The GSMA mWomen Programme, a partnership between USAID, AusAID the GSMA and Visa, has recently launched the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge http://designchallenge.mwomen.org/, sponsored by Qtel Group. This is a competition seeking creative solutions for making the smartphone user experience more intuitive for technically illiterate users, particularly women, in developing countries. Julia Burchell, GSMA mWomen Knowledge Manager, discusses the context for the challenge and the impacts it could have for the mobile industry and for resource poor women around the world.
Mobile as a testament to human ingenuity
Mobile phone use in the developing world is exploding, yet women risk being left behind. 21% fewer women than men own a mobile phone in low- to middle-income countries. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the gap is estimated to be 23%; in the Middle East, 24% and in South Asia it rises to 37%.
The result is a mobile phone gender gap estimated to be 300 million women in the developing world without access to this potentially life-enhancing tool. And this tool is a powerful one. GSMA research, conducted in partnership with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, has shown there is a range of benefits associated with women’s mobile ownership: 93% of women surveyed felt more connected to family and friends, 85% felt more independent and 41% said owning a phone had improved their ability to make money. Mobile phones also can be used to help manage money, and for many unbanked people in emerging markets, mobile money services offer the first step to financial inclusion.
However, a range of barriers stand in women’s way of realising these benefits, including cultural barriers, a high total cost of mobile ownership (which includes device cost, airtime top-up and charging) and a lack of basic and technical literacy.
These barriers are not insurmountable. For example, it is possible to use a mobile phone, despite the inability to read or write; millions across the world do every day, including some resource-poor women. As our recent study, “Striving & Surviving” demonstrated, women take advantage of the “proximate literacy” of their family and friends, and many teach themselves through trial and error. The ability of people under such constraints to use a tool designed for users with greater resources at their disposal is testimony to both human ingenuity and the great value the tool adds to their daily lives.
The GSMA mWomen Programme aims to promote improved mobile ownership and usage by resource-poor women in emerging markets by 2014. We aim to help bring precisely those kinds of life-enhancing mobile services that many women currently lack, such as health information, mobile money and better connection to family and friends, into the hands of women across the developing world.
Phones getting smarter
The phones discussed in our study were feature phones, the most common in developing markets, with basic voice and SMS capabilities. These feature phones were originally designed to meet the needs of those that could afford them: urban, literate males with incomes that could support the costs of the device and its continued use, including airtime top-up and battery charging.
Over time, however, the standard feature phone will face competition from the richer experience available on smartphones. The price of smartphone devices is dropping, and usage of smartphones is increasing across the world. Smartphones are now available for as little as US$80 in Kenya and other countries, and these prices continue to drop. Strategy Analytics projects that smartphones will gain in share at a rapid pace in emerging markets. In India, the organization projects that the pace will increase by 856% between 2011 and 2016, and by 239% in Indonesia over the same period.
People across the developing world will find ways to use smartphones to meet their needs, whatever their resource and skill levels. Given that women make up the majority of the world’s poor, illiterate and unempowered population, they are unlikely to be the first adopters of these technologies. While the devices eventually will become the standard, particularly given the upswell of second-hand mobile devices entering these markets, the women currently underserved by mobile risk falling further behind.
Here at the GSMA mWomen Programme we’re asking, what if smartphones were designed to meet the needs of low-literacy women? What if the tools were geared towards serving the needs of those with limited disposable incomes and access to power? What if we could improve the smartphone user experience now to prevent resource-poor women from continuing to miss out in the future?
Women & mobile: the smart choice
To help answer these questions, we were very excited to launch the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge at the recent Social Good Summit in New York. The competition seeks to engage the global digital design community to create solutions to make the smartphone user experience more intuitive, particularly for women in developing countries who struggle with technical literacy. Entries can be submitted until 14 December, 2012, and the winners, who will be announced in February in Barcelona at GSMA’s Mobile World Congress, will receive prizes up to US$20,000. The winners also will have the opportunity to speak with potential investors interested in commercializing strong innovations.
So, we are calling on you and your networks, be they programmers and product designers or entrepreneurs and innovators, to help redefine the smartphone user experience for resource poor women. Check out the challenge at http://designchallenge.mwomen.org/ today!
Posted by: Julia Burchell, GSMA mWomen Knowledge Manager on November 5, 2012 at 10:39 am