Teleuse@BOP Archives — Page 2 of 4


It is not every day that our research gets covered in the Nepali media. That makes it special, when we do get covered. When LIRNEasia started, we fully intended to work in Nepal, a South Asian country with great unrealized potential. We did too, in the first cycle. But even for us, the internal strife proved too much.

eAsia 2011 begins in Dhaka

Posted on December 1, 2011  /  2 Comments

It seemed like a launch and a coming out party combined. The launch was of Digital Bangladesh. The coming out was of Sajeeb Ahmed Wazed, the thinker behind Digital Bangladesh who also happens to be the grandson of Bangabandhu (Friend of Bengal) Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and son of Shiekh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. It was a grand vision that was set out, one that would radically increase ICT literacy in Bangladesh, provide government services over e platforms and create service industry jobs for the wave of young people entering the job market. It was ironical that we had to listen to the speeches on digital Bangladesh phoneless, having been compelled to leave all electronics behind in the name of security.
I was privileged to listen to a presentation by Dr C Mohan on IBM’s collective wisdom on technology trends yesterday at the inaugural session of WSO2Con 2011. There were many, many fascinating nuggets, but what particularly struck me was the prediction of the importance of big public data sets. The very first post I made in 2011 was on this subject. We have open data sets, but they are just there. How can we make them more usable and truly open?
The spread of mobile telephony, especially among the poor, is one of the greatest public-policy successes of all time. Not because government officials went around identifying the deserving poor and handing them telephones manufactured in government factories, but because they focused on removing barriers to participation in the supply of communication services and allowed private suppliers and customers to collectively evolve new business models that connected hitherto unimaginable numbers of people at hitherto unthinkably low prices. The mobile revolution was building up a head of steam from the 1990s, but really took off at the turn of the century, with massive growth occurring in South Asia since around 2004. That is when LIRNEasia started work, with a focus on South Asia. At the urging of Randy Spence we began the Teleuse@BOP demand-side survey.
We know, from our experience with teleuse@BOP surveys, that getting an accurate fix on levels of income and assets (poverty) is not easy. An experiment in Indonesia suggests that asking the village to decide is superior, because it is almost as accurate as the standard method which uses household assets and generates greater buy-in (less complaints). One thing I did not get from the writeup was relative cost. Convening a community meeting is not costless. Neither is the asset-based method.
A research article that will shortly be published in Information Technology and International Development got me thinking about Engel’s Law, which states that as income rises, the proportion of income spent on food falls, even if actual expenditure on food rises. The article is by Aileen Aguero, Harsha de Silva and Juhee Kang. It’s not about food prices, per se, but about some extensions that allow the identification of necessary goods and luxuries. Their interesting finding is that voice telephony is a necessity in Asia (in the six countries covered by LIRNEasia’s teleuse@BOP research), while it is still a luxury in Latin America. How could the same thing be a luxury in one place and a necessity in another?
UN ESCAP hosted a whole week of events for the Asia Pacific business community in Bangkok last week. LIRNEasia was invited to speak on how ICTs can benefit small business. I focused on micro-enterprises of the type we see in our work, exemplified by Zayed Khan, the young grocer from Sonargoan so well profiled by our qualitative research partner CKS. There was the usual tendency to extrapolate from the personal experiences of speakers to the entirety of the Asia Pacific, but hopefully LIRNEasia’s research-based presentation provided a needed counterweight. The slides are here.

