Expanding the Mobile Apps Market: Making Mobile Work at the Base of the Pyramid

Arne Hoel/The World Bank

The diagram of a horizontally sliced triangle, with its wide base and pointy tip, has been used to represent socio-economic data for decades. The lowest and largest portion represents the poorest and most populous segment of society – living “at the bottom of the pyramid.” In the context of mobile innovation, we prefer the alternate term, “base of the pyramid,” which is closer to signifying the foundational, fundamental role of this demographic group in the health of an economy.

Regardless of semantics, the phrase has been widely used by researchers to consider the effects of various phenomena on this group of people (see select references related to digital entrepreneurship here). While many of these studies have produced insights for the development community, few have contributed practical knowledge for the entrepreneurs who live among and serve this critical group.

In 2012, infoDev commissioned country case studies on the use of mobile devices (then still mostly simple phones) at the base of the pyramid in Kenya and South Africa, with funding from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and DFID (UK). Relying in part on a diary methodology and household surveys, the team was able to collect a rich set of qualitative and quantitative data to describe how mobile technologies were being used by the poor in their daily lives, as well as recording a series of videos with users.

They showed, for instance, that users in Kenya were willing to forego basic necessities such as food, transport or toiletries to pay for mobile credit in the knowledge that this would give them better opportunities to find work. In other words, we found that mobile phones are highly valued by and influential in the lives of people at the “base of the pyramid,” and decided to deepen our knowledge further in a way that would benefit entrepreneurs who create applications that serve this population.

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Not Just ‘Women’s Issues': Including Women in the Growth Agenda

Panelists at the conference included Maria Eugenia Davalos of the World Bank Group; Yasmin Bin-Humam of “Women, Business and the Law”; Nasim Novin of IFC’s Gender Secretariat; Dzana Ferhatbegovic of the Women’s Empowerment Principles of the United Nations Global Compact; and Lisa Kaestner of the Investment Climate department of IFC.

It was an ironic beginning to the IFC-sponsored conference on Employing Women in the Western Balkans: With school cancellations due to heavy rain, the organizers feared lower attendance because women would have to stay home with their children.

Caring for children may still be seen as a woman’s role – but that doesn’t mean that child care is solely a women’s issue. “Initial estimates show that, in the Western Balkans, [the] loss of average GDP per capita is about 18 percent due to differences in the level of employment of men and women,” said Tony Verheijen, the World Bank’s Country Manager for Serbia. In Serbia, 51 percent of working-age women are active in the labor market. The figures throughout the region aren’t more promising, with 42 percent in Bosnia and Herzegovina and 18 percent in Kosovo.

Conference participants identified discrimination on the part of employers, along with the lack of child care, as major barriers to women’s labor-force participation in the region. Women who want to work simply can’t. A representative from the ministry of labor in Montenegro pointed out that the government had recently changed working hours, but that day-care hours remained unchanged, leaving a gap between when day-care centers close and when women leave work, making work difficult. A campaign led by NALED in Serbia pointed out that, in the past, the amount of documentation and processing required in order to receive maternity payments was excessive and could be reduced by more than half, saving employers RSD 690 million annually (enough to employ 1,200 people!).

Women’s employment is a pillar of economic growth. How far would the industrial revolution have come without the armies of women who joined the labor force? Would the East Asian “tigers” have remained kittens without women?

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Inside the tech hub movement: In-depth lessons from a global mobile entrepreneurship initiative


“The technology startup scene has grown from zero to hundred in the last three years”, a Mobile Monday co-founder in Bangkok recently told us.  Amazingly, the same statement could have been made in Bogota, Kampala, Kingston or Tbilisi (Check out a collection of videos that tell the stories of these mobile startups). Fueled by better and better ICT and mobile Internet infrastructure as well as lower barriers to entry, tech entrepreneurship is on the rise globally, and the World Bank and others are increasingly looking to leverage the trend to foster sustained economic and social development.

In the U.S. and Europe, startup accelerators have been the flavor of the day, whereas in Africa, Asia, and other emerging markets, entrepreneurial buzz was driven more by the rise of tech hubs. For those new to the topic: Tech hubs connect stakeholder groups, leverage resources, and fill gaps in innovation ecosystems, all for the ultimate benefit of grassroots, early-stage entrepreneurs who develop technological solutions like mobile applications.

There is no cookie cutter approach to building a tech hub. Having been involved with several entrepreneurial communities around the world, we can say that tech hubs come in different shapes and sizes, depending on the available people and resources and on the needs of the ecosystem.

Implementation models range from regular meet-ups to co-working spaces with tiered membership, as well as sector-specific startup enablers such as infoDev’s network of mLabs and mHubs. As is the case for startups supported by the hubs, building a well-oiled machine with a business model that can run on its own takes vision and courage from tech hub leadership, while testing hypotheses to learn and iterate is crucial.

