FEATURE23 March 2017

Bridging the gap

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Features Impact Middle East and Africa Mobile

Mobile research is helping to connect decision-makers with previously hard-to-reach people in emerging markets. By Leonida Kombo, of mSurvey.

Bridging the gap

According to the European Central Bank, emerging markets are home to more than 80% of the world’s population and account for almost 60% of the global gross domestic product (GDP) – yet 1.2 billion people in these countries live in extreme poverty. 

Many citizens of these emerging markets are – from a research perspective – invisible; gathering data on them remains a challenge, particularly for those who live in remote and rural areas that lack infrastructure and access to information. 

When mSurvey CEO and founder Kenfield Griffith was completing his PhD in Kenya, in 2011, he noticed that – while he was looking for input from hard-to-find people – most of the population was walking around carrying a mobile phone. In fact, he found that 70% of Kenyan adults had access to mobiles. 

Since then, according to the Communication Authority of Kenya, mobile phone penetration in the country has increased to 88.1% ( 2016 ). 

After moving to Nairobi, Griffith partnered with Louis Majanja, CTO and co-founder of mSurvey, to develop a technology that would create a platform for people to get real-time feedback from mobile conversations at scale. 

MSurvey did a mobile survey with Kenyans, asking about their mobile habits, and found that 52% mainly communicate via text. They also said they would be comfortable spending, on average, $80 to buy a phone, about $15 on airtime and about $6 on internet in a month. 

Among its other finding were that around 70% of Kenyans said that they have dual sim phones to access the cheapest service on either network. The company has used mobile phone-based surveys to fill a gap in key African markets for personal and consumer data. 

Organisations that it has worked with include Family AIDS Care & Education Services (FACES) at Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), which partnered with mSurvey for one of its ongoing projects, mAccess. This aims to reduce maternal mortality in remote areas of Homa Bay, Kenya, by ensuring mothers-to-be have a healthy pregnancy and deliver in a healthcare facility. 

The mobile technology enables the organisation to send women weekly SMS tips on their pregnancy, and allows the women both to ask questions of a nurse via text message, and to send an SMS to request transport to a medical facility. 

To date, 12 women – who would otherwise have given birth unassisted at home – have been transported to the safety of a health facility before bringing their children into the world.

In addition, non-profit impact investor Acumen has also been using the technology to measure the social impact that companies have in Kenya. 

Leonida Kombo is a communication intern at mSurvey