Archive for the ‘Technology’ category

Increasing BOP income through mobile phones

October 10th, 2011

Great article in Jakarta Globe on how a new mobile startup Ruma is helping to increase income for thousands of poor women in Indonesia through business transactions they are performing on their mobile (cell) phones.

Ruma is creating a supplemental income opportunity for agents in rural districts of Indonesia using the mobile phone that they already own. The first product Ruma agents offer is a convenient and price competitive mobile phone pre-paid “top up” (credit) service. Since it typically costs about $0.20 in travel costs (plus time) to visit the nearest town to purchase an additional typical $0.50 of top-up credit, this service is very popular with rural customers. Ruma buys the mobile credits in bulk from all of the major mobile operators, so their agents can provide top-ups for any mobile service and they share the profit margin with the agent. This is truly a win-win.

In addition to providing mobile top-up services, Ruma is reportedly testing some additional services such as a job posting/matching service which can also be distributed by their micro-franchise agents generating more supplemental income.

Ruma’s focus on providing an opportunity for supplemental income vs. primary income is smart. This makes it easier for them to find agents who can try out their system with less risk. As Ruma expands the income generating opportunities they provide to their agents, the agents can self-select whether they want to grow this livelihood opportunity as part of their income mix or keep it as a smaller, supplemental source. As the story of the shop owner demonstrates, having a high-interest service like this can also grow their footfall (foot traffic) and revenue (turnover) for their main livelihood.

Micro-energy innovations

September 6th, 2010

In a recent article titled, Power to the People, The Economist provided a helpful round-up of some of the latest energy innovations targeting the 1.5B people who have unreliable or intermittent access to electricity and other modern energy sources.  I’ll use the short-hand term “energy outsiders” to refer to this group.

Here are a few of things that stood out to me:

  • Most of the energy outsiders live in rural areas (cities are most often electrified)
  • Any way you look at it, the trajectory of the current solutions are insufficient for delivering affordable and reliable energy to most of the energy outsiders
  • Innovation is needed on multiple fronts including energy generation, energy storage, energy-powered devices and business models for all of these. [That is, just saying we’ll get everyone on the electrical grid won’t work.]
  • Solar is important, but biomass energy generation is also important and can deliver 24×7.
  • Microfinance banks may have an interesting opportunity to finance energy-related investments — although they are going to be most interested in efforts which generate income for borrowers (not just consumption) in order to have a higher likelihood for loan repayment.
  • There are health and environmental benefits when people switch from kerosene or wood fuel to LPG/propane (See my previous post on Vidagas)

A few micro-energy business highlights:

  • D.light, the market leader in low cost solar lights, charges $10 for its basic model.  They believe they need to get the retail price down to $5 to make it universally affordable.
  • Husk Power Systems has created a promising “mini-grid” product which uses old diesel generators refitted to burn rice husks supplying power to 600 families.   Pilots demonstrating financial sustainability. [I saw a similar unit earlier this year in a village in the Irrawaddy Delta of Myanmar.]
  • India-based Selco Solar is seeking to differentiate itself by focusing on income-generating reasons to purchase their solar products.  Their first product is a solar-powered electric sewing machine and they have a hybrid (solar/biomass) banana drying machine in the works.
  • MicroEnergy Credits has an interesting approach for extending the global carbon trading credits down to individual poor households who switch to greener technologies.

I think there is a lot of potential for bottoms-up approaches to bring electricity, lighting and electric-powered devices to the energy outsiders. I think we’ll see most growth around solutions which have a strong ROI (that is, generate income) for the purchaser (or whatever the business model is).

Please share about other micro-energy innovations and ideas in the comments.

New iPad/Kindle device for children @ $75

May 27th, 2010

One Laptop per Child folks are continuing to push the envelope … a device made completely of plastic … and running Google’s Android OS = lots of apps!

