BSR Conference 2011: Redefining Leadership
Mobility and Sustainability: The Impact of Wireless on Social Issues and Business
- Trina DasGupta, Program Director, mWomen (GSMA)
- Kristin Atkins, Director, Wireless Reach, Qualcomm Inc.
- Vijay Kanal, Director, Information and Communications Technology Practice, Advisory Services, BSR (Moderator)
There is a growing base of mobile phone users worldwide, most notably women in developing countries.
Companies are developing best practices to ensure commercial and sustainable success through wireless. By targeting countries in South Asia, the Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa, companies hope to affect users with the greatest need by giving them access to financial and health care services.
Fostering partnerships between wireless-services companies, communities, local organizations, and governments is integral to generating the greatest impact. Companies are facilitating discussions on how to achieve success given cultural and societal differences, and leading companies are using innovative methods to promote the benefits of wireless to new markets.
“When it comes to technology, if you don’t intentionally include women, women will be unintentionally excluded.” —Trina DasGupta, GSMA
“Helping women both be allowed to use the technology and learn how to use the technology is critical in getting to social impact.” —Trina DasGupta, GSMA
“If a product is able to lift a woman out of poverty or make a fisherman more profitable, it’s ultimately going to scale in developing countries.” —Kristin Atkins, Qualcomm Inc.
Kanal opened the session by providing background information on BSR’s work with CTIA - The Wireless Association on research on how wireless technology can impact environmental, social, and economic conditions. Some highlights from BSR’s report indicate that among four key areas (agriculture, transportation, utilities, and the public sector), wireless has the potential to create powerful environmental and social benefits and engage users in new markets.
Following Kanal’s introduction, Atkins reported on Qualcomm’s efforts to bring 3G wireless technologies to underserved communities around the world. The company’s Wireless Reach Initiative has more than 70 projects in 35 countries, each creating new ways for people to communicate, learn, access health care, sustain the environment, and reach global markets. To illustrate Qualcomm’s work with local and global partners, Atkins showed the audience two short videos on current projects in Indonesia and India. In Indonesia, Qualcomm is working with several organizations, including the Grameen Foundation. In this program, women purchase a mobile phone and take it back to their village to generate income by serving as a mobile kiosk. Currently, there are more than 9,000 mobile phone vendors in Indonesia, all profitable and mostly run by women.
In India, Qualcomm partnered with M.S Swaminathan Research Foundation to create a software application called Fisher Friend to assist the fishing industry. Fisher Friend provides real-time weather reports, market data, and emergency information for fishermen, which they access via their mobile phones. Fishermen can download the application for less than US$0.60 per day.
Following Atkins’ presentation, DasGupta shared GSMA’s work with its members in the mobile phone industry to accelerate mobile solutions for people living on less than US$2 per day. GSMA’s Development Fund takes concrete steps to achieve commercial and sustainable impact through wireless, including: identifying opportunities by researching potential impacts, stimulating activities by providing “risk capital,” and sharing best practices and embedding them in each project.
Focusing on the Development Fund’s work with women, DasGupta cited that a woman is 21 percent less likely than a man to own a mobile phone in low- to middle-income countries, representing a US$13 billion missed market opportunity. In addition, 93 percent of women reported feeling safer because of their mobile phones, and 85 percent of women reported feeling more independent because of their mobile phones. DasGupta addressed GSMA’s goal to close the mobile phone gender gap by 50 percent by creating an enabling market environment. The key contributors to the current gender gap include cultural barriers, a lack of technological literacy, and the perceived lack of need for women to possess productive assets. The Development Fund is responding to this by working with its members to address these issues and promote social impact through wireless.
Building on the conversation, Kanal asked both speakers how they scale their respective programs. Atkins explained that Qualcomm accepts proposal ideas, and all proposals must include a sustainability plan. According to Atkins, if a product is able to help the user become more profitable, it’s ultimately going to scale. Qualcomm favors the use of multiple partners to enable a project to extend its reach. DasGupta highlighted that local organizations and the mobile industry have complementary skills, which can further the impact and scale of programs. For example, NGOs and local organizations can provide the on-the-ground information about local communities’ needs, and mobile companies can use their technology to get the relevant information to new users in new markets.
During the Q&A session, an attendee wanted to learn more about pushback from countries on empowering women with mobile devices and granting access to wireless technologies. The speakers indicated that although pushback occurs, most frequently in the Middle East, companies need to find innovative ways to reposition the need to provide mobile phones to women as a crucial step toward social impact and sustainable growth.
Another attendee raised the issue of mobile-application developers and their role in creating sustainable applications for new users in developing countries. The speakers acknowledged that many people are developing applications for social good, but the bigger challenge to consider is the lack of access to wireless and sustainable applications. It is imperative to first expand the market of wireless users and then to equip the users with applications to promote and encourage social and business growth.