At the same time, infoDev’s stakeholders are asking us to provide them with general insights into the sustainability as well as the results and outcomes of tech hubs—both foundations of their long-term legacy, as Tim Kelly pointed out in his recent blog post. Networks such as AfriLabs are important vehicles to ensure learning among peers, but most have no time and resources to codify lessons that could help the global community move from pilot projects towards scaling tech hubs into larger support programs.

To address the knowledge gaps and learn for our own future programming, we took a focused effort to identify the lessons from our global mLab and mHub pilot program, which covered a dozen tech hub initiatives since 2010, covering Africa, Asia, and ECA (Europe and Central Asia).

One of the outcomes of the evaluation efforts is the report ‘The Business Models of mLabs and mHubs— An Evaluation of infoDev’s Mobile Innovation Support Pilots’. We used case studies of mLab and mHub business models (illustrated through the Business Model Canvas), a comparative results mapping, and inputs from over 200 stakeholders to develop a detailed and in-depth analysis that our stakeholders can benefit from.

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Power to the People: Kandeh Yumkella Shares Strategies for Making Energy Accessible

Photo Credit: Micaela Ayala V/Agencia Andes. Creative Commons.

When the subject is energy and climate change, Kandeh Yumkella doesn’t hold back.

“Climate change makes it more urgent to take action on global energy systems—otherwise, we are all condemned to climate hell,” the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) says in the new issue of Handshake, the World Bank Group’s quarterly journal on public-private partnerships. Yumkella, appointed co-chair of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative in 2012 alongside World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, sees the inequity of the global economic system through the lens of climate change – “the biggest risk multiplier,” as he calls it, pointing out that those who pollute the least will suffer the most from “business as usual.”

An aversion to “business as usual” pervades his approach to the Sustainable Energy for All initiative – in fact, even his position is new to the UN. But he’s no stranger to the issue of energy poverty and its link to income poverty. For over a decade, he’s been arguing that poor developing countries, particularly those in Africa, can’t achieve their economic targets without access to energy. This belief underpins

SE4ALL’s three goals: to achieve universal energy access, double the share of renewable energy in the global mix, and double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030. The SE4ALL post is significant, he tells Handshake, “because suddenly the UN believed we must institutionalize these issues in the context of ongoing development discussions.”

That means a big part of Yumkella’s job now is convincing government officials who may not intuitively understand the link, or make access to energy a priority. These leaders focus on energy for economic growth, so Yumkella makes a point to introduce the social dimensions of energy with data that impacts GDP. For example, he emphasizes the fact that girls in certain developing countries might spend 20 hours per week collecting firewood and water, pointing out that if they had solar powered pumps, it would save enough time that they could do the job and attend school. “This is the way to humanize the energy debate,” Yumkella believes.

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Catalyzing a New Generation of ‘Agri-preneurs’ in Africa

Trying out new foods is one of life’s simple pleasures. Cuisine immerses you in a culture, exposes you to new tastes and excites the imagination. The challenge is, the more we succeed, the less time we can afford to cook and experiment in our home kitchens. So as Africa’s emerging markets grow, domestic demand for ready-to-consume food products is quickly on the rise, thanks to rapid urbanization and an expanding middle class. As over-sized supermarkets pop up across the continent, however, their shelves are mostly being filled by imported processed foods.

This is a huge opportunity that only requires a small change in thinking. If most agriculture initiatives usually start with the farmers and move up the value chain, then agro-processing solutions must start in the marketplace, identify opportunities, and develop businesses that leverage local agricultural resources. When you consider that, for each job created in agro-processing, an additional 2.8 jobs are created in the wider economy, you realize the benefits go much further than cheaper groceries.

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What does it take to have vibrant growth for all?

Photo Credit: Mauricio Santana – Women’s Forum 2014

The question was posed at this year’s Women’s Forum Brazil held in São Paulo, Brazil, on May 26 and 27. In a country bustling with the World Cup and gearing up for presidential elections, “Vibrant Growth for All” was a fitting topic. As more than 500 women and men involved in politics, business, civil society and academia from all regions of Brazil, countries of Latin America, the United States and Europe gathered together, women’s full participation in the economy and society was center stage in the discussions. The setting was quite appropriate: Women have made great strides and have increasingly taken the stage in the country. And starting from the top – the country’s President – and in all sectors of society and the economy, women are present and continue to take on leading positions, with many good examples present at the plenary room and throughout the two-day event.

Kicking off with an impassioned plea for the release of the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls and the keynote address given by Minister of State of Public Policies for Women Eleonora Menicucci, focusing on the achievement of economic autonomy for women in Brazil and initiatives to end violence against women such as the “Eu Ligo” campaign (with the double meaning in English: “I call / I care”), the forum throughout was indeed a vibrant event.

The plenary sessions and panels that followed were brilliantly composed of high-level women in leadership positions from Brazilian and international companies, small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and of government and civil society, including the CEO of Boeing Brazil, the CEO of Brazilian Tam Airlines, the CEO of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, and the Clinton Global Initiative Director for Women and Girls, to shed light on topics such as business and human rights, marriage, machismo, and social investment in women, incentivizing leadership and talent, among others.

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