USAID Partnerships in Research Highlights New Opportunities To Provide Mobile Services and Offerings to Women in Emerging Markets

For Immediate Release

Tuesday, February 28, 2012
USAID Press Office

Mobile World Congress, Barcelona - The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) partnered with GSMA and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) to conduct research into the opportunities that mobiles provide to underserved women in emerging markets. Primary research was undertaken by TNS and GSMA released the findings last month. The research, entitled 'Portraits: A Glimpse into the Lives of Women at the Base of the Pyramid', is the first to survey the wants, needs, aspirations and mobile uses of women living at the base of the pyramid (BoP). These women are living on less than two U.S. dollars a day. The research brings the voices of BoP women to life through eight fictional, composite portraits of respondents, shown against a backdrop of the macro-level data from which the portraits were constructed.

"Critical to eliminating the mobile phone gender gap is discovering the profitable business models - based in part on this new research - for mobile operators for serving women who live on less than $2 per day," said Maura O'Neill, Senior Counselor and Chief Innovation Officer for USAID. "Partnering with GSMA and AusAID ensures that the program is deeply responsive to the hopes, dreams, and needs of poor women around the world."

The GSMA mWomen Programme commissioned multi-country research and primary fieldwork was conducted with more than 2,500 BoP women in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda, with secondary research contributions from other parts of the developing world.

"This research highlights the gaps in access to, and use of mobile phone technology. There is significant potential for using it to empower women and we are continuing to work with the GSMA mWomen Program and USAID to reduce the mobile phone gender gap," said Melissa Stutsel, Director Gender Policy at AusAID. Added, Trina DasGupta, GSMA mWomen Programme Director, "Our ultimate goal is that the research will lead to the private and public sectors working in partnership with BoP women on the development of mobile services that truly meet their needs."

Top findings outlined in Portraits include:

  • Targeting the whole family. Seventy-four per cent of married women who did not want a mobile phone said it was because their husbands would not allow it. Efforts to communicate the benefits of the mobile should focus on the benefits for the whole family;
  • Eager entrepreneurs. Seventy-three per cent of participants expressed interest in entrepreneurship to help support their families, indicating that mobile solutions that help manage business or set up mobile retail enterprises could be particularly impactful;
  • The power gap. Thirty-eight per cent of BoP women live 'off grid', without easy access to an electricity source. Although access to electricity varies by market, low-cost, alternative mobile charging solutions will be key for many BoP women to fully realise the potential benefits of mobile phone ownership.
  • The SMS utility gap. Seventy-seven per cent of BoP women have made a mobile phone call, but only thirty-seven percent have sent an SMS, regardless of literacy levels. These women reported that they did not find the SMS services useful so products targeted at them should be of demonstrable practical value.
  • The mHealth gap. Eighty-four per cent of women wanted better healthcare information; however only thirty-nine percent expressed a specific interest in receiving general healthcare information through their mobile phone. Therefore, mobile health offerings have to be closely geared towards women's needs and communicated clearly to be fully utilised.

For more information, please visit The more detailed report, Striving and Surviving - Exploring the Lives of Women at the Base of the Pyramid, will be available on March 8, 2012 for International Women's Day.

For more information about GSMA, please visit or Mobile World Live, the online portal for the mobile communications industry, at

Last updated: May 15, 2018

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