Mobile Usage at th...

Mobile Usage at the Base of the Pyramid

Overview report, case studies and video interviews

With 6 billion mobile phones around the world, of which 75% in developing countries, telephones reach most corners of the African continent. Mobile phones have improved the lives of the poor. Two new infoDev-led studies, focusing on South Africa and Kenya, provide insights on how useful mobile phones are for economic and social empowerment of people living off less than $2.50 a day.

Overview Report

Mobile Usage at the Base of the Pyramid: Research Findings from Kenya and South Africa 

The phenomenal growth of mobile communications in developing countries over the past ten years has been widely celebrated. There were more than 6.8 billion connections by the end of 2012, representing 3.2 billion subscribers. More than 650 million connections were in Africa alone. Networks across the world are being upgraded to higher speeds and capacities, and devices, too, are becoming more sophisticated. As such, calls and SMS are increasingly being augmented by more advanced apps and services.

infoDev’s Mobile Use at the Base of the Pyramid (m@BoP) program seeks to contribute to this agenda through on-the-ground studies in developing markets. The first phase of this program supported both qualitative and quantitative research on mobile usage by low-income populations in Kenya and South Africa. These locations were chosen for a variety of reasons. Both economies display regional and continental clout. The growth of their ICT sectors has been marked by both successes and shortcomings in the past ten years. And both are home to emerging communities of software developers, many of whom are associated with the Mobile Innovation Labs (mLabs) that infoDev and partners have supported to help incubate an entrepreneurial ecosystem. While Kenya and South Africa are not representative of the continent as a whole, they are among the most exciting given the confluence of technical talent, financial resources, and generalized interest.

Case Studies

The Kenya as well as the South Africa case studies are part of a large, multi-country research commissioned by infoDev about the use of mobile phones at the Base of the Pyramid (BOP), the poorest people around the world. The research program is supported by UKaid, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the Government of Finland and SIDA (Sweden).

Mobile Usage at the Base of the Pyramid in Kenya 

The Kenya study carried out by iHub Research and Research Solutions Africa among 800 mobile users in six locations across the country, found that at least 20 per cent of respondents felt it was necessary to make real sacrifices to recharge their mobile credit. What’s new about this research (based on detailed questionnaires, focus groups, and diaries) is that it puts an estimated figure on the value of the sacrifice that base of the pyramid users are willing to make in foregoing other activities, at an average of around 72 Kenyan shillings per week (around 84 US cents). In the majority of cases (>80 per cent), that meant buying less food, at least once a week. New clothes, bus fares, utility bills and even soap were sometimes sacrificed to sustain the all-powerful mobile phone.

The annex to the report, which contains details of the research methodology, survey questionnaire, field report, raw data and bibliography, is availabe here (pdf).

Please also read the blog by infoDev's Tim Kelly and lead researcher Angela Crandall (iHub Research): "Mobile phone credit instead of bread? For many Kenyans, a real dilemma," or reporting on the study by The Economist.

Mobile Usage at the Base of the Pyramid in South Africa

The South Africa study was carried out by Research ICT Africa and Intelecon and builds on a broader household survey of ICT usageacross 12 countries in Africa funded by IDRC (Canada). The report shows that, in South Africa, even among BOP populations, some three-quarters already have phones, but usage of data applications is fairly low. The one exception here is the MXit social networking platform and there is growing use of other social media, notably Facebook Zero. But other applications, such as mobile money, do not seem to be well targeted to the poor.

Video Interviews

Elias Oluoch

Elias resides in the infamous slum of Kibera, he spent the last 11 years working in construction, a job he doesn't really enjoy but must do to provide for his family. It took about two months for him to purchase a mobile phone, often forgoing meals to save enough money, which he saw as a necessary sacrifice.  Elias' phone provides him with an opportunity to find not only more construction jobs, but also better job opportunities, “In the past, I would just pack my tools and start walking searching for a job anywhere and it was really hard since I wasn’t sure whether I would get an opportunity or not."

Priscilla Nungari

Priscilla has been using a donkey cart to supply water within the Ndonyo market for the past 12 years. This is a challenging market to break into not only because it's male dominated, but also because it demands constant accessibility to take orders. Thus, her closest business companion is her mobile phone, ”My phone makes me reachable, and thus is a means of earning income, since without it most people would be making orders through my competitors.”

George Oyier "Njugna" 

Seven years ago, after a few years of work George quit his job and ventured into the business of selling secondhand clothes at the Ndonyo market. After one year of selling clothes he saved up and bought a mobile phone. George uses his phone daily for many of his business activities, such as contacting his suppliers at the biggest secondhand clothes market in Nairobi (Gikomba market), contacting his customers once he has new stock, referring his customers to his fellow businessmen who stock different items, and also receiving calls from customers about orders.


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