Power of social networks

Posted on July 24, 2011  /  0 Comments

In the midst of writing a unifying introduction to a special issue of a journal on how the poor use the mobile phone, I came across this sentence on the web. “Ki raflé du ki amul yeeré wayé moy ki amul nit”, as a Senegalese proverb has it, “the poor person is not the one without clothes but the one without anyone.” Seems to capture the essence of the power of social networks (I do not mean FaceBook).
This is an estimate from a consumer goods retailer that sells 500 laptops a month. When LIRNEasia’s teleuse@BOP results come out later this month we will be able to see what the numbers are at the bottom of the pyramid. Perhaps this was one of the questions asked in the census? We tried to propose some questions, but they closed early. Albert Tung regional director for South Asia at Asus Technology says it is the third best selling notebook brand in the world.
I co-taught an experimental graduate seminar with one of my colleagues at Ohio State University in the early nineties where we explored what policy could learn from research on how people actually behaved, thought and decided. I taught the first half of the seminar by deconstructing various policy and regulatory debates (dominated by lawyers and economists) to lay bare the fundamental (and unexamined) assumptions regarding human behavior. She taught the second half, talking about how behavioral research could challenge or confirm those assumptions. This then led to multiple funded projects and dissertations that she directed on policy-relevant social science research. It was possibly because of this “priming” (a key concept in contemporary behavioral research) that I was unquestioningly amenable to the suggestion to study how poor people actually used ICTs that came from the research planning sessions we conducted as part of the launch of LIRNEasia in September 2004.
Senior Research Manager, Ayesha Zainudeen participated at the 10th International conference on mobile business (ICMB 2011) from 20-21 June 2011. She made a presentation on Connecting Asia’s poor through the “budget telecom network model”: Innovations, challenges and opportunities, drawing from LIRNEasia’s research on the budget telecom network model, as well as Teleuse@BOP3 findings. The presentation slides can be found here. The theme of the conference was “Mobile Internet: a new paradigm in a new value network,” and explored the current mobile business models and players involved in the value network and their strategies, as well as the technological framework enabling the distribution and creation of services.

The future of m apps

Posted on June 1, 2011  /  0 Comments

I’ve been thinking about m applications for two full days. Not the normal crowd I hang with, regulators, ministry officials, operators; but people who are starting new companies and various people helping them. People working on energy startups, agri-market incubators, and, yes, also ICT entrepreneurs. Two ideas that came up: Most people who think about m apps are still stuck on the Apple App Store. Great model but requires two things LIRNEasia’s people (BOP in emerging Asia) do not have at the present time: smartphones and credit cards to make payments from.
LIRNEasia was invited to introduce its work on understanding how people at the BOP in emerging Asia use ICTs and what kinds of new services they are likely to be interested in at the 4th Global Forum organized by infoDev and the Finnish government in Helsinki, May 28-June 2, 2011. Our research was presented at a “deep dive” session on m applications attended by around 100 people. The slides are here. You will not be able to see the video that I started with, from the above link. The video of Chamara is available here instead.
One problem with our Teleuse@BOP research is that people who use the findings tend to shed the nuances. We do not know the percentage of Pakistanis with multiple SIMs, only the percentage of those at the BOP. But I am confident the general claim being made is not erroneous. Pakistan has been ranked top among the regional countries in 2010 with the highest number of cellular phone subscribers having more than one connection of different operators, Lirneasia study reported recently. As per the estimates, the subscribers possessing multiple SIMs are estimated to mark 23 percent share in the overall stated base of the country.
Tahani Iqbal, LIRNEasia Research Fellow, has been invited to make a presentation on the “Wants and needs of women in developing markets” at a mWomen Working Group Meeting organized by the  GSM Association on 9 – 11 November 2010 in Chennai, India. She is the only non-industry speaker at the event, and will present findings from LIRNEasia‘s studies on telecom use at the bottom of the pyramid. Click here to view presentation slides.
LIRNEasia CEO, Rohan Samarajiva, delivered a guest lecture on the theme “Not one path to the Internet economy” at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, on 14 October 2010. Presenting findings from the LIRNEasia’s study of ICT use at the bottom of the pyramid, Teleuse@BOP3, he used a video of Chamara Pahalawattage, an 18-year-old Sri Lankan, who has utilized his phonefor obtaining more work, and hence, a higher income. Presentation slides from the talk will be posted shortly.