Tech for Social Impact: companies addressing the BoP through mobile solutions

By Marianne Heinisch|14th Nov 2013
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Mobile phones have become the primary form of communication in both developed and developing countries. The spread has been fast: and mobile phones have made a bigger difference to the lives of more people and quicker than any previous technology. They are one of the only devices reaching the masses of people at the base of the pyramid, especially in rural and remote areas, which have been hard or impossible to reach otherwise.


BoP mobile solutions

Census 2011 data revealed that more than half of India’s 1.2 billion people – 53.2 per cent – have a mobile phone, ranking the country in second position according to the number of mobile phones in use. There’s a lot to be said for the proliferation of cell phones in India, as access to that means of communication can have quite a positive impact in people’s lives, both on personal, educational and financial levels.

NGOs and social companies are starting to take up mobile technologies that will assist them in serving people in need. There are now a number of ongoing programs around India using SMS-based technologies for the collection and transfer of data, healthcare assessments and others. Due to increased mobile penetration and mobile health services, more rural villagers now have access to various forms of healthcare.

Education:

1. Edutor.in: launched India’s first hand-held learning device in 2009. The Ignitor Learning Platform is a comprehensive solution – enabling educational institutes to deploy tablets to deliver an enhanced learning experience to the students, with a suite of applications that can be ported onto any Android tablet. It offers a clean and intuitive learning environment for learners, multi-format, multi-publisher content to the learners, as well as learning material available through both offline and online mechanisms.

2. Intuit: Intuit is with individuals and small businesses to develop home–grown solutions for Indian challenges. Among other products, they developed a SMS service called Fasal that helps farmers get the best price for their produce. Fasal provides market price transparency and matches the farmer with a buyer that is willing to buy their produce at fair price and offers personalized, reliable and real time wholesale market prices to farmers.

3. Mobiltrain: the possibilities of mobile learning are immense as this unique methodology can be used to impart training to teachers, healthcare professionals, hospitality industry professionals or even daily parenting tips. Mobiltrain is the first to explore training and teaching over the mobile in India. Their solution Quicklearns uses mobile network to provide training to teachers. Every teacher gets the byte sized nugget of ‘training material’ on their personal phone. They can take the time they need to think about it, clarify doubts if necessary and decide how they will implement the instructions.

Healthcare:

1. Biosense: A startup in the low cost medical devices segment, Biosense’s first product ToucHb is a hand-held needle-free battery operated device that enables screening for anaemia and simplifies monitoring of treatment on a regular basis. It democratizes healthcare by empowering health workers with appropriate technology and enables them with actionable data. They have also developed uCheck, an app which works with any urine-test dipstick, with the familiar set of colored boxes that change to indicate levels of things like ketones and pH in the pee.

2. Mera Doctor: MHealth Ventures develops medical advisory services for rural and semi urban regions starting with rural Maharashtra. Mera Doctor is their “call a doctor” service for the 40 million households in India’s Maharashtra and Hindi belt regions who have mobile phones but lack easily accessed, quality medical advice.

3. New Digm: they develop mobile-based Clinical Decision Support apps, real-time monitoring & tracking systems in order to democratize access to quality and affordable healthcare through appropriate technology. One of their solutions, called Amrita, is an antenatal, postnatal and childcare protocol app which can run the Indian languages on low-cost, JAVA-based mobile phones and has no connectivity dependance. The technology is used to provide maternal and child care services, reducing mortality rates, and helps VHWs in accurately diagnosing their patients.

4. ZocDoc: is improving healthcare by helping patients find providers, choose their own appointment times, and schedule appointments instantly. Their free service, available via mobile app and online, makes it simple and convenient for patients to find in-network doctors, dentists, and specialists. By allowing patients to obtain urgent preventive care, ZocDoc eliminates unnecessary ER visits, and fills doctor timeslots which would otherwise be wasted – thus driving down systemic costs, and bringing a radical new efficiency to the healthcare system.

Water & Weather Forecast:

1. The Climate Corporation: big data play uses a complex relationship of data sources and machine learning algorithms in order to predict the weather and other agribusiness conditions, optimizing custom insurance plans for farmers and, unlike traditional weather insurance companies, uses its data measurement system to pay out farmers if bad/out of the ordinary weather happens.

2. Next Drop: they devised a mobile phone system which connects valvemen to engineers and customers. Valvemen measure the level of water in reservoirs every day, and then NextDrop calls them every hour to get information on the levels. NextDrop sends the information to the engineers, who decide which areas should get water at what times, and how much, depending on supply. They then text the valvemen, who in turn text the customers, letting them know exactly when water will be released.

3. Skymet: Skymet processes raw weather data using cutting edge methods and software to cater to the specific needs of farmers in micro-geographies and for specific duration. As farmers are not able to access highly accurate weather forecast information for their specific regions and for a longer time horizon, through Skymet they are able to access this information through mobile platforms.

Others:

1. Awaaz: provides hosted voice solutions that help people and organizations to engage with communities in any language, leveraging the power of spoken voice and mobile phones, making information and social media networks accessible for everyone.Their recently launched a service called Khedut Saathi, a mobile voice service for small farmers in India to receive and share sustainable agriculture practices.

2. MPaani: designs and implements impact-focused mobile-based loyalty programs that help communities living at the bottom of the pyramid get the most out of their spend by connecting it to development rewards – safe water, education, healthcare and energy products and services – that they really care about and can improve their lives. Their users earn points for their mobile phone usage or expenditure on select FMCG products that can be monetized for products and services.

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