Can mobile technology lead to solutions that ensure water security? This was the intriguing topic of the mid-morning session today led by Dr. Rob Hope who leads the ‘mobile/ water for development’ research at Oxford University (oxwater.co.uk). Robert’s work is supported by DFID and ESRC and is in partnership with UNICEF and GSMA. This session was attended by about 7 delegates most of whom are either already working deeply in this area such as water.org and IRC but also by those who have some presence in either the mobile space or development space and were keen to understand how mobile technology driven entrepreneurship can enable water security in developing countries. Dr. Hope shared with the group the research being done by him and his students. In particular he mentioned the research by Aaron Krolikowski, dosage Prof. Xiaolan Fu and himself on the topic “Wireless Water: Improving Urban Water Provision Through Mobile Finance Innovations” sponsored by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship.
The key points made by Dr. Hope and other delegates were:
Mobile as a Monitoring tool: Water Security is a key factor and can be defined as availability of quality and quality water for at affordable cost for all people for their major needs. The key theme that emerged was that mobile technology can play a critical role in ensuring effective monitoring of water security solutions. For example, sales Hand Pumps are the favourite solution of the development sector in response to water needs yet there is hardly any rigorous date driven evidence of the effectiveness, usage and maintenance of this approach. Often the reason for this lack of evidence is that data collection using traditional methods such as field workers is very costly and difficult. It is however fundamental to measure and monitor the actual usage of the hand pump solution to ensure sustainable success. Now, we can use mobiles to map hand pumps using a transmitter fitted with GSM technology which provides real time data on actual usage patterns. This allows for a much more informed and effective implementation. This system of monitoring, shared through web technology, is also very effective in connecting all stakeholders together.
Mobile as water bill payment tool: Financial sustainability is a critical. According to some estimates, there is a 16 billion USD deficit in the annual collection of water payments in Africa. If people can be made to pay the required amount that itself can be a game changer. This can be done through mobile money payment systems; mobile banking and wireless pay points. This also leads to elimination of petty corruption.
Community model is not a panacea: The most widely accepted approach currently is to encourage the community model in which the community as whole is expected to ensure effective usage of hand pumps. There is however no strong evidence to suggest that this model is the right method. The community is often merely an artificial construct with no real meaning. On the other hand, a lot of evidence seems to that what really sustains successful solutions are the quality of water and that it comes at an affordable price.
Some noteworthy examples of mobile based water security solutions are Manobi in Senegal, AKVO with IRC in Ghana and MPESA in Nairobi.
Mobile for Water approach is poised to be a game changer!!!
This article was written by Skoll Scholar Shubham Anand from the Skoll World Forum.
Continuing our series of posts by our University of Oxford students attending the Skoll World Forum, Mark Hand gives us his overview of the conversations happening at the forum.
There is no dearth of hallyway discussion at the Skoll World Forum, the world’s glitziest of gathering on social entrepreneurship and impact investing. Here are four topics that are getting airtime at the Forum (and one that should be, but isn’t).
1. How to engage policymakers. At the CASE-hosted conference on impact-investing at Skoll on Wednesday, Katherine Fulton reminded her audience that when the term impact investing was coined five(ish) years ago, policy was nowhere on the agenda. Today, however, most impact investors and social entrepreneurs are ready to acknowledge the centrality of policymakers to having more than local-level change. For impact investors in developing markets, access to policymakers serves as a critical component of its investment model. Big Society Capital’s increasingly central role in the UK social entrepreneurship market would not have been possible without support by politicians, and social impact bonds often depend on a governmental partner. The Strive Network in Cincinati’s work on collective impact relies upon the participation of government partners. And so on.
2. The importance of telling stories. Wandering around the Skoll World Forum this year is an interesting bunch: the Sundance Institute, Participant Media (the folks that brought us Lincoln), NPR, PBS Newshour—storytellers. At the same time that the social entrepeneurship world is wrestling with how to tell its story, storytelling itself is changing to reach the Millennials who, according to Sundance’s Cara Mertes, multitask so much that we pack 36 hours of activity into every 24 hour day. On August 1, Participant will launch its latest, most ambitious effort yet: Pivot, a television station to carry forward its efforts to tell stories with meaning and purpose.