More details…

New mobile Facebook free in emerging markets

May 18th, 2010

0 facebookYou don’t even need a data plan if you have one of the 50+ mobile operators listed below.  It’s called

This could be a great new communications and collaboration tool for many of the world’s literate poor who increasingly have a mobile phone.

Here’s an overview on Techcrunch.

facebook zero

The man who brought light to thousands

February 15th, 2010

rattermanWalt Ratterman died during the earthquake in Haiti.

He has personally brought light to thousands of people around the world.”

Read about his work and see pictures

Rechargeable batteries as a social business

January 18th, 2009

I met up recently with Whit Alexander, a co-founder of board game company Cranium which they sold last year to Hasbro. He has provided the seed funding for a new social business venture called Burro.

Whit believes that there is a huge opportunity to develop quality branded products and a distribution channel optimized for the bottom of the pyramid (4B+ people who live on < $2/day). His goal is to deliver products at reduced cost to these customers which also improve their lives.

Their first business line is renting rechargeable batteries starting in Ghana. Why, you might ask?

  • Long-term cheaper. Rechargeable batteries are cheaper to operate over their life-time than the traditional non-rechargeable disposable batteries.
  • Multiple benefits. Batteries can power lights which lets a shop stay open longer and kids to perform homework when it’s dark. Also, mobile phones and radio … important communication tools … all require batteries. Batteries are a regular budget item for most families globally.
  • Better for environment. Growing issues created by disposed non-rechargeable batteries.

Here’s how their model works:

  • Burro purchases rechargeable batteries from low-cost Chinese manufacturers.
  • Burro sets up centrally located branch offices to store and recharge batteries.
  • Burro hires independent battery rental reps who signup customers to monthly rental agreements which cost the equivalent of 3 non-rechargeable batteries each. Customers are provided unlimited recharging of their AA batteries along with an adaptor case (see photo) to allow batteries to operate as popular D-size batteries.

Currently they are operating a pilot in Ghana to demonstrate the business model and get the kinks figured out. Once they’ve got the model figured out, they plan to expand their branch network plus to offer additional products through their growing distribution channel.

One Laptop per Child offer

November 12th, 2007

I just ordered two laptop computers … for a total of $399 plus $25 shipping. One gets shipped to me and one gets delivered to an impoverished child.

NOTE: This is a special offer which started today and goes through Nov 26th only. So, if you’re interested in seeing (and supporting) what is an amazing breakthrough in bringing computers to the bottom of the pyramid, check it out @ You can also just purchase laptops for children if you like @ $200/laptop.

This is the brainchild of the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative which I previously wrote about. This has previously been referred to as the “$100 laptop”. $100 is still the goal, but will require more volume to achieve that level of cost structure.

Founder Nicholas Negroponte says “It’s an education project, not a laptop project.” OLPC’s goal: To provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment and express themselves. More…

The laptop truly is a breakthrough in thinking. Read New York Times review or watch the New York Times video review below.

See more videos on OLPC at

So, do I really need another laptop? No. I’m buying this laptop so that I can be a better ambassador for this initiative. The green laptop will catch a lot of attention!

My challenge: Why don’t you consider doing this as well?
Please post a comment if you take on my challenge.

Leveraging Children’s Curiosity

January 1st, 2007

There is a very interesting experiment going on for the past few years in New Delhi, India called Hole in the Wall. Free-to-use [Windows-powered] computer kiosks with Internet connections are placed in and around a number of slums. The PC’s are designed to be industrial-strength with plexi-glass on the front and plastic covered keyboard and a touchpad for a mouse function. They have built in battery backup (for the frequent power outages) and are connected to a satellite receiver on the roof of the building to provide broadband Internet connections. These are public access computers.

The research project (and now NGO) is named so because the first of these kiosks was literally put in a hole in the wall near the office of physicist Sugata Mitra who heads research efforts at New Delhi’s NIIT, a fast-growing software and education company. Mitra setup the first kiosk just outside his office and then watched through a webcam as local illiterate children started investigating this new contraption.

