February 2007

Evolving ‘Mobile Lady’ into ‘Info Lady’

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Making ICTs relevant to the poor people is basically about providing information and knowledge services, which are related to their livelihood. If telecentres are only for providing communication services, it would be difficult to find any direct poverty alleviation effect.

D.Net has been experimenting what livelihood contents make an impact on the livelihood of the poor people in rural Bangladesh since 2003. D.Net also has deployed multiple ICT channels for testing also channel suitability of the contents. One of the D.Net's innovations was the concept of “mobile lady” with mobile phone in hand roaming door-to-door in villages for making poor people access livelihood advices through advisers at help desks. The mobile lady concept as a part of “Pallitathya Help Line” solved a number of problems simultaneously:

D.Net's innovation was the concept of 'mobile lady' with mobile phone in hand roaming door-to-door in villages for making poor people access livelihood advices through advisers at help desks. The mobile lady concept as a part of 'Pallitathya Help Line' solved a number of problems simultaneously.

a. Problem of electricity: mobile phone charging facilities are available thus problem of low coverage of electricity was overcome;

b. Problem of ICT penetration: Computer and other ICTs are relatively expensive and not wide-spread, however, mobile phone connectivity is now available in 85% of territory of Bangladesh. Thus, the mobile phone was chosen to bring the benefit of ICTs to poor people as quickly as possible. Similar rapid expansion of mobile phone network is true for many countries across the globe;

c. Problem of outreach: As the mobile lady moves door-to-door, the delivery of services and promotion takes place simultaneously. Generally, across the globe, it is difficult to make people coming to the telecentres, as it is a matter of behavioral change of the people, which takes longer time. This approach solved that problem of mind shifting of the rural people. Women and physically handicapped people face difficulties visiting telecentres for getting services. The mobile lady concept includes these two important groups of beneficiaries;

d. 'Mobile lady' emerged as a new profession: for educated women in the villages;

e. The earnings from the 'help line' services were enough to cover both fixed and variable costs and it was financially viable for the mobile lady. However, the financial viability problem was not resolved for the help desk. It is important that without sustainability of the help desk help line model's sustainability will not matter in the long run.

D.Net has developed an animation character with the mobile lady, which is named as “MONI”, a lady with a by-cycle moves door-to-door to promote telecentre and help line for improving people's access to livelihood information and knowledge.

D.Net received Global Gender and ICT Award 2005 in recognition of this innovation.

Despite tremendous success, the mobile-phone based service delivery had number of limitations, which are as follows:

a. limited number of services: only help-line and commercial phone services are available through the mobile phone available with the mobile lady;

b. financial viability: the mobile phone charge has been reducing, so there is threat to the financial viability at the mobile lady end;

c. unavailability of livelihood content: as limited people visit the telecentres, there is a need whether the content could be made available through the mobile phone. Although web browsing is available in many mobile phones, it is not convenient for the users, as the screen is very small.

D.Net team was searching for alternatives and finally decided that a SmartPhone could be a very good solution to the problems mentioned above keeping all the benefits of the mobile-lady concept. Having this SmartPhone, D.Net wants to rename the mobile lady as “info-lady”, because she is now able to offer information and knowledge services as well.   

Source: Innovative Solution Series-1, Development Research Network Bangladesh

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