3. Impact investors’ (lack of) risk tolerance. During a session with Skoll Scholars, IGNIA’s Álvaro Rodríguez read out a quote from a much-discussed report on social entrepreneurship:
The overwhelming majority of impact investing funds and advisors we spoke to expressed a strong preference for investing in the later stage, certainly after commercial viability had been established and preferably once market conditions were well prepared for sustainable scaling.
This, Rodríguez pointed out, is not risk-tolerant capital. If impact investors want their investments to be truly disruptive (the theme of this year’s Forum), they will have to follow the lead of their most risk-tolerant peers; risk, Rodríguez argues, is a necessary byproduct of innovation.
4. How foundations (mis?)manage their assets. In the US, foundations are required to give away 5% of their total assets each year. The rest is handled by finance professionals trained to invest in a wide range of assets, maximizing return in order to ensure the perpetual existence of that foundation. What does this mean? That many foundations—including those focused on changing how markets hold investments in the very same companies and structures that they are fighting against. Total Impact Advisors’ Arthur Wood says that shifting 20% of foundations’ assets to mission-related investments could unlock over a trillion dollars of investment at a cost of roughly five billion dollars. Debra Schwartz of the MacArthur Foundation pointed out another cost of shifting dollars into riskier investments, namely the money that would no longer be available to put into causes and research that no investor with profit motives will touch.
5. The role of faith and religion. Ten years on, social entrepreneurship remains primarily charity-funded, be that through philanthropic families like those of the Bing Bang network or, foundations like Skoll and Echoing Green, or indirectly by foundations like DOEN Foundation that act as limited partners (LPs) in impact investing funds. The link between charity and religion is a similarly tight one: in 2011, religious groups took in a third of US charity, and religious people are more likely to donate to charity than secularists. If social entrepreneurship is charity-funded, and much charity stems from religious conviction, religion ought to be a (big, open) part of the conversation.
Continuing our series of Skoll World Forum posts, James Tilbury shares his thoughts on a session about the Social Progress Index.
In 1934 a young economists called Simon Kuznets developed the first comprehensive measure of national income: Gross Domestic Profit, or GDP. He explicitly warned against using this measure to judge the success of an economy stating that “the welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income”. And yet, even eighty years later, we are still using GDP as the most commonly cited proxy for wellbeing within a society. Today at the Skoll World Forum an alternative measure of national success was launched: The Social Progress Index.
Michael Green, Executive Director of the Social Progress Imperative, opened the session by sharing their mission: to improve the lives of millions of people around the world by offering concrete, actionable information to governments, civil society and social entrepreneurs. This information comes in the form of the Social Progress Index, which takes into account 52 different indicators of a country’s social performance.
Michael Porter, who chairs the Social Progress Imperative, will be the first person to tell you that this is nothing new. Alternative indicators of country performance already exist, from the Human Development Index to the Happy Planet Index. The Social Progress Index just does this a lot better. Whereas the main existing indexes are made up of 3 or 4 indicators, the Social Progress Imperative is made up of 52. It also makes a decided move away from “input” variables such as GDP, and seeks to instead use “output” variables such as nutrition and access to basic knowledge.
No-one is claiming that the Social Progress Imperative is perfect, least of all its management team. It is their hope to engage a wide range of stakeholders to improve the index over time. This is another key differentiator of the initiative; they want to make an impact and not just release a new dataset. To this end they are creating networks of people around the world to engage with this data and take it into account in their daily decision-making.
The results of the index were released at one minute past midnight last night. It will surprise no-one that Switzerland topped the charts. It may surprise many participants of the Skoll World Forum that the United Kingdom ranked second though. Cleary weather or phone reception is not taken into account.
A major finding of the study was the lack of correlation between GDP and performance on the Social Progress Index. After a GDP of about $30,000 per capita there was no correlation between GDP and performance. Even below that mark though there was a wide disparity between countries of similar GDP. For example, Costa Rica ranked 12th on the index, but 23rd in terms of income.
Will this be the tool that allows us as a society to move away from an outdated fixation with GDP, and towards measures progress on issues that actually matter? Time will only tell but we can influence the outcome by backing initiatives like the Social Progress Imperative.
Author, James Tilbury has a Masters of Environmental Change and Management from the University of Oxford and is a recipient of the Rhodes Scholarship. He is currently setting up a sustainability consulting firm, which he hopes will provide a vehicle for helping organisations improve their social and environmental performance.