Posts Tagged ‘Mobile’

Here’s the latest from our ongoing project with Notore in Nigeria:

- As referenced in our last post, we’ve launched the pilot program in five rural states. With the help of a Notore executive in each state, we’ve met with the distributor and 10 of the VPs.

- We trained each group in each state on how to use our Java-app-equipped mobile devices. They’re starting to get familiar with the system. This system empowers the VPs and cuts down on costs, because, instead of maintaining a storefront and storage space for products farmers may or may not want, the VPs can now place the exact order. This not only saves them time and money; it also makes the entire supply chain more efficient.

- Our Java app allows the VPs to see in real-time what the distributor has in stock. The distributor, meanwhile, can see in real-time what the VP is ordering. If the VP’s order isn’t in stock, the system will automatically inform him. In addition, the app allows the VP to see when a distributor is making a shipment. This frees up the VP to spend more time teaching the farmers how to improve their agricultural practices. It also saves farmers lengthy, costly, time-consuming trips to local distribution areas for products that may or may not be available. In turn, it allows the farmers to increase the yield on his land.

The bottom line: We’re making good progress, and we’re hopeful we can make the lives easier of everyone up and down the supply chain. We’ll post pictures soon.

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The most important ways of measuring the seismic cultural and economic shifts associated with the rapid spread of mobile technology in Africa are often incalculable. Even rogue economists and statisticians armed with adventurous research methods and fancy algorithms will have a difficult time quantifying, say, reduced stress levels of people completing a task in 10 minutes instead of 10 hours. So, when trying to impress upon skeptics the game-changing power of mobile technology on the continent, it often helps to let the numbers speak for themselves.

Enter M-PESA. One of our key mobile money partners, the Kenya-based company recently reported numbers so big even we had to do a double take. No further commentary is required. So, without further adieu, here are a few key stats from the 2011-2012 financial year:

43 percent increase in revenues

12,000 agents added for a total of 50,000 employees

15 million registered users

 For more details on M-PESA’s astonishing growth, visit here. And a hearty congrats from all of us at SlimTrader.

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First, some housekeeping: After a long layoff, we’re reconstituting the blog. And we couldn’t have selected a better time. We have many exciting developments to share with you. So, please, check back here weekly for updates.

Let’s pick up where we left off. The Notore pilot program received a lot of interest from our retailers, aka, Village Promoters (VPs). You’ll recall that they are the key links in the supply chain, because the VPs deal directly with the farmers teaching them about better farming methods and about using fertilizer to increase their crop yields. Based on the feedback we received from them, and in consultation with Notore, we settled on the framework for a more efficient method to deliver the fertilizer to farmers.

While we’re still working out the details and the implementation process, here’s the gist of the revamped approach. Notore will provide Village Promoters with a mobile phone equipped with a specially designed Java application. This application will allow VPs to use their mobile phone to record a farmer’s order. It’s an important development. Previously, the VPs would have to buy fertilizer from Notore’s distributors in advance, necessitating that the VPs not only have cash and ample storage space, but also maintain a storefront.

Since transportation from the rural areas, where most farmers live, is spotty at best, trade suffered. Farmers don’t want to make an arduous, resource-consuming journey to the VPs if it isn’t guaranteed the product will be there in the quantity needed. Another problem: because the VPs were disconnected from the farmers, they were forced into a passive rather than an active role.

But our solution solves all these problems. Now, the VPs visit the farmers in person and take the orders -all with their mobile phones and our Java application. Once Notore’s distributors deliver the fertilizer, the farmers simply pick it up. As noted, this is all still in the planning phase, but we hope to launch it soon.

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David Rowan, editor of Wired‘s UK version, takes a tour of Africa and is stunned by the rapid proliferation of technologies the West takes for granted but have only recently taken hold on the continent:

You need only to look at the map of huge broadband fibre-optic cables currently being laid on both east and west coasts, from Djibouti to Dakar, to understand how quickly and ambitiously an entire continent is being connected. It’s like being back in 1995 again, and realising there might just be a market for an online bookshop or auction website.

Don’t take my word for it: David Cameron is so keen to give British entrepreneurs a foothold that he recently took a delegation of CEOs to Nigeria and South Africa to highlight “one of the greatest economic opportunities on the planet”.

