Mobile for Development - Why the Back-Office Needs to Play Catch-Up

Mobile for Development - Why the Back-Office Needs to Play Catch-Up

Few industries are growing faster than mobile technology. This has opened up boundless possibilities in ‘mobile for development’ (M4D), but as frontline services are revolutionised, traditional back-office practices lag behind.

AIDF examines some of the ways in which NGOs must reboot traditional approaches to unlock the opportunities that M4D presents.


The Groupe Spécial Mobile Association (GSMA) focused heavily on M4D in 2015, commissioning a series of reports on the subject. Researchers found that within the area of mHealth, the industry was fragmented and lacking in interoperability. What this means is that mHealth pilot schemes fail to scale up nationally, despite initially promising control trials. According to GSMA, the solution is to create an aggregated mHealth service model, where service delivery tools are interoperable and data is shared.

Difficulties in scaling M4D projects often revolve around outmoded data solutions. The challenge consists in harnessing the vast amounts of data generated by mobile platforms. Successfully doing so will help aid projects to segment data and effectively target growing communities of mobile users in developing countries.

Feed the Future Zambia is one of many mNutrition groups using CommCare. This mobile platform provides a wide range of services including improved data handling, decision support and case management; all traditionally handled by in-house back offices. This allows Feed the Future Zambia to deliver better growth measurements, post-referral follow-up and targeted nutrition education.

APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) allow larger companies to open up the power of their digital platforms to outside developers, in return for a share of the profit. IHS’ 2016 report, predicts that the telecom API market is likely to reach $1.2 billion globally by 2020, up from $702 million in 2015. When big mobile operators open up their APIs to startups, especially in the developing world, it opens the exciting possibility that organisations working in M4D can utilise powerful data analytics at a fraction of the cost under a traditional in-house system. Furthermore, APIs have the potential to foster greater interoperability as developers use shared toolkits.


In conjunction with USAID, ELAN, (The Electronic Cash Transfer Learning Action Network) published a February 2016 report which highlighted the opportunity for NGOs to use mobile money services for bulk payments (large payments to many recipients). According to ELAN’s poll of service providers, NGOs typically cling to the old cash system for bulk transfers, hindering efficiency, transparency and safety. For aid organisations and often UN agencies, this can be vital in emergencies where quick registration of large numbers of new customers is required.

GSMA’s latest State of the Industry report, also released in February 2016, outlines how data analytics can lead to better understanding of local context; something crucial to making the most from local mobile money agents.

Some might suggest that mobile technology has the power to entirely bypass traditional large NGOs and institutions in many areas. For example, Givedirectly proudly announce that they place 91 cents in every dollar directly in the hands of the poor in Kenya. Elsewhere, the vast crowdfunding market may also provide the kind of transparent fundraising that traditional channels cannot provide.

AIDF is holding its Mobile for Development Master-Class on 3 November 2016 in London. The Master-Class will discuss practical challenges, new ways of working, latest technology developments for the humanitarian and development sector, best practices and forward-looking advice. Senior professionals can join peers and discover how to get the most out of mobile technology to drive innovation, funding and better support the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Visit the website for more information


IMAGE SOURCE: The Guardian

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