Mobile Phones in Sub-Saharan AfricaIn the rural farmlands of Tanzania, a woman is preparing to plant her crops for the season. She is part of the more than 50 percent of Sub-Saharan Africans who use agriculture to survive and feed their families. Her knowledge stems only from experience and word of mouth. In a constantly changing climate, inevitable questions arise. How much fertilizer does she need? She can either waste time walking to find an expert or an agricultural extension officer, or she can go on her mobile phone. 500 miles away, a family in Kenya is terrified that their crops may succumb to the dryness of the land and die, leaving them with nothing to sell or eat. Their mobile phone allows them to research the weather, giving them peace of mind when it says that the rain is coming, or allowing them to plan ahead when it is not. Mobile phones in Sub-Saharan Africa are already showing their potential.

For these people, a cell phone can mean a world of difference, and it doesn’t end with just agriculture. From education to banking to health, mobile phones opened up to a whole new realm of possibilities for the citizens of developing countries.

The GMSA Mobile Economy 2017 report predicts that mobile phones in Sub-Saharan Africa will reach half a billion users by 2020. This is more than double the number at the end of 2016, making it the fastest growing region in the world. The report attests the climb in numbers to the increased affordability of mobile devices and the improved market for used devices. In addition to the accessibility of information generated by mobile, the economy benefited as well, supplementing 3.5 million jobs in 2016. Tech start-ups are thriving in a mobile Africa as well. According to GMSA, “some 77 tech start-ups across the region raised just over $366.8 million in funding in 2016, growth of 33 percent compared to the previous year.” The opportunities that mobile platforms allow are attracting both talent and investment, according to GMSA.

Sub-Saharan Africa had 140 mobile money services in 39 countries as of December 2016, giving more and more users easy access to paying their bills online and sending/receiving money between friends and businesses. Zazu is Africa’s first digital-only bank, providing users with a debit card, a point-and-pay feature that utilizes the phone to scan payments with participating merchants and a mobile app to access transactions.

The mobile community provides impoverished people the chance to access financial services to make investments, save money and manage expenses. M-Pesa, for example, is a widely-used money-transferring mobile platform that recently added a savings and credit feature. According to GMSA, the platform lifted 194,000 Kenyan households out of poverty since 2006.

The report notes that there are more than 1,000 mobile health services that target families in developing countries. Sub-Saharan Africa makes up 25 percent of the global “disease burdened” population but only accounts for three percent of health workers. Living Goods supports health needs in Sub-Saharan Africa via a mobile platform run by trained health professional agents, focusing on child deaths with simple and affordable solutions. The agents use the mobile platform to identify diseases such as malaria and send automatic SMS reminders to the patient ensuring that they complete the whole course of treatment. Pregnant women can sign up to receive weekly messages with advice on maternal health and nutrition according to where they are at in their pregnancy. Living Goods even sells its own brand of food with nutrients and vitamins, often too difficult for people in developing African countries to access.

Mobile technology also allows those in poverty to receive better educations. Eneza Education is a learning platform utilizing mobile phones in Sub-Saharan Africa, enabling users to communicate with teachers and lesson programs via SMS, the web and Android. Students of all levels can take courses in any subject and interact instantly with teachers via their tablet, computer, or mobile phone. They also offer small business courses and teacher refreshment courses (which is hugely important, considering only about one-quarter of pre-primary teachers are trained in Sub-Saharan Africa). Eneza already has over two million subscribers across Africa and over 300,000 questions have been answered by their live ask-a-teacher feature.

Kytabu, out of Nairobi, allows users to essentially lease required learning and teaching materials (such as textbooks) online through their mobile device. The application provides exams, educational videos, group-chat classrooms, audiobooks and learning games.

Although accessibility to mobile phones in Sub-Saharan Africa is relatively new, the innovations made so far are a great testament to the technology’s potential. Clearly, the simplest technologies have the power to improve developing countries and make strides towards the elimination of poverty. In a modern world where phones have become grouped with simple technology, they are becoming as much of a right as water filters and electricity.

The things which we take for granted every day hold so much power. Think of what a cell phone can do.

Katherine Gallagher

Photo: Flickr

Aid in Kenya
On Oct. 19, USAID announced that it would award an additional $5 million to improve health care in Kenya. Where will that money go, and who will it help?

