November 19, 2017

GSMA Report Examines the Transformative Opportunities Presented by Mobile-Enabled Digital Services in Ghana

A report produced by the GSMA in partnership with the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) correctly notes, "Ghana has played a proactive role in the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity." Furthermore, "Mobile – as a technology and as an industry – is uniquely placed to support the SDGs and development outcomes through the multiplier effect that comes from providing connectivity. In the 25 years since mobile was established in Ghana, the industry has connected 67% of the population, which amounts to 19 million individuals. To date, it has connected nearly half the population to the internet through their mobile phone." The report examines the transformative opportunities presented by mobile-enabled digital services in Ghana.

During my trips to Africa, I witness the development of innovative products and localized services as a result of an expanding mobile infrastructure. Therefore, I read with great interest that "beyond core connectivity to a network, mobile operators in Ghana have also created the means for citizens to access other core services, including the following:
  • "Providing financial services via a mobile platform, particularly mobile money, which is relevant to 11 of the SDGs. Mobile money is one of the most dynamic innovations in the industry and has provided significant social and economic benefits for users. At the end of 2016, there were more than 8 million active mobile money accounts in Ghana.
  • Facilitating the provision of digital forms of identity. The ability to prove identity is critical to accessing a wide range of services such as healthcare, education, employment, financial services and voting. In Ghana, birth registration is approaching 70%, having risen somewhat since the introduction of Tigo’s mBirth program in May 2016.
  • Improving productivity for farmers. Mobile platforms provide farmers and agricultural firms with up-to-date information on market prices, production techniques and weather forecasts through services such as the Vodafone Farmers' Club.
  • Expanding healthcare access. Programs such as the Mobile Technology for Community Health (MOTECH) have helped demonstrate the potential of mobile to increase demand for and access to health information and services among rural communities, while also providing data on health service delivery and outcomes to the Ghana Health Service.
  • Increasing water and energy efficiency through the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions. M2M and IoT solutions have the potential to impact many of the SDGs: for example, by monitoring air quality, climate change and water & energy efficiency; by improving the productivity of manufacturing and industrial processes; and by monitoring marine, coastal and forest ecosystems."
Despite the progress made," however, "significant challenges remain to realizing the potential of mobile to support socio-economic development. Many of these require collaboration between the public and private sectors." The report highlights several areas (i.e., closing infrastructure gaps, increasing financial inclusion, and closing the mobile gender gap) that would benefit from such interaction between mobile operators and government departments.

On the topic of supporting start-ups and entrepreneurship, I support the assertion that "for a healthy start-up ecosystem to develop in the digital era, it is crucial that start-ups can incorporate mobile services such as SMS or mobile money into their products. Without access to mobile solutions such as inclusive payment mechanisms, start-ups serving the masses struggle to scale." The report lists the following key action areas for mobile operators to consider:

OPEN UP Depending on their in-house capabilities and market coverage, operators have three main options for their API go-to-market and sales approach:
  1. In-house API program
  2. Partnerships with a third-party API management software provider such as Apigee or WSO2
  3. Wholesale models with an API aggregator (local/regional, such as Africa's Talking, or global such as Twilio). This last option is probably more relevant for operators with smaller market shares and limited in-house resources to drive an API program.
HARMONIZE The heterogeneity of APIs remains a key pain-point for start-ups and developers. Mobile operators can harmonize at a group or industry level by adopting a common platform or standards for specific APIs (e.g. mobile money).

COLLABORATE APIs should not be seen as end products but as enablers of innovation. The competitive differentiation between mobile operators should not be the APIs themselves, but rather their efforts to engage with start-ups and support them.

OUTREACH TO DEVELOPERS This is crucial to a successful API program: developers will only use APIs if they know they are there and they are willing and able to use them.

Lastly, regarding the acceleration of digital identity, the report says,
Mobile is a powerful tool in enhancing people's lives by enabling them to access personalized, value-added services. As the Ghanaian government expands its National Identity rollout program, an increasing number of people will be able to register their mobile SIM cards in their own names. This will also enable mobile operators to offer robust, digital identities that unlock several life-enhancing services while at the same complying with mandatory SIM registration requirements. Tigo's mBirth program in Ghana is an example of a mobile-enabled digital identity service that highlights the potential benefits of the mobile industry and government collaborating to address the challenge of unlocking access to basic services for a significant number of Ghanaians. 
This blog contains a number of posts about Ghana, which the West African nation has demonstrated democratic rule and peaceful transition of power. I remain optimistic that mobile operators and government departments will provide the support necessary for Ghanaian entrepreneurs to develop mobile products and localized services, which will impact many of the SDGs.

Do you agree with the findings of the report?

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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