Important work is underway to bring digital services to scale across multiple sectors – from health, to financial services, to agriculture. While we still talk about pilotitis, the reality is that the digital development ecosystem is maturing and services are expanding at scale in many places. Although many are in early stages, these success stories offer the digital development community important lessons on what new challenges are faced when moving from thousands to millions of users across multiple geographies.
The first step in capitalizing on what others are doing is awareness of promising examples that already exist. Some exciting examples of digital deployments that are delivering impact at scale include:
- Mobile Kilkari — The word “kilkari” refers to a baby’s gurgle in Hindi and Mobile Kilkari is a mobile health (mHealth) service that delivers free, weekly, time-appropriate audio messages to new and expecting mothers about pregnancy, child birth and child care from the second trimester of pregnancy until the child is one-year-old. Mobile Kilkari has the opportunity to increase the capacity of expecting mothers to make healthier choices and lead longer, healthier lives. Within 12 months of its national launch with the Government of India, the service has reached 2 million families and contacts approximately 750,000 families every week.
- BIMA MicroInsurance — In the mobile financial services space, BIMA MicroInsurance has built a business with more than 18 million registered customers across 14 countries, offering mobile delivered insurance to low-income people. The company offers a range of affordable life, personal accident and health micro insurance products and underwriting through innovative partnerships with major mobile network operators and financial services businesses. In just five years, the BIMA model has transformed the insurance landscape in the developing countries in which it operates.
- Esoko — In the mobile agriculture space, Esoko is focused on the future of sustainable farming. The company operates in 10 countries and 170 individual markets, providing vital digital communication tools for businesses, government, NGOs and others to connect and share advice, weather forecasts and other information with local smallholder farmers in real time. By establishing a direct connection for farmers to share information, Esoko is helping ensure that agricultural production can be maximized and as sustainably as possible.
The success achieved by these organizations ought to be celebrated and their approach should help to inform others who are focusing on their own digital deployments that have yet to reach desired scale.
There are complex questions that organizations need to ask when determining their viability to scale. Why do some digital deployments scale successfully, while others falter? To what extent does it depend on the broader macro environment including policy and regulation, where individual deployments might have less control? How much does it depend upon the deployment’s operational circumstances and the strategic choices it has made, e.g. as it adapts its systems and processes at various junctures in the deployment lifecycle?
The reality is that it is much harder for digital deployments to scale from beta to commercial launch. When deployments scale at various stages of maturity, a different set of challenges confront the organization, often as business or technical model specifications require significant adaptation. Unfortunately, few guidelines exist within the digital development community to help circumvent the many challenges digital deployments are facing.
DIAL is listening. We will shortly announce a partnership focused on developing “scale up guidance” for the broader digital community’s use. Our expectation is that this work will highlight good practices and experiences across sectors – such as from Mobile Kilkari and Esoko mentioned above – in a way that offers step by step, transferable lessons to help inform and replicate even more success.
It’s a very exciting time to be working on digital scale up in global development. We appreciate any feedback you may have, including better understanding pain points you and your organization may be facing or thematic topics within scale up we should more seriously consider. Please do get in touch to share your scale up experiences so that we can bring digital services to scale more quickly around the world.
Wameek Noor is the Director, Insights in the Insights and Impact Focus Area Team of DIAL. In this role, Noor works to catalyze the pace of innovation to enhance sustainability and scale of digital deployments and digital development programs. He manages innovative research and experimentation that could offer key insights and operational know-how to create a more effective and enabling digital ecosystem.