The trip - featuring the bosses of firms such as Barclays and the Royal Mint, Vodafone and Virgin Atlantic - was hailed by Downing Street as “an historic visit to a continent with a trillion-dollar economy and the potential, according to the IMF, to grow faster than Brazil over the next five years”.

Much of that growth will come from startups that bring the mobile internet to businesses and consumers who have until now been offline. That’s why Cameron’s team invited along the British founders of red-hot mobile-money business Monitise, a clever text-messaging system called Frontline SMS - and your own Digital Life columnist with his trusty notebook.

Rowan goes on to discuss the importance of e-commerce and the role our startup, SlimTrader, is playing in Africa’s economic development.

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The Economist cheers Africa’s economic surge:

AFRICA has made a phenomenal leap in the last decade. Its economy is growing faster than that of any other continent. Foreign investment is at an all-time high; Senegal has lower borrowing costs than Ireland. The idea of a black African billionaire—once outlandish except for kleptocratic dictators—is commonplace now. At the same time an expanding African middle class (similar in size to those in India and China) is sucking in consumer goods. Poverty, famine and disease are still a problem but less so than in the late 20th century, not least thanks to advances in combating HIV and malaria.

The anonymous blogger further highlights the increasingly important role technology is playing in the continent’s boom: “Africa has 400m mobile phone users—more than America. Such tools boost local economies, especially through mobile banking and the distribution of agricultural information.” As Matt Ridely argues, “pessimism about Africa is overdone and trade is transforming Africa for the better.” In other words: business is getting done on the continent—and lives are changing. We’re both excited and proud to be a part of it.

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Jamie Holmes of The Atlantic Monthly flags a staggering statistic: “Feature mobiles have spread into some of the most remote areas of the globe, with 48 million people now with cell phones but no electricity, and by next year, 1.7 billion with cell phones but no bank account, according to one estimate.”

He further notes the game-changing impact the proliferation of text message-enabled phones is having on the way business is done in the developing world:

Nokia’s “Ovi Life Tools” offer agricultural, educational, and health information via SMS in India, Nigeria, Indonesia, and China. Txteagle, a business began by MIT’s Nathan Eagle, now uses SMS surveys to perform research into emerging markets, paying for completed surveys in mobile airtime. In time, the impact of such services on local economies could be tremendous.

With mobile money, the possibilities multiply. Are there services that help list and sell products via SMS? You bet. Pay taxes by SMS? Yup. Buy clean water at mobile-payment vending machines? Sure. How about having a crop insurance payout sent directly to mobiles based on automated rainfall measurements? That’s been done, too.

Last year, 4.16 billion users made SMS the most popular data channel in the world. An estimated 6.1 trillion texts were sent, up from 1.8 trillion in 2007. And while the proportion of customers using SMS for more than simple messaging is still small, in poor nations these services are already changing the nature of commerce, crime, reporting news, political participation, and governing.

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One of our chief missions is to offer the un-banked a safe, an efficient, and a cashless alternative to purchasing life’s necessities. Why? Because their reliance on cash exposes them to multiple risks, including: cash can get stolen, cash can be lost or spent on something other than what was intended.

For this particular pilot, we’ve partnered with a Nigerian payment company that has been given an approval-in-principle to operate a mobile payment scheme, which will provide farmers participating in our pilot the ability to purchase scratch cards with the monetary equivalent of the cash they would have paid for their fertilizer.  These cards provide stored value-like a store gift card-and can be used as payment for fertilizer. This eliminates the need for farmers and retailers to carry cash.

Armed with this scratch card and access to  our MoBiashara platform, a farmer can query the inventory of a supplier, select the desired product, and make a purchase-all from the comfort of their  mobile phone. The only thing left for them to do is pick up the product, or have it delivered.

We’ll be talking about this process in this space in the days and weeks to come. Stay tuned…

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VPs listen as SlimTrader team members demonstrate the MoBiashara service in a makeshift training center.

Now that we’ve provided background on the area in which we’re working and detailed how the MoBiashara service helps farmers connect with Notore, let’s talk about the implementation process.

