There is little doubt that mobile plays a critical role in facilitating services for the developing world and in collective efforts to advance the Sustainable Development Goals. Governments are beginning to recognize the reach and costs/benefits of using mobile channels, and are taking an active role in scaling up mobile-enabled programs.
In Nigeria, for example, the Ministry of Agriculture increased the disbursement of fertilizers, seeds, and other agriculture resources from 10 percent to 90 percent by implementing an e-wallet solution. The program contributed an additional 30 billion USD to Nigeria’s GDP in under two years.
Despite a growing number of such examples of scaling, many mobile-enabled development programs remain stuck in the pilot stage, often citing difficulties in procuring and provisioning mobile services.
A key issue is fragmentation of both demand and supply. In many emerging markets, there are often numerous but disjointed projects with different implementers and donors, which require the same suite of mobile services. Fragmentation of supply further exacerbates this situation, with multiple mobile operators providing service in a country. Reaching national scale requires cross-operator negotiation, which is often fraught, slow and difficult to execute.
Fortunately, we see signs of the market attempting to align itself on both the demand and supply sides. Coordinated bulk procurement can be highly beneficial to both. Customers get lower rates and potentially better service, while suppliers reduce the overhead of working with multiple parties and have larger volumes to work with. USAID recently developed a field guide on demand aggregation and is identifying partners to test and implement demand aggregation within its missions. On the supply side, we see the rise of technology organizations like Africa’s Talking, Cellulant and SynqAfrica, which address commercial and technical integrations with multiple carriers, and others like Viamo, EngageSpark and Praekelt, which provide platforms that sit on top of those integrations to deliver mobile-enabled services.
At the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL), we believe there is great potential in these efforts for both telecoms and development/humanitarian organizations. We have been working on a series of interconnected tools, collectively known as DIAL’s Mobile Market Model to bring these parties closer together. This model aims to answer three questions that we have heard time and again from development practitioners and implementers.
- Are we even speaking the same language?
Mobile and NGO sectors often miscommunicate with one another because of their differing objectives and professional contexts. While there may be a common understanding of the channels at play (SMS, voice, USSD, and mobile Internet), understandings of the capabilities involved is often misaligned. For instance, do we need one-way or two-way for SMS? Do we need confirmation that an SMS has been sent or received? Why are any of the above important? Performance can also affect requisite features, which impacts the price. For example, sending 10,000 SMSs over the day differs greatly from sending them all in a half-hour span after dinner when many are checking their phones.
- Who can we work with (beside mobile operators)?
Even for those with a clear idea of what they want, there is a dizzying variety of players to procure from. Should we negotiate directly with the mobile operators in a country? Should we work with a mobile aggregator, who has already done the work of integrating across different operators? Do we want an aggregator who can simply procure channels at the best price, or one who offers additional services?
In Sub-Saharan Africa for example, DIAL has conducted an initial scan and discovered at least three aggregators with national coverage in over 23 countries, representing connections with over 40 operators – albeit with different channels. These players may enable NGOs to reach national scale without the hassle of individual commercial and technical negotiations. However, we also need to better understand why partnerships leveraging these players have not previously been prominent.
- How much mobile demand are we talking about, really?
At the end of the day, mobile service providers make decisions on pricing and service provision based on customer demand. With adequate visibility of demand, mobile providers may provide more compelling deals and even provide capability in areas not immediately commercial in nature. Quantifying this demand, however, requires extensive consultation in the field and gathering requirements from multiple stakeholders who may find projecting their growing needs into the future difficult. In addition, aligning procurement between different organizations with different funding sources presents an operational challenge.
To answer the above, we are developing a view of the market model as it applies to the mobile and NGO sectors i.e. which products are of interest, who the customers are and what they want, and who the suppliers are and what they are ready to offer. Whether you are an implementer seeking a mobile partner, or a mobile service provider looking to understand the demand, or an intermediary organization, stay tuned for the release of the following tools and learnings of the Mobile Market Mode.
1. Mobile Capability Model: suggests common language and terminology on mobile services for both development actors and mobile providers.
- Glossary of common core mobile channels (e.g. SMS, USSD, voice, airtime, mobile money, mobile Internet)
- Capabilities within each channel relevant to development needs (e.g. for SMS, the difference between MT and MO, one-way and two-way, delivery reporting, sender IDs, and reverse / zero-rating)
- Mapping of capabilities to user journeys, in a few archetypical mobile use cases (e.g. behavior change communications for maternal and new-born child health, and agricultural rural advisory and market linkage services
2. Aggregate Supplier Mapping: helps development actors locate potential aggregators based on capability and coverage.
- Excel-based source to search for aggregators by country, capability, and which mobile operators they have relationships with
- Note: currently focused on Sub-Saharan African region
3. Aggregate Demand Model: gives both development actors and mobile providers an overview of the size of aggregate mobile demand, by country, sector, and use case.
- Excel-based business model to size macro-level mobile demand for all mobile channels listed in 1. above, using a standard framework of use cases, population sizing and demand modelling methodologies, focusing on potential aggregate demand if mobile use cases are scaled up.
- Note: this is not intended to replace field-level estimation of actual historical demand, but a complementary exercise to show the potential of mobile usage in development at national levels