My work has brought me all across the world as we build a business focused on closing the gap between the developing and developed economies through mobile payments. As we partner and grow, I’ve come across many innovative and enterprising NGOs or Social Enterprises who are making a difference in communities all around the world. They are using innovative methods to reach those hard to reach and finding new ways to overcome barriers such as lack of infrastructure and logistical challenges. Mobile connectivity has made such a difference in rolling out local aid and benefit programmes. It’s timely to start sharing these stories of mobile-first ideas that have helped families and children.
My first story to share, is in Lagos, Nigeria. Lagos is Africa’s largest city. Its growth as a mega-city has led to challenges in providing adequate quality education for its children. Teachers, schools and quality education is lacking. According to Unicef, 40% of Nigerian children aged 6-11 do not attend any primary school and for pre-school children, only 21% are enrolled in an Early Childhood Care Centre. Solving education needs has been an imperative for many NGOs operating in Nigeria. Enter a group of enterprising youths, the Tembo Education Group.
Born of enterprising students competing for the prestigious Hult Foundation prize, Tembo was challenged to find a solution to providing early childhood education in the urban slums of third-world nations. Tembo focused on Lagos and found in devising their plan was that most families living in shanty towns had a mobile phone even if they didn’t have running water. Nigeria’s mobile phone penetration is estimated at 94%. In an Afrobarometer survey for 2014/2015, Africa’s access to electricity (65%), paved roads (54%) or sewage (30%) was below mobile phone services.
Tembo’s answer was to use SMS on mobile phones to deliver lesson to the parents and a local home educator in the community. They launched a pilot in 19 areas, charging a nominal amount for parents to sign-up and receive the lessons. The home educator would teach the lesson to the parent, who would then teach the lesson to their children.
To ensure that the parents were motivated and would continue lessons regularly, Tembo needed an incentive. Handing out cash or vouchers was not an option, as it wasn’t scalable, posed distribution challenges in logistics and security to move around. They needed a strong incentive that could motivate parents. Similar to their approach of education by SMS, the effective solution was mobile airtime.
As airtime is assimilated as cash in many emerging markets even if there is no cash-out nor refund possible, it would be the biggest motivator and was the simplest to distribute for Tembo to manage their reward programme. Even if Tembo’s American founders were not present in the African continent, they could easily manage disbursements from US soil.
Using airtime, Tembo could send small amounts as low as US$1 and as large as US$20. There were no regulatory hurdles, no setup fees and the incentive was delivered instantly. Tembo sent quizzes to parents to test their knowledge of the lesson they were supposed to teach. When they passed, the Lagos parents received airtime incentive as a reward.
Tembo’s Lagos pilot was a success. Completed in 2015, parents responded positively to the programme, unanimously agreeing that it helped them with their children and they would recommend it to other parents. They welcomed airtime top-ups as the most impactful incentive that helped spur them on in completing the curriculum. Tembos aims to become a sustainable social enterprise and offer their programme of education delivered via SMS and airtime rewards in more countries.
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