Afghanistan Mobile Money
Afghanistan Mobile Money
Afghanistan Mobile Money is an exploratory project using design research to understand issues around the adoption of mobile money services in Afghanistan. The fragile nature of the country has limited research efforts on the ground, which can provide valuable lessons that can inform the worldwide mobile money community.
frog, Jan Chipchase and Panthea Lee
The jury esteemed the project as a good demonstration of innovation potential in emerging markets. We have a high opinion of the emphasis on innovation residing in services rather than in infrastructure. The strong bottom-up research in precarious and sometimes dangerous conditions is laudable but we would have liked to have seen more results, insights, and outcomes.
Afghanistan Mobile Money
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
Mobile money systems introduce a number of beneficial financial services into countries that lack a traditional banking infrastructure. They allow banking transactions, such as microfinance loans and money transfers, to occur without a physical bank branch. In order to inform and facilitate further ventures, this project sought to answer a number of basic questions about mobile money systems:
• What happens to existing money practices when a mobile operator introduces mobile banking services into this environment?
• How does it get used?
• What innovations does it enable?
• How does it affect the day-to-day quality of life for those at the base of the pyramid?
• How do mobile money services work alongside existing formal and informal money practices?
• What lessons that can be drawn for the design of mobile money services around the world?
The goals were to understand what is happening on the ground and feed results back into the mobile money community, to bring a more industry-relevant research focus to the IMTFI research portfolio, to encourage design researchers to engage with the mobile money space, and to normalize working in Afghanistan.
Among the constraints faced by the researchers was the natural reluctance of most people to discuss financial matters, requiring time to build sufficient levels of trust. Specific cultural constraints included:
• The dynamics of researching during Ramadan
• Gender roles and access
• Language barriers
• Contextual access especially in home environments
• Illiteracy and informed consent
• The implications of participant identification
• Issues around authority
• Operational risks
• Logistics, especially in accessing rural areas.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
The design of any mobile service has to be linked to the people and their everyday needs. It’s our hope that these individuals and their circumstances can help describe current mobile phone use and mobile money practices on the ground in Afghanistan, and, in turn, help inform opportunities in the mobile space that might give these people’s lives more security, better access, and greater support.
Partly funded by the Institute of Money, Technology, and Financial Inclusion (IMFTI), the study sought to understand the issues faced when introducing a mobile money system into a new environment and how it affects the day-to-day quality of life in a developing country with a focus on the M-Paisa money transfer service launched in 2008 by local operator Roshan.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
The research took into consideration all the users involved in the mobile money ecosystem, ranging from tech savvy traders through to illiterate day laborers. The mobile money landscape is particularly fragmented. The stakeholders include: banks, mobile operators, regulators, government ministries, the police and other authorities that can no longer receive direct bribes.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
The team was comprised of a senior user research specialist with extensive international experience, an internationally based fixer, and five local fixers.
The infield equipment included a MacBook Pro; Canon Mark 5D Mark II and assorted lenses; Sony PCM D-50 audio recorder; Flip HD video recorder—small enough to be able to travel light; robust enough to survive environmental conditions. Afghanistan-grade Nokia 1110s supplemented civilian iPhones with local SIM cards—virtually indestructible, with a stand-by battery life of close to a month.
The study interacted with approximately 56 participants over a two-week period including 8 home visits, 25 intercept and 5 group interviews. Participants ranged from 18 to 70 years old, and included a range of religious, socioeconomic, and ethnic backgrounds, including Pashtun, Hazara, Uzbek, and Tajik. Life expectancy in Afghanistan is 44 years, literacy is very low and exact ages are not always a given. The participants included a cross-section of current and potential future M-Paisa users (manual laborers, police officers, students), plus stakeholders from the M-Paisa ecosystem.
In a short space of time the research gathered high-quality insights and photographs from a variety of relatively high-risk contexts, while at the same time minimizing risk to participants and the research team.
The innovation lies in a combination of the exact methodological mix: the research + fixer team model, applied to a high-risk environment and a topic that is both ubiquitous and ubiquitously taboo to discuss. Oral consent was obtained prior to and after interviews, and participants were encouraged to delete photos prior to the team leaving an interview environment. The interviews centered on money (already a taboo), and included topics such as love, bribery and other sensitive subjects, requiring the data to be handled very sensitively.
The project builds on research included in Portfolios of the Poor, by Daryl Collins et al., and materials published by the GSMA, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor at the World Bank.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
Many people associate mobile banking with cities like London or New York, but its potential impact is far greater in countries where there is limited access to fixed banking infrastructure. How would a mobile money transfer system aid the current practices of (limited) banking, Western Union, or even delivering money in person in developing countries?
Access to basic money transfer services will help poor families save time and money that can be spent in more productive ways. Basic credit will allow them to use current assets to capitalize on future opportunities. Appropriate insurance schemes will allow them to protect against economic shocks. The ability to save, and to do so securely, will allow them to decrease their risk in handling cash. Taken in sum, access to basic financial instruments will allow families to pursue economic opportunities, generate greater income, and accumulate amounts of net worth. As a result, they will be more able to meet their life and emergency expenses.
Every service provider appreciates the many elements that go into a successful service offering: from how the brand is positioned in the marketplace, to pricing, to understanding the full range of consumer touch points. We were not just interested in their current attitudes and practices around money and mobile phones, but also their dreams and aspirations—these can all drive or impede the adoption of mobile banking services.
Integrating the research into the development of new mobile money systems is an ongoing process.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
If we could have done something differently, we would have stayed a week longer in Afghanistan. There was a run on Kabul bank stimulating new forms of money movement.