Getting technology adopted by the poor by working with and for them

Mushfiq Mobarak, a Professor of Economics at Yale School of Management, recently had a 1-hour long panel discussion with three participants located across the world, on the subject of technology adoption amongst the poor in developing countries. The three entrepreneurs were Andrew Youn, co-founder of the non-profit One Acre Fund working in East Africa, Lindsay Stradley, co-founder of the social enterprise Sanergy working in sanitation in Kenya, and Brian LoBue, founder of cocoa production company Kokoa Kamili in Tanzania.

Obviously they are three very different businesses, but they are all facing interesting business challenges and operating in ways which are worth mentioning:

The One Acre Fund, which teaches farmers more effective techniques, has to offer holistic solutions to its users. Marketing and education therefore go hand in hand, but the organisation knows they have to learn from the community with humility as well. A lot of organisations don't factor in the community-learning aspect enough, so this is a good reminder.

For Sanergy, setting up sanitation centres successfully requires them to get the trust of the community so that they are used, and not ignored. Crucially, the sanitation centres are run by local micro-entrepreneurs who are offered a no-interest loan for one year, and able to pay off their loans via their phones. What I found interesting in this one was that the company has made it purposely convenient for the entrepreneurs to be able to stay in the game - mobile phones are heavily used, and payment by mobile phones is not a novelty. 

Lastly, Kakao Kamili uses the behavioural economics angle of loss aversion to get farmers onboard. 

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