Mobile Solutions

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Mission: The Mobile Solutions (MS) team leverages the power and reach of mobile technology to accelerate USAID’s development goals.

The Opportunity for Impact:  From the railroad to the Internet, ground-breaking innovations have opened the door to unimagined possibilities, transformed markets and radically altered how we interact with one another.  They not only lowered the barrier to entry for the private sector and a cavalry of eager entrepreneurs, but they created a platform for new ideas, new business models, and new modes of communication and collaboration.  The development of a mobile phone based networked infrastructure holds this same promise. 

The speed of mobile phone adoption is unprecedented.  It took the radio 50 years to reach an audience of 50 million people.  It took the television thirteen years and the internet seven years to meet this mark.  It took the mobile phone three.  Today, there are nearly 7 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide.  In Africa there were 49 million mobile phones in 2002.  Fast-forward more than 10 years to today: there are 700 million.  By 2016, there will be an estimated 1 billion mobile phones in Africa.  It is quite simply unparalleled in its scale.  

Strategy: While access to information is critical to improving agriculture and health outcomes, not everyone has access to a mobile phone or mobile broadband.  While access to finance can transform lives, the vast majority of mobile money platforms are stuck in a subscale trap.  And while the mobile phone can amplify the voice of the poor in real time—flipping on its head the relationship between people, governments and donors—development organizations and governments have not kept pace with the breakneck speed of technology. 

The Mobile Solutions team aims to close these three gaps by catalyzing (1) mobile money platforms, (2) mobile access to handsets and broadband, and (3) the use of data collected by mobile devices to improve decision-making. Three principles guide this strategy. 

  1. Design for Scale: Mobile Solutions catalyzes platforms and ecosystems and then lets local organizations take the lead.
  2. Partner for Impact: Mobile Solutions partners with private sector organizations to deepen our impact and extend our reach.
  3. Fail Forward: Mobile Solutions intends to learn from our mistakes and facilitate best practices across USAID.

Mobile Access:  The Mobile Solutions team identifies and addresses existing barriers to mobile adoption that underpin the Agency’s (and beneficiaries’) ability to maximize mobile technologies to meet development needs.  Its efforts include:

  1. Building the forthcoming Alliance for Affordable Internet, which brings together the public and private sectors to create an enabling policy and regulatory environment to help lower the costs of mobile broadband for many developing countries.
  2. Partnering with GSMA, AusAid, and Visa to reduce the mobile phone gender gap, enabling mobile ownership and more effective use by and for women in emerging markets through the GSMA mWomen Program.
  3. Initiating dialogue with organizations engaged in the Mobiles for Development (M4D) sector and determining where public-private partnerships might address fundamental and persistent mobile access barriers.
  4. Developing a set of tools and research findings to help USAID Missions incorporate mobile access into existing M4D activities or other sectoral work that can be amplified by mobile phones.

Mobile Money:  The Mobile Solutions team catalyzes mobile money platforms to accelerate financial inclusion, root out corruption, empower entrepreneurs, and unlock the private sector.  Its efforts include: 

  1. Through the USAID Forward Initiative, working with missions to develop distinct mobile money programs meant to target game-changing payment streams and integrate mobile money into their programs.
  2. Through the USAID-Citi Mobile Money Accelerator Alliance, working with Citigroup to jointly connect the mobile money ecosystem in 5 countries.
  3. Through the Better Than Cash Alliance, connecting a coalition of corporations, international development organizations, and governments who will commit to transition from cash to electronic payments, both for public-facing programs and internal operations.

Mobile Data:  The Mobile Solutions team accelerates the use of portable, electronic devices to collect information about the USAID-funded projects and sectors.  The goal is to increase access to high quality, timely data, and capacity for evidence-based decision-making by USAID, its partners, and citizens with whom the agency works.  Its efforts include:

  1. Working with Missions like Afghanistan and Kenya to develop mobile data solutions for beneficiary feedback, monitoring, and evaluation that will inform project and program design.
  2. Building knowledge and technical capacity throughout the international development community and amongst citizens to utilize these solutions and the information they generate.
  3. Developing policies to create reusable, sustainable mobile-based information systems that can reach the poor.
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Last updated: October 28, 2013

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