Three years ago, BSR launched a partnership with Qualcomm Wireless Reach to amplify the outcomes of BSR’s HERproject program in China through mobile technology. Our work together focused on enhancing HERhealth, the pillar of HERproject that aims to empower low-income women working in global supply chains to take charge of their health.
Through this collaboration, we developed a mobile app to digitize the HERhealth curriculum so that workers could conveniently access health information and a range of other features to improve access to health services, including a map of hospitals and clinics near the factories, and links to official websites where women can make doctors appointments online. We also interviewed representatives from companies participating in HERproject to both understand how they are currently using technology in their supply chain initiatives and identify perceived barriers and opportunities for using it in workplace engagement programs.
Here are some of our key takeaways:
- Mobile technology has clear benefits for workers and suppliers: Based on feedback from our HERhealth app, we know that workers value convenient access to health information and the ability to share content. 95 percent of workers we surveyed reported that the app helped them increase and retain the health knowledge they acquired through HERhealth. 51 percent reported that the app helped increase their confidence in using mobile technology. Mobile apps can also improve workers’ access to financial resources, as well as raise awareness of important company policies. For employers, mobile applications and online surveys can help them collect information on workers’ views and satisfaction levels.
- There is an opportunity to better capture the impact of these interventions: Most brands that use mobile technology in their supply chains do so to gather data from workers, enhance compliance processes, assess the impact of worker programs, or communicate simple messages using SMS. However, there seems to be a gap in translating whether the content shared or the data collected led to improvements in workers’ lives.
- Gamification can be an incentive: A fun element can help incentivize workers to download and use mobile apps. Workers often do not have access to their phones during the workday, but an entertainment or competition feature can help encourage them to use educational applications during their free time.
- Lack of resources, support, and integration are obstacles to success: The greatest barriers to implementing and scaling technology-based programs are cost, resource intensity (including time involved to train users and factory management about the technology), low uptake among workers, lack of support from factory management, and difficulty integrating with other factory-based systems, e.g. training and compliance.
Although we still have more to learn about how to truly maximize the positive impacts of these solutions, we would recommend that companies contemplating these investments consider the following:
- Fully engage factory management from the start: Provide factory management with a comprehensive introduction to a mobile tool before introducing it, focusing on how the tool works and the value it can provide to the factory and to workers. This can also help prevent the perception that the tool is intended for monitoring or surveillance.
- Integrate mobile tools into existing channels used by workers: Several brands commented that mobile tools work best when they link to applications already widely used by workers, such as Facebook, WeChat, or WhatsApp. This can make the tools use feel more natural so they can become part of workers’ normal daily behaviors.
- Keep content simple and clear: When using mobile technology or applications to push messages to or collect information from workers, content and questions should be simple and straightforward to ensure clear understanding by workers and management.
- Tablets or computer stations can be alternatives to mobile phones: In factories or countries where mobile smart phone proliferation is low, companies can consider providing tablets or computers as another vehicle to increase digital access. Brands can also consider donating used computers or partnering with technology companies to set up computer stations to encourage additional learning on topics important to workers.
- Partner with others to scale effective mobile technology solutions: The costs of developing new technologies and introducing them at scale in global supply chains are significant. Companies should research existing technology solutions that have been successful and identify peers with whom they can collaborate and share costs.
By creating a mobile app for factory workers in China, BSR and Qualcomm Wireless Reach have been able to improve workers’ access to health information, creating value for workers and their employers. Have you used mobile technology to enhance worker engagement programs? We’d love to hear from you!