of recent comments is shown in the right-hand side bar and will refresh every 5 minutes. To refresh more often, please click on the refresh icon in your browser.

This event is part of the Business Fights Poverty Design Expo 2014. Running from 9 to 13 June, the Design Expo is an online celebration of products, services and business models transforming the lives of poor people. The Design Expo is a collaboration with iDE UK and is being supported by the UK's Department for International Development.

The Expo will include a vibrant mix of blogs, Google Hangouts, online panel discussions, a Twitter Jam and a virtual exhibition zone. Each day we will focus on a different sector: Energy (9 June), Health (10 June), Communications (11 June), Livelihoods (including enterprise, finance and agriculture) (12 June) and Water & Sanitation (13 June).

From Monday 9 June, you will be able to access all the activities via the Design Expo landing page, Participation in the Design Expo is free. You will simply need to sign in (or sign up for free) to Business Fights Poverty.

Looking ahead some opportunities:

For a long time, social media has not been viewed as something that can transform the society in a big way. However, it is beginning to happen. The concept of "social media ownership" will affect how people use social media. The concept of ownership brings with it all the advantages that the owners of traditional social media have enjoyed exclusively at the expense of the users.

Characteristic of the current scenario of ownership is to have skewed accumulation of wealth by a few while majority that use social media remain at the periphery. That is why the concept of social media ownership as advocated for Smart Media Technologies, rides on a call to change the world. It is fronting a possibility and a reality of shared revenue that is generated through social media.

In business terms, the concept will see the redistribution of revenue held by a few companies that own the social media. It will see "many owners" building micro social media networks from where each gets a share of the the generated revenue. The impact will be to see the possibility of lifting many social media users out of poverty and placing them in an advantageous position.

This concept is well articulated it the websites of Smartmedia and one can visit it for clarity of the concept at and

Hi everyone! Welcome to this written online discusion about ICT and Social Impact. We’re joined by an excellent panel today. Please do post your comments and questions below.

Good morning and afternoon all! Looking forward to the conversation.

Hi there a very good morning / afternoon / evening to everyone.

Hi everyone, and greetings from Malawi! My name is Mike Quinn and I'm the CEO of Zoona (, a mobile payments business in southern Africa. I look forward to the conversation.

Let's start with the first question:

Q1: What are some of the ways in which the huge growth in mobile phones is benefitting people at the BoP?

Good morning all! I'm Doug from SVTP here. Thanks Zahid and Business Fights Poverty for hosting.

Hi from London, I'm Michael and I work for the GSMA Mobile Enabled Community Services programme - we are looking at the role and impact of mobile technologies and services to improve access to energy and water

Since land lines are not available in much of the developing world, the availability of mobile phones represents a fundamental transformation, not just an incremental improvement.

  • For health, my former host family in rural Gambia can use phones to connect with community health nurses, call an ambulance, and confirm if a needed doctor is at a hospital before spending time and money to travel there.
  • In education, phones allow students and staff to know when school is actually starting (sometimes a major problem in developing countries), and to make information from the internet available where books are in short supply.
  • I've seen transparency and good governance initiatives that rely on mobile phones to inform a population about voting and government spending, and other initiatives that shine light on corruption by collecting reports through phones.
  • And perhaps most of all, communication improves economic development and enables self-sufficiency and sustainable livelihoods. For example, shopkeepers can coordinate purchases with wholesalers, customers can call ahead to ensure that distant shops have the products they need before traveling, and farmers can connect with buyers to get fair prices for their crops. The end result is a more prosperous society.

Mobile phones have facilitated low-cost, economies of scale for a range of services, from health services to consumer products, for BoP populations. In other words, mobile has transformed distribution systems for populations historically marginalized from those systems geographically or economically.

What’s exciting to me is the development of many inclusive business models in different sectors: finance, energy, water, agriculture,.. leveraging this piece of electronics (a mobile hanset) which can be found in most of the villages around the world as of today

I would echo Doug's comment and add that something unique about mobile devices for all these purposes is that they enable two-way communication and dialogue. For education, health, and governance related activities, people can participate (over receiving information or notifications alone) at a very low cost.

Brief intro to myself - I manage a programme within the GSMA across 10 African countries helping to bring together the health and mobile community in public-private partnerships to launch mHealth services focusing on nutrition and maternal/child health. We're planning to cover Nigeria, Malawi, Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, Cote d'ivoire, Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique over a 3 year period starting from this year.

Hi Zahid

I would say from Esoko's perspective that one of the key benefits that the BoP, in our case smallholder farmers, have gained is the access to information. This gives them the ability to make better choices about what they grow, how they grow and where to sell their produce.

Here in Kenya there of course also has been the huge benefits that have arrived as a result of mobile money, mpesa.

Hi Anna - do you think the Smartphone is going to make a major impact soon - or will it be a long time coming to the BoP? The potential seems huge.

Thanks for the comments so far! Let's move on to question 2:

Q2: What are some of key challenges and success factors in rolling out ICT innovations among low-income consumers?

Hi Paolo - have there been many impact evaluations conducted looking at the impact of access to mobile phones for smallholder farmers? If so, what is the impact of mobile phone access on farmers' incomes?

There are many ways but here is one example that I am particularly excited about.

1. I visited a Coca Cola micro-distributor yesterday in Malawi that literally had a garbage bag full of cash that he was collecting from all of his customers, that he physically has to take to his supplier to pay for his stock. This is very risky for him, and then creates huge inefficiencies with the supplier that has to handle the cash. By introducing mobile payment technology to him, he can receive payments from his customers and pay his suppliers instantly and electronically to reduce the cash that he needs to handle. This helps make his business more efficient and improves his margins.

2. He can then use his mobile account with us to offer other products to his customers and general consumers that make him money - such as airtime, bill payments, cash deposits / withdrawals, etc. This enables him to have diversified revenue streams.

3. Now that these transactions are done electronically through a mobile phone, we can offer him financial service products such as overdraft and expansion capital which we underwrite from his payment history. So a small business that previously couldn't access formal credit can receive tailored and low cost financing that meets his business needs.

From the health perspective, what's interesting is the huge variety of ways in which the mobile channel has been used to complement traditional health interventions, ranging from health education and awareness, to medication compliance and appointments and reminders for direct to consumer applications, to staff training, evaluation, development of health registries and data surveillance and drug authentication which aid health workers / health systems.

If we add to that applications which combine mobile with medical technologies, there are a number of exciting new approaches to diagnostics and monitoring which can overcome some of the issues around access and reach that currently plague health delivery in rural, remote BoP settings.