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Using Mobile Technology for Development in USAID
Source: http://www.futuregov.asia/articles/2013/may/09/using-mobile-technology-development-usaid/
Source Date: Thursday, May 09, 2013
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Country: Global
Created: May 09, 2013

The phenomenal growth in mobile penetration throughout the world, and especially in developing nations, has given aid and development agencies a new and powerful tool for helping people around the world.

United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the federal agency in the US primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid, was the first development agency in the world to create a dedicated Mobile Solutions group.

FutureGov spoke to Maura O’Neill, Chief Information Officer and Senior Counselor at USAID, about the role of mobile technology in the agency’s work.

Mobile money

“USAID first identified that mobile money was a game-changer in development”, O’Neill declares. “We discovered that there were two billion people in the world that had mobile phones but didn’t have bank accounts. If we could turn every mobile phone into a digital wallet, three amazing things could happen - there would be less corruption, reduced administrative costs in government services and aid, and a more robust entrepreneurial network.”

O’Neill gives us examples of the agency’s work in mobile money that has shown these three results. “When police officers in Afghanistan started getting paid through their mobile phones, there was a 30 per cent increase in money received”, she informs us. “‘Sticky fingers’, or corruption in the government, was the reason – the officers weren’t getting a raise, just receiving the money that they should have in the first place.”

USAID also worked with entrepreneurs in Kenya to help them save time and money through digital wallets. “I interviewed a woman in Western Kenya who runs a restaurant”, O’Neill says. “She had to spend two hours at the end of every day in line at the bank to deposit her receipts for the day. Now, she can go next door to a mobile money agent, deposit her receipts, and go home and be with her family”.

Another major programme that USAID pioneered in partnership with several other organisations including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and VISA, was the global Better than Cash Alliance. “We want to take cash out of the system and shift to digital currency”, O’Neill explains.

The Alliance facilitates the transition for governments, the development community and the private sector through advocacy, financial and policy assistance, and cutting-edge research.

Mobile data

“Mobile data can be enormously valuable”, declares O’Neill. “We launched a programme called MAMA (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action) that won Fast Company’s 2012 Innovation by Design Award.”

The programme sends text messages or voicemail messages twice a week to new or expectant mothers in developing nations. “It’s gone viral – it’s reached organisations in 35 countries”, says O’Neill.

“The last thing we focus on is mobile access”, O’Neill continues. “This includes everything from basic access to affordable internet. In Burma, for example, only a million people out of a population of six million have mobile phones. We’re working to close that gap.”

USAID partnered the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women to increase mobile access for women. A report by the Foundation found that 300 million women in developing countries are missing out on the mobile technology revolution. “We want to ensure that women don’t get left behind”, says O’Neill.
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