The setting: Jalingo, the capital of Nigeria’s Taraba state. The participants: 17 Village Promoters (VP), representing eight local governments; two representatives of Notore; and three Slimtrader team members. The goal: to make MoBiashara that much better going forward for Notore and the farmers in Taraba, as well as our other clients in our other areas of operation.

MoBiashara helps distribute crucial Notore fertilizers from trading centers in Taaraba (pictured) to farmers.

After demonstrating MoBiashara to the VPs, they noted a variety of benefits, which, in the aggregate, had the ability to positively, and profoundly, impact the means of distribution. This would have a number of equally positive-and yes, profound-effects:

  • Despite the distribution challenges the localities are currently facing, MoBiashara engenders efficient supply chain management.
  • The VPs felt MoBiashara would help them increase  sales of Notore products among their existing farmers, who would in turn benefit by having higher crop yields, among other things.
  • MoBiashara drives consumer demand by communicating the availability of Notore’s product.

So, as indicated by the final bullet point, by allowing farmers to query Notore’s inventory from their mobile phones before journeying to a distribution center, MoBiashara is empowering them. We’re saving them time, which for “base of the pyramid” consumers is literally money.  In the process, we’re creating a positive feedback loop which travels up and down the supply chain, and beyond. Notore widens its market penetration. Farmers know what and where to get the products they need. And everyone from the bus drivers who bring the farmers to the distribution centers to the shop owners who sell them lunch, benefits.

One final point: In order to make the querying of Notore’s inventory even more accessible and efficient, the VPs stressed that the service must be in the local dialect of Hausa. (Deploying the service in any other dialect in any other African state is 100 percent doable.  Flexibility of performance is yet another benefit of MoBiashara.) By traveling to Taaraba and working directly with both our client (Notore) and our client’s clients (the VPs and the farmers they represent), the SlimTrader team was able to identify, and implement, a crucial component to the MoBiashara platform there. Being hands-on counts.

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Here’s a step-by-step demonstration of how farmers use our mobile commerce platform to purchase products from Notore :

As you can see, traveling long distances and waiting in long lines to purchase much-needed fertilizers are eliminated. What’s more, farmers can now query Notore’s inventory to determine what products are available, and where.  This saves farmers time and money, not to mention the physical hardship associated with travel. That our service has a universal application throughout multiple sectors, from agriculture to travel, only increases its value to Base-of-the-Pyramid consumers and the companies attempting to reach them.

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As we expand, so does recognition about the good work SlimTrader is doing. Case in point: Our founder and CEO, Femi Akinde, was interviewed by another major U.S. media outlet. This time, he sat down with Forbes to discuss our “promising start-up.” The video below is well worth your time and attention.

In addition, CMO Betty Radier traveled from our Kenya office to the Northern Nigerian state of Taraba, where she and her staff are training Village Promoters (VPs) on our MoBiashara service. These seminars are part of a pilot program with our client and partner Notore-an “agro-allied and chemical company” dedicated to  “championing the African Green Revolution by supporting local food production.” Such an effort, of course, is what SlimTrader was founded to facilitate. Which is why Betty felt it was so important to personally attend the demonstrations, community outreach being a cornerstone of the SlimTrader mission.

MoBiashara allows the VPs and the farmers they represent to use their mobile phones to purchase much-needed products, such as fertilizer from Notore. As Forbes describes the service’s myriad applications:

A traveler in Lagos, Nigeria can enter the text shortcode for a bus ticket and get a reply with a schedule and prices. He texts back to book the time he wants and gets a reply back with the reference number he needs to pay for the ticket via his mobile wallet. Same goes for a farmer who wants to buy bags of fertilizer. Or a doctor who wants verified medicine for his clinic.

A former Microsoft Partner Services lead for Western, Eastern, and Central Africa, Betty has filed a detailed report on her experiences working with 17 village promoters from the following areas: Wukari, Ibi, Bali, Gassol, Lau, Takun, Ardo- Kola Zing, and Donga. We’ll be sharing details of her findings over the next several days. In the meantime, please enjoy this sampling of photos, complete with captions:

Village Promoters, along with MoBiashara and Notore staff members.

Betty shows the Village Promoters how to use our MoBiashara service.

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