Rethinking Technology for Emerging Markets

Currently in India at the India School of Business and had the opportunity meeting an amazing group of Young Global Leaders from 20 countries where the discussions were about Innovations for Emerging Markets. Reason for being at the event was to speak on a panel about Rethinking Technology for Emerging Markets.

The ubiquity of technology brings an important shift for most businesses and governments, especially in emerging economies – simply because the stakes as well as the opportunities are so high. Some of the key lessons that I’ve learnt through my work with RLabs and Mxit Reach are:

– It has to be community driven and co-creation is important
– It needs to be contagious allowing for quick adoption
– Cost is a factor but not at the price of quality
– You find unlikely innovators. The communities you want to serve will disrupt your product and you should be agile to adapt appropriately.
– Sustainable and Scalable is key in emerging markets because the numbers an need are much higher than developed markets.
– An environment for re-invention
– External factors to consider such as lack of infrastructure
– One size does NOT fit all
– Difference between ownership and access
– Different and disruptive business models are required


Maximizing Mobile for Development

The latest World Bank report “Maximizing Mobile” analyzes the growth and evolution of applications for mobile phones, focusing on their use in agriculture, health and financial services, as well as their impact on employment and government. It also explores the consequences for development of the emerging “app economy”, summarizing current thinking and seeking to inform the debate on the use of mobile phones for development. It’s no longer about the phone itself, but about how it is used, and the content and applications that mobile phones open.

You can view the full report here


M4D case study: Innovative solution to Zimbabwe’s change problem

It is always exciting to see innovative uses of mobile phones solving real-life problems. In Zimbabwe since 2009 the adoption of the mixed hard currencies monetary regime the one problem that has refused to go away is that of change. Retailers, small business owners, street vendors, bus operators and many others are struggling to keep up with the demand of change.

Many consumers would have to buy extra goods to get a rounded amount to solve the change dilemma. However, this problem has been addressed by a local mobile phone airtime business, Yo Time, that launched a product allowing consumers to redeem their change for mobile phone airtime. This is definitely innovative and presents a real solution to the problem many Zimbabweans face daily.

Read more about this story on TechZim.


RLabs Nigeria

Only weeks away from our team traveling to Nigeria to join our partners and hosts Youth for Technology . RLabs Nigeria will focus on developing and empowering youth in using technologies such as Mxit, JamiiX and Social Media tools to distribute health information and provide peer to peer counselling services.

It will also work on programmes to develop new innovations that can be used to address the social problems experienced in the local context. The RLabs partnership with Youth for Technology is made possible through the support of The Indigo Trust and the official launch will be later this month. Watch this space as we keep you updated with developments in Nigeria.



Mobile insights of South African youth

South Africa is continuing to grow as a mobile hungry nation as a recent study revealed that South Africans spend more time on their mobile phones than any other media channel.

As part of our research to understand youth reactions towards advertising RLabs conducted a mobile survey to 6,812 respondents which generated some interesting findings:

The age groups predominately featured are those between the ages of 18 – 35 (86% of respondents). More females responded to the survey (54%) than their make counter-parts (46%).

The most popular handset manufacturer was Nokia with (41%), followed by Samsung and Blackberry. The top 3 network operators were MTN (37%), Vodacom (25%) and Cell C (24%).

The study also indicated that 77% of the respondents spend 4 hours and more on the mobile internet daily. The most popular mobile phone transactions by the respondents were Buying Airtime/Electricity (35%) and Virtual Goods (31%). Mobile Banking only made up 6% of the responses.

Our study also confirmed the study by Inmobi that South African mobile phone users are comfortable with ads via mobile phone. We asked 3 questions related to mobile advertising and the respondents gave some unexpected answers:

How is your attitude towards mobile ads?

I am happy because I learn things I did not know before (36%)
I am ok with it because sometimes it could be useful (54%)
Don’t bother me because I ignore it anyways (4%)
Irritates me because I don’t like being bothered (3%)

What is your reaction towards mobile ads?

Click if it interests me (51%)
Read if interested but don’t click (11%)
Read even if not interested (17%)
Click on as even if it does not interest me (9%)
Ignore ads or look for skip option (8%)

Which ads do you prefer to see when it is shown?

Services (Education, Health, Social, informative etc.) (66%)
Entertainment (11%)
Lifestyle (Dating, Sports etc.) (9%)
Money or Finances (6%)
Brands (3%)

The respondents for the above study with gathered over a period of 2 weeks via the RLabs mobi and Mxit portals.



Africa’s most popular mobile social network Mxit partners with RLabs

Since its inception RLabs have always had a focus of using innovation to facilitate change and entrepreneurship as a model of sustainability. One of the key partners of RLabs over the last few years has been Mxit (Africa’s largest mobile Social network and Forbes top start up of Africa) who through providing RLabs access to its technology and using it as a tool for change.

Advice Support
This partnership enables the 50 million registered Mxit users to access professional counselling on various issues such as HIV, substance abuse and depression via mobile chat. Not only have this partnership made an impact in Southern Africa it also provided support to WHO with a safer hospital campaign in Indonesia last year. This partnership has reached more than 2.5 million people in need over the last 3 years via mobile chat, portals and feedback services.

Launchpad for RLabs Start-ups

Another aspect of the partnership which has proven to be successful is that a few of the social enterprises currently being incubated through RLabs have used Mxit as a launch pad and technology partner. The most well-known start-up is JamiiX which was our first product to be incubated and the partnership with Mxit has always brought lots of value to the growth of JamiiX. JamiiX is the platform currently being used in 17 countries world-wide with more than 500,000+ users being served via its FREE option and an additional 300,000+ users via its customized version.

Other start-ups who leveraged the RLabs and Mxit partnership are uusi (mobile jobs network with already more than 6,000,000 job searches in under 3 months, just under 40,000 mobile CVs uploaded and more than 50,000 users), MiGoX (open governance social platform), Urahisi (a mobile ordering service via Mxit) and others.

Global RLabs Support Partner

What really excites us of this new partnership is that Mxit and RLabs will work together in the countries where RLabs have a presence and where Mxit can be leveraged to be a key catalyst as the technology for social change in those countries. It will also allow the other RLabs hubs to innovate and come up with new products on the Mxit platform.

For us at RLabs having Mxit as a partner brings so much value as it not only allows us to grow the number of people we are impacting with social services, but it is also a valuable launch pad for new and creative social innovative products being developed by RLabs not only in South Africa but also soon via our other labs.


Uusi: Your New Beginning

“Uusi” – meaning New in Finnish

After 18 months of conceptualizing, testing and getting community members to engage with it on different platforms, Uusi the brain-child of one of the RLabs champions, Terence Hendricks, finally was privately released to the public only on the MXit platform. Using MXit as the launchpad was an obvious choice in the South African market with an estimated user base of over 37 Million users.

It was also amazing to see the overwhelming response from our users that we had more than 40,000 active job seekers searching via Uusi and over 1,200 mobile CVs created in 72 hours.

Uusi is a mobile social network that provides its community members access to employment, business and educational opportunities through its network. It was also presented at the World Wide Web conference in September 2010 (see abstract) when the first version of the idea was being tested in the Western Cape region of South Africa. This first phase release of Uusi allows a MXit user to signup and search for relevant jobs according to their needs and criteria.

Uusi is also one of the start-up social enterprises that will be incubated and accelerated through the RLabs Innovation Incubator and Accelerator programme. Additional expansion to the project is under development and will be released over the next few weeks as part of the build-up to the official launch of Uusi end of 2011 truly giving its members their “New Beginning”.