What he discovered:

  • Children figured out how to use the computer without any assistance … completely driven out of curiosity
  • Children figured out their own “sharing rules” for the computer usage
  • Children increased their proficiency in reading (English) and math

Mitra’s provocative conclusion/opinion … that education improves when there are fewer teachers! He contends that children have the innate drive to learn and just need tools (like access to computers) to help them explore and exploit their curiosities.

Here are some additional articles on this research experiment:

What do you think?

Mobile bank accounts

November 2nd, 2006

The Economist published a report on how mobile phones are starting to become banking tools for the poor. In South Africa, 16 million people, over half of the adult population, have no bank account. Yet 30% of those people have mobile phones almost all of which are used on a pay-as-you-go basis.

You might think — why do poor people need/want bank accounts? The report highlights Andile Mbatha, who owns a hair salon in Soweto. He used to have to travel more than 2 hours by minibus to send money to relatives … a personal delivery. He also used to have to keep what ever cash he had on hand at the salon or with him as he travelled. He now uses a new mobile banking service called Wizzit which enables him to instantly transfer money to his relatives for a very low fee which enables him to spend more time earning money. He also now receives payment for services at his salon via mobile phone from more than half of his customers which means that he doesn’t have to manage a lot of cash.

The reality is that the poor, with by definition fewer resources, have needs (often more so than wealthier people) to transfer their monies to support other dependents and family members who out of necessity live significant distances from each other. Without bank accounts, the transaction cost of making these payments (recurring ones are often referred to as remittances) are very high … even higher than what it costs wealthy people to transfer even much larger sums. This is often referred to as the the “poverty tax” where the less well off pay a premium because they are not able to use more economical service options due to their economic and/or social status.

I am a big fan of scalable models like this which provide valuable services to the poor at a price point that works for the poor. This enables increased productivity and therefore enables more earnings capability which is a core element in increasing wealth (another way of saying decreasing poverty levels).

And, I’d like this kind of service too!!

See NPR story on Wizzit.

Wiring Rwanda

September 11th, 2006

Greg Wyler, buy cialis an American tech entrepreneur, is investing his own money in bringing Internet services as a business to Rwanda. His company, Terracom Communications is for the first time offering cellphone coverage, Internet access and television to unserved parts of the country. Terracom is hooking up schools to the Internet and opening Internet cafes throughout the country. They are even starting to offer high-speed laptop mobile network services like Verizon/Sprint EVDO service!

There are lots of questions about whether this business will ultimately succeed, but at least he is trying!

Read the WSJ story

One laptop per child

August 21st, 2006

The project to create an affordable laptop for every child in developing countries which I wrote about earlier, story has recently spun out into its own non-profit called One Laptop per Child.

They have made a lot of progress in moving forward this project for concept to reality and will soon be rolling out the first test units in Thailand. They have a map of where they are planning further pilots and where governments have shown interest in purchasing the product.

They have also have hired/appointed a pretty serious management team to take this idea to market with Nicholas Negroponte continuing as chairman.

Check out the One Laptop Per Child wiki site to follow and discuss the progress.

One section I found particularly helpful is their Design Decisions FAQ where they answer some of the critics biggest questions about “why laptops for every child.”

Do you think this is a good initiative?

Share your computer to defeat malaria

August 19th, 2006

I am always interested in practical ways that most people can contribute to defeating global poverty. It seems like so often the ideas coming our way are so indirect … through one or more intermediary whom you give money to and then it passes down the chain and trust that it actually benefits the needy recipient.

Africa@home (modelled after SETI@home) is a collaboration between the Swiss Tropical Institute, CERN and a group of universities to develop a long-term model of malaria epidemiology which can be used to test different ways of combatting the disease. You can donate extra cycles on your PC to help solve malaria at In fact, they have had so much interest that they’ve temporarily stopped accepting computer cycle donations!

I think that this kind of response demonstrates a desire for people to help out with what they have. I hope that this will encourage other grid computing projects to help defeat poverty!

Please post comment if you have other sources for this type of program.

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