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Making the World a Better Place for Southern Projects

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Good ideas are plentiful, but how to fund life-improving projects has always been a thorny issue. Judging how effective a project is can also be fraught with debate and contention. Over the past two decades, the number of NGOs in the global South has exploded (http://lboro.ac.uk/gawc/rb/rb144.html). The best of them offer the local knowledge and understanding required to make development gains. But unlike NGOs in the North, many lack the powerful fundraising capabilities of the big global NGO brands.

An exciting new initiative based in Germany, but already featuring hundreds of projects from across the South, is using the power of the internet to directly connect projects and donors.

Joana Breidenbach, an anthropologist, author and co-founder of betterplace.org (www.betterplace.org), says NGOs are emerging in India and other countries of the South to challenge the big Northern global NGOs.

“Why wouldn’t you want to donate to these Southern NGOs? There are more entrepreneurs and local approaches which are better.

“Betterplace gives local institutions a platform to express themselves.”

Started in 2007, betterplace is an online marketplace for projects to raise funds. It is free, and it passes on 100 percent of the money raised on the platform to the projects. The foundation that runs betterplace supports its overheads by offering additional services that people can pay for if they wish. It works in a way similar to the online marketplace eBay (http://www.ebay.com): NGOs post their project, set up an account, blog about their achievements and successes and needs, and receive donations direct to their bank account when they come in.

Breidenbach points out up to a third of any NGO’s income is spent on fundraising. In Germany, that represents more than Euro 1.3 billion out of over Euro 4 billion in private donations – money that could have gone directly into the hands of the people needing help.

With betterplace, donators can surf through the projects and pick the one they want. Already, more than 100 large corporations trawl through betterplace seeking projects to fund to meet their corporate social responsibility (CSR) obligations (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_social_responsibility).

“I find it very exciting to introduce a good and innovative NGO to a corporate sponsor,” Breidenbach said.

Breidenbach says betterplace’s ultimate goal is “to transfer the donation market online.” It hopes to change the rules in donation and charity in the same way blogs and the search engine Google changed the way people publish and search for information.

“This provides better transparency, feedback,” Breidenbach said. “Now (with betterplace) donors and organizations can cut out the middlemen. A lot of established organizations do not like this too much.”

Over the past decade, new concepts like social entrepreneurs and venture philanthropy have emerged to straddle the delicate line between social good and private profit. Betterplace joins this wave of new thinking about how to do development better.

In the 20 months since betterplace went online more than 1,500 projects have joined. They are now averaging between 20 to 35 new projects joining every week.

Betterplace is a simple open-plan office on the top floor of a Berlin warehouse beside the city’s Spree river. The small team (http://www.betterplace.org/about_us/team) work on laptop computers. A blackboard on the wall details in bright colours a running tally of the projects that have joined.

Breidenbach gives the example of a mother in Cameroon who is using betterplace to raise the school fees for her children. The mother blogs about the children’s progress and has been able to raise the fees for a year and a half.

“People are now directly connected to somebody in need.”

“Right now the functionality (of the website) does not allow people getting in contact publicly and we want to enable this knowledge transfer in 2010. If you want to build a well in Cameroon then you could search for the best technology and to contact other people who are doing similar projects to learn from them.”

Success on betterplace is by no means certain. “The experience of the project managers has been as varied as development work is – some have done really well, raising thousands of Euros over the website – others have received no funding at all,” Breidenbach said.

But betterplace provides tools to give the projects the best chance possible. “Projects can present their work, breaking it down in a transparent way (in order to let supporters know exactly what is needed for their realization), there are sound payment processes in place and project managers can give feedback through their project blog, supporters can download project widgets etc., all supplied free of charge.”

Breidenbach has other tips for making betterplace work for a project: post details in English when creating a profile, break down the project into much smaller, low-cost goals (few people are willing to make large donations) – this also has the advantage of receiving payments straight away when they are small. Tell a good story about the project, and try and use actual testimonials from the people affected. Blog and update regularly with photos and videos to keep people engaged. Also avoid copying and pasting text from a previous grant application.

“We have the numbers to show that projects which give regular feedback and have a lively web of trust receive more donations than others, which are not very active.”

“Don’t think you can just go on to betterplace and the money starts rolling in,” said Breidenbach.

The betterplace platform places all projects seeking funds on the same level, allowing individuals and small NGOs to compete equally with the big, branded global NGOs with their websites and sophisticated fundraising operations.

“All the big NGOs have their own websites,” continues Breidenbach. “But it is the small initiatives that often don’t have a website or know how to use Pay Pal etc. (http://www.paypal.com). We are very useful for smaller NGOs.”

“Another big advantage is that we are a real marketplace: whatever your interests (as a potential donor), you will find a project tackling this issue on the platform.”

But what about fraud and people seeing betterplace as a coin-making machine rather than a way to make the world a better place?

“We have a feeling for dodgy projects. We check the IP address. We have a number of trust mechanisms in place (and are currently working on enlarging them). Thus projects on betterplace can create trust through their good name … But we also include something which I would call network-trust: In our web of trust different kinds of stakeholders of an organization or a project have a voice and can publicly state what they think of it. Thus beneficiaries of a project can say if the project has done them good or has been counterproductive, people who have visited the project on the ground can describe what they have seen etc. … we hope to give a much denser and more varied impression of social work and give donors (a terribly badly informed group of people), the basis for a much more informed choice.

“If a contributor to a project is dissatisfied with the project’s outcome … she can either directly contact the project manager via betterplace, or openly voice her concern on the project page for other potential donors to see her views.”

For now, betterplace is still only useful to people who have access to the internet and have a bank account (necessary for the money transfers). But in the future betterplace hopes to have mobile phone interactivity and more features to expand who they can reach.

“We are also re-working our site to make it more intuitive and easier to use for people without computer skills,” Breidenbach said. “In the pipeline is also a knowledge backbone, enabling people to access knowhow about development and social innovation issues and exchange views and experiences. This will be very useful for projects in the South as so many people are working on the same issues without knowing about it. They could learn a lot from each other, without the “help” of the north.”

With internet broadband in Africa set to take off, according to the report Africa Connect: Undersea Cables to Drive an African Broadband Boom (http://www.pyr.com/downloads.htm?id=5&sc=PR090309_INSAME1.6), