Musings on market-oriented approaches to International Development
While technology can help firms engage and employ people from low-income households in the developing world – of course, there are watch-outs.
Around summer of 2015 in an African country, I remember looking at 9,000+ rows of data, after having visited 30+ outlets and working with a team of 40. In front of me was information on numerous retail stores, gathered over the course of a few weeks by a team of 40 – 60 young people in for some, their first ‘real’ job.
Of course, I late had to have some conversations about the proper use of mobile credit on a corporate phone, but employment and income was one outcome of an intensive, sweaty, 3 night charging 45 Samsung phones in my hotel room exercise.
Companies can also empower by employing talent as means of data gathering.
Too much, for not enough
Corporations face a challenge in getting data to inform business decisions. This challenge is exacerbated in the developing world, where data is harder to get and more expensive than in many developed economies.
What to do?
Firms like Streetbees are seeking to address this gap, by using data, technology and young talent to gather data and support the decisions of corporations. In a podcast on FT’s “Start up Stories”, the owner of Streetbees discusses how the firm used WhatsApp and the company’s app to help a major consumer goods firm gather market data in Indonesia. When in West Africa, I met 3 firms – all working with 3G, cell phones and wickedly dressed university-educated students – to help us better sell consumer goods.
The ‘Perfect’ solution?
Of course, while an enabler, technology and talent might be sufficient, but not enough. One challenge is going to be ensuring the data collected is quality – a challenge faced with any data source, but one that might seem particularly hard to manage in emerging markets. Second – technology is a challenge. If it’s not the device that has ‘walked away’, it the signal that doesn’t work properly in the packed markets of Abidjan and Blantyre. Last, talent – managing people remotely, even with GPS tracker is imprecise at best.