Are Consumers Ready for Digital Inclusion?
Prior to developing EXCEED mobile record-keeping solution for micro-entrepreneurs, we ran pilot projects in Khayelitsha, a township outside Cape Town, and in Durban. The USSD-based prototype-app called MoneyBox gave us important insights for specifying the requirements for EXCEED, some of them relevant to the post will be shared in the following. Being USSD based, online access was required to capture and save data on a server. Besides GSM coverage issues, pilot-participants often lacked airtime credit. Missing data led to inaccurate reports and questionable usefulness of the information dampening high hopes and eventually motivation. Access and affordability, discussed in the previous post, has been addressed by developing EXCEED as a native app with a very low footprint. We have also found that some of the pilot-participants were unable to enter amounts using their phones while being perfectly able to count money and give correct change in their daily business dealings. This obstacle was overcome within a short space of time and had unexpected, wider impact on digital inclusion: this new skill enabled participants to use ATMs. Something we bear in mind when on-boarding EXCEED!
During the launch of EXCEED with a group of business start-ups, our trainer shared another important finding: there is a mental barrier particularly among older and less-educated users to use the mobile phone for anything else than making calls and messaging. They have been unaware of and lacked the skills to access apps that could potentially enhance their lives, including a record-keeping app for their business.
In its report “The Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2018”, GSM defines consumer readiness as
“Citizens with the awareness and skills needed to value and use the internet and a cultural environment that promotes gender equality”.
Internet adoption via mobile broadband access is also hampered by a lack of digital literacy and skills. Like our experience showed, users with low literacy levels find it harder to make full use of the opportunities apps and the internet have to offer. It comes to no surprise that GSM cites low literacy and a lack of ICT infrastructure in schools as the main reasons for the slow pace of internet adoption. “For example, in Ethiopia only 11% of primary schools and 42% of secondary schools have computer laboratories, in Cameroon 1% and 33%, and in South Africa 26% and 39% respectively.9 “ GSM suggests that all stakeholders should identify approaches to overcome this digital gap and particularly calls on governments to address this issue. Apps targeting groups from low-literacy backgrounds are more successful through digital literacy and skills training.
One of the most important considerations for making the internet more appealing to users in developing economies, is the
“the availability of online content and services that are accessible and relevant to the local population”.
This includes making apps available in local languages. Travellers to rural Africa quickly discover that English and French are not as widely spoken as they expect. Share trading apps, financial management apps requiring bank accounts, even Google maps, Linkedin or spreadsheet apps find little application in rural and semi-rural Africa where half of Africa's population still lives. Great examples of apps addressing local needs are the widespread availability of mobile payment solutions, mobile purchasing apps of electricity, insurances and water-bills, fresh-produce trading apps, messaging, job-posting apps and responsive government websites to make government services available online to name a few. From personal experience in South Africa, pay-as-you-go airtime credit can be transferred from one mobile phone to the other making it a modest income earning business opportunity for some. “According to a GSMA consumer survey, around 11% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa accessed health services via their mobile phones in 2017, of which 44% were female.” Health and nutrition information are provided via a mobile service to 1.8 million pregnant women in Tanzania since 2012.
Huge Potential for Mobile Content Waiting to be Unlocked for Developmental and Economic Impact
“There is an app for that!”
Life in developing countries has many challenges which are disguised opportunities for app-developers. To unlock the opportunities, skills and an enabling environment are needed. One such initiative run across sub-Saharan Africa, “the Ecosystem Accelerator programme focuses on bridging the gap between mobile operators and innovators, enabling strong partnerships that support the growth of commercially sustainable mobile products and services.” An increasing number of technology focused incubators offer developers access to peer knowledge, investors, business skills and ICT. Some of them specifically support women to play a bigger role in technology. Since they mainly address local needs, we tend not to hear about them and have little use in our lives for many of them. However, there has been very encouraging results from home-grown apps that have enhanced the lives of many. I dare to conclude that it will be the content that will drive the narrowing of the digital divide.