Posts by Alan Upstone

Bottom-up vs top-down

Posted by on Oct 15, 2012

Top-down is when some outsider at the top of the pyramid decides my life would be better if something changed in my world, like micro-finance debt available to me as a woman to buy my healthcare and participate as a free agent in the economic world. Bottom-up is when I know that my husband will make me take out that loan so he can drink it. I’d rather have direct access to the clinic. I have oversimplified things here, of course. Some commentators argue that those at the top of the wealth pyramid have control of the resources but it is those at the bottom who know how best to use them. It’s an argument sometimes called pro-poor participation. Robert Chambers talks about “handing over the stick”.   (picture...

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Where’s the money going?

Posted by on Oct 12, 2012

One estimate has two cents in every aid dollar reaching the beneficiary (source: Jeffrey Sachs). Project and administration costs can strip off 10-20% each time a layer is introduced, e.g. the UK DFID contract a fund manager who contracts a UK-based INGO who contracts an in-country programme office who in turn contracts local partners. Fiduciary risk is high, with capacity problems in-country stalling project start-up and rollout, funds being misdirected or misappropriated and items being damaged before reaching the beneficiary. Many of the micro-actions amenable to promotion via mobile phones require no intermediary at all except to produce the media that stimulates reaction and monitor and track performance. Experience to date has shown that partnerships are sometimes needed, for example in providing eye tests or glasses. Recruiting young people to try new products will also require partnership with supply and logistic agents. With all these considerations, the micro-action model still seems to greatly reduce the cost and complexity of intermediaries compared to many other attempted...

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Mobile phones in Africa

Posted by on Oct 4, 2012

Whilst the Western world is moving from desktops and laptops to mobiles, much of the developing world is going straight to mobile. As SayaMobile pointed out, 4.6 billion jumped to mobile without using PCs first. The proliferation in mobile devices will provide ever more platforms to engage with people in developing regions – in Africa, there have been 316 million new mobile phone subscribers since 2000 (source: BBC). Here’s a quote from TechCrunch: In Asia and Africa alone, Saya Mobile estimates that there are 580 million — with upwards of 70 percent of them on Internet-enabled devices, many of them not smartphones. There is a clear opportunity for disruption here. As with other developing markets, messaging is a popular way for people to communicate in Africa. Part of that is because it is cheaper than phone calls. But in a region where money is so very tight (per capita income in Ghana, for example, is 4 percent that of the U.S.) those messages still cost something (up to 5 percent of their monthly salary going to SMS), and so Saya is offering to make it even cheaper — literally 1,000 times cheaper: Traditional SMS messages can cost $0.01 each to send (with photo messages costing more). Saya’s service uses so little...

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Beam me up, Scotty!

Posted by on Oct 1, 2012

We can think of the model of mobile-enabled micro-actions for social impact like this: taking resources (e.g. money, information, knowledge) breaking them up into bite size chunks (micro-actions) transmitting them to participants, who reassemble at their end to acquire resources (money, information, knowledge). This could be a nifty way to short-circuit some top-down, blueprint-based development programmes, in which you never really know where the resources will end up.  Instead, the transfer of resources is initiated and controlled by recipients, wherever they may be – using a tool they can carry in their hand. This reminds me of Star Trek.  The Enterprise could send an expensive spacecraft down to deliver a key resource to Kirk, Bones, Spock (and this week’s new face who’s going to die halfway through the episode).  But this resource-carrying vehicle is also resource-hungry, and it might get blocked, intercepted, captured or diverted. Even if it does arrive, it might be too late or in the wrong place as the recipients have had to move. In fact, filming of the first Star Trek episodes was delayed by problems building the shuttlecraft models. Teleportation was only devised as a less expensive, immediately available alternative to get going with. Even when the models were available for later episodes, Scotty would...

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