With a population of nearly 47 million, Kenya has the largest economy in Central and Eastern Africa. Its GDP per capita is $3,200 per year — not luxurious by any measure, but a leg above all its immediate neighbors. Its capital, Nairobi, is a regional hub for business, trade and commerce.

Yet only 5.7 percent of its expenditures are devoted to health care, the area where the funds are perhaps needed the most. The country suffers from high infant and mother mortality rates, a life expectancy of only 64 years, and a 1-in-20 percent chance of contracting AIDS. There are only two physicians per 10,000 people, and they are spread dishearteningly thin as they try to address the continuing HIV epidemic and widespread diseases.

Because Kenya has a better record of democracy and transparency than many developing African nations, and because the U.S. considers it, “an important developing country partner in east Africa,” it has become a significant target of U.S. foreign aid.

The State Department says that its objectives in Kenya are to “(1) strengthen democratic institutions; (2) spur economic growth, trade and investment; (3) advance peace and security and (4) promote opportunity and development.” In 2014, Kenya received $2.7 billion from the international community to help build infrastructure and encourage peaceful development.

Five million dollars may sound like a drop in the bucket compared to that sum, but these directly targeted funds will serve an important purpose. The funds will expand the work of an organization called Living Goods, which focuses on encouraging entrepreneurship in the health industry: it trains women in basic health procedures and recruits them to become small business owners. These women leverage their rich social networks to sell affordable, high-quality, life-saving products — such as simple treatments for common diseases — to families who would otherwise go without care.

When you live in developing countries like Kenya, even health care offered free by the government can come with a price. Sometimes it’s the literal price of commuting to the clinic; other times it’s the price of risk, the chance, in places as high as 50 percent, that the hospital will be out of the medicine your child needs.

Living Goods seeks to extend medical care to every community using a model that is both impactful and sustainable, and by doing so increase access to the most basic health supplies and expertise.

The $5 million from USAID is funded by the Development Innovation Ventures program, and it will help expand Living Goods’ community health care in Kenya. A recent independent study showed that the program had managed to reduce child deaths by 25 percent for less than $2 per person per year. Over the next decade, the organization plans to improve the health and lives of over 50 million people.

Madeleine Read

Photo: Flickr

living goods 2_opt
For most Americans, there are few things in life more irritating than a door-to-door salesperson. They bypass the bubble we’ve created around ourselves using newfangled technologies like caller ID and appear unannounced at the door with the intent to sell you a vacuum cleaner. In 21st century America, we prefer to buy and we hate to be sold.

For people living in Uganda however, a stranger at your door could save your life.

Living Goods is a social business based in San Francisco that seeks to create a sustainable delivery system of products and services essential for health and well being in the developing world. These products, which include anti-malaria medications, clean burning cook stoves, solar lamps and fortified foods, undoubtedly improve and sometimes save the lives of those living in poverty. But all too often there is no infrastructure in place to ensure those who need these goods have access to them.

Enter the Living Goods Community Health Promoter. CHP’s are the delivery system for Living Goods, going door-to-door in their communities delivering over 70 different products to customers at 20-40% below market prices. A CHP, usually a woman but the program has recently expanded to include a few men, gets his or her start by purchasing a “business in a bag”, a branded duffel bag from Living Goods containing everything they need to start a franchise. They then receive two weeks of intensive training, learning how to diagnose common illnesses like malaria and when to refer a customer to a clinic. Ongoing mentorship and marketing support are also provided. Eve Alituvera, a Community Healthy Promoter in Uganda said of her impact on the community “I offer them good health plus commodities – that’s the business”.

Malaria is a disease that’s particularly problematic in Uganda. It is estimated that Uganda has the highest rate of infection in the world, nearly 478 cases per 1,000 people per year. While this is a highly treatable infection and drugs are free at public hospitals, they are often out of stock or too far from those who need them. What’s worse, nearly 30% of anti-malaria drugs sold at pharmacies are counterfeit. Fortunately, the presence of Living Goods CHP’s has succeeded in reducing the effects of malaria on locals. A 2012 report by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government found that the presence of a Living Goods CHP increased the use of anti-malarial drugs by children believed to be infected with the disease by 40%.

Today, there are over 1000 Community Health Promoters active in Uganda and Living Goods is planning to implement the model in Kenya beginning mid 2013.

– Erin Ponsonby 

Source: Living Goods, The Guardian
Photo: Time Magazine