Mobile phone use vital for the poor

With 6 billion mobile phones around the world, of which 75% in developing countries, telephones reach most corners of the African continent. Mobile phones have improved the lives of the . Two new infoDev-led studies, focusing on South and , provide insights on how useful mobile phones are for economic and social empowerment of people living of less than $2.50 a day.

The Kenya as well as the South Africa case studies are part of a large, multi-country research commissioned by infoDev about the use of mobile phones at the Base of the Pyramid (BOP), the poorest people around the world. The research program is supported by UKaid, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the Government of Finland and SIDA (Sweden).

The Kenya study carried out by iHub Research and Research Solutions Africa among 800 mobile users in six locations across the country, found that at least 20 per cent of respondents felt it was necessary to make real sacrifices to recharge their mobile credit. What’s new about this research (based on detailed questionnaires, focus groups, and diaries) is that it puts an estimated figure on the value of the sacrifice that base of the pyramid users are willing to make in foregoing other activities, at an average of around 72 Kenyan shillings per week (around 84 US cents).  In the majority of cases (>80 per cent), that meant buying less food, at least once a week. New clothes, bus fares, utility bills and even soap were sometimes sacrificed to sustain the all-powerful . As one respondent put it, “Better you miss to eat … at times you miss to eat and you have credit”.

The South Africa study was carried out by Research ICT Africa and Intelecon and builds on a broader household survey of ICT usage across 12 countries in Africa funded by IDRC (Canada). The report shows that, in South Africa, even among BOP populations, some three-quarters already have phones, but usage of data applications is fairly low. The one exception here is the MXit social networking platform and there is growing use of other social media, notably Facebook Zero. But other applications, such as mobile money, do not seem to be well targeted to the poor.

Please read the blog by infoDev’s Tim Kelly and lead researcher Angela Crandall (): “Mobile phone credit instead of bread? For many Kenyans, a real dilemma”

The two publications can be downloaded on infoDev’s publications web page.

For a direct download of the Kenya study (pdf), click here.

For a direct download of the (pdf), click here.

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