How Mobile Technology Can Help BoP Women Get Ahead

Portraits: A Glimpse into the Lives of Women at the Base of the Pyramid,” a report released at last week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, is the first to survey the wants, needs, aspirations and mobile uses of women living at the base of the pyramid (BoP), defined as those living on less than $2 a day, according to the GSM Association.

The research was conducted in partnership with the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), with primary research undertaken by TNS. 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.

The GSMA 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.

"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," says Trina DasGupta, GSMA mWomen program director. "We believe any mobile product or service aiming to serve BoP women in a commercially successful manner must meet the actual lived needs of BoP women, as expressed in their own voices."

Adds Melissa Stutsel, director/Gender Policy at AusAID, "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.”

Top findings outlined in "Portraits" include:

>> Targeting the whole family. Seventy-four percent 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 mobile should focus on the benefits for the whole family.

>> Eager entrepreneurs. Seventy-three percent 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 percent of BoP women live “off the 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 realize the potential benefits of mobile-phone ownership.

>> The SMS utility gap. Seventy-seven percent of BoP women have made a wireless call, but only 37 percent have sent a SMS, regardless of literacy levels. These women reported they didn’t find the SMS services useful, so products targeted at them should be of demonstrable practical value.

>> The mHealth gap. Eighty-four percent of women wanted better healthcare information; however, only 39 percent expressed a specific interest in receiving general healthcare information through their mobile phones. Therefore, mobile health offerings have to be geared closely toward women’s needs and communicated clearly to be fully utilized.

"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," concludes Maura O’Neill, senior counselor and chief innovation officer at 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."

While “Portraits” is a high-level summary of the key research findings, and the more detailed report, “Striving and Surviving – Exploring the Lives of Women at the Base of the Pyramid” will be launched March 8 to mark International Women’s Day. The entire report will be available at www.mwomen.org.

More About The GSMA mWomen Program

The GSMA mWomen Program is a global public/private partnership between the worldwide mobile industry and the international development community. The Program aims to reduce the mobile phone gender gap by 50 percent by 2014, bringing mobile connectivity and services to more than 150 million women in emerging markets. According to the group, this will be achieved through a combination of research; grants for mobile operators and NGOs; toolkits; and knowledge sharing through the mWomen online community, seminars and the mWomen Working Group, which includes more than 30 members from the mobile industry.

Launched by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in October 2010, the Program is funded by AusAID, USAID, GSMA and Visa Inc. Global supporters include Cherie Blair, founder, Cherie Blair Foundation for Women; Helen Clark, administrator, United Nations Development Program; President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia; Mrs. Sia Nyama Koroma, first lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone; Hon. Kamla Persad-Bissessar, prime minister of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago; Dr. Judith Rodin, president, Rockefeller Foundation; and Madam Tobeka Madiba Zuma, first lady of South Africa.

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