A Mobile Commerce Approach to Poverty Alleviation

Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Microfranchising initiative
Source: Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Microfranchising initiative

The Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Microfranchising initiative was selected as one of the winners of the Ashoka Changemakers Powering Economic Opportunity: Create a World that Works competition, a partnership with eBay Foundation. As a result, eBay Foundation is now exploring how to continue working with the Grameen Foundation to address poverty by expanding access to markets, nearly a decade since the eBay Foundation first provided a grant to support of the Mobile Microfranchising initiative.

“I am thrilled to announce that we are expanding our engagement to jointly develop two new technology solutions—a Mobile Marketplace for goods and services via mobile phones, as well as a Mobile Transaction Platform for bill payment and other financial services,” said Lauren Moore, eBay’s head of global social innovation and president of the eBay Foundation.

Because the eBay Foundation reconnected with the Grameen Foundation through the Ashoka Changemakers competition a little over a year ago, “we quickly realized the transformative potential of an expanded collaboration between our organizations, given how remarkably aligned their goals are with ours for [the eBay Foundation’s] The Opportunity Project,” Moore said. “Our hope is that the work we will be doing together will not only be transformative for Indonesia’s rural poor, but that it will serve as a model for economic development in other developing countries around the world as well.”

Alex Counts, president and CEO of Grameen Foundation, described the eBay Foundation’s plans to support mobile marketplaces, including the Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Microfranchise initiative, in this piece that was originally published in the The Huffington Post: 

Mobile Phones and the Rise of the Microentrepreneurs 

The simple idea that people can improve their livelihoods when provided with the right tools and opportunities has been transformative in developed and emerging markets alike. A simple and widely available tool—the mobile phone—is creating substantial impact in the developing world, changing the lives of low-income individuals, especially in rural communities.

Cellphone use has experienced its greatest growth in emerging markets, where much of the community has bypassed traditional land-line telephones. Not only is the pervasiveness of cell phones striking in the developing world, but so too is the way they are being used. Some examples:

  • Today, six billion mobile phones are being used throughout the world, with approximately 75 percent of users living in developing countries.
  • Consider Indonesia, where 80 percent of the population uses a cell phone and 96 percent of those users text regularly—even though nearly 75 percent of citizens live on less than $2.50 per day. Many people in rural Indonesia are embracing mobile technology as a strategic business tool.
  • Farmers are now able to access information about weather conditions and market pricing for their cash crops, the unemployed can search for job opportunities electronically, and the unbanked can engage in secure financial transactions.

In this way, mobile phones are empowering users to gain control of often volatile financial conditions, particularly in informal markets. Mobile technology provides unparalleled opportunities to break the cycle of poverty by providing access to markets, information, financial services and viable business opportunities that were previously unavailable.

A Mobile Marketplace

Recognizing the opportunity offered by this technology, Grameen Foundation and eBay Foundation began working together this summer to build solutions that address market challenges facing microentrepreneurs in Indonesia. Our joint effort will support Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Microfranchise initiative, which currently works with a network of more than 10,000 women microentrepreneurs, heavily concentrated in the West Java region. A 2010 study found that 47 percent of participants in the Mobile Microfranchise program doubled their income by their fourth month of participation.

The success of this initial endeavor led Grameen Foundation to explore ways to drive even greater impact. In the same way that mobile has been critical to the development of Grameen Foundation’s initiatives in Indonesia, it has been a core area of focus for eBay as well.

In 2011 alone, eBay transacted $5 billion through mobile devices and 60 percent of mobile purchases came from outside the U.S. We quickly realized this remarkable shared strategy and alignment of need and expertise between our two organizations. Our subsequent conversations led to a $750,000 grant from eBay Foundation and a concept to develop the Mobile Transaction Platform and the Mobile Marketplace, as well as a commitment to engage eBay staff throughout the life of the project.

Through these two new applications, we aim to extend the existing efforts of Grameen Foundation’s technology platform to give Indonesia’s rural poor a wider range of services and opportunities to improve their lives. We expect our work will contribute to the growth of the Indonesia-based network from 10,500 to 60,000 entrepreneurs over the next three years. And the microfranchisees—a majority of whom are women who sell airtime minutes in their communities—will soon be able to provide an estimated 4.5 million customers with access to a mobile marketplace and transaction platform.

The Impact

Through our efforts, microentrepreneurs will gain access to the tools and opportunities needed to support their enterprises and gain greater financial independence. By combining our unique areas of expertise—eBay’s mobile capabilities with Grameen Foundation’s poverty alleviation strategies—we are able to achieve much more than either of our organizations could individually.

Not only are we able to expand Grameen Foundation’s impact as the organization works to build technology solutions that empower the poor and end the cycle of poverty, but we are also able to provide a powerful new blueprint for engaging with pro-poor organizations moving forward. In fact, other collaborations have already begun in India, the Philippines and Kenya.

We believe that by bringing together the right mix of resources, expertise, and employee talent, we will be able to make remarkable progress in Indonesia and beyond. We look forward to all the positive impact we will be able to drive together through the development of these new mobile technologies, and we hope this program will serve as an example for future collaborations between the private sector and social innovators.

Photo via Flickr/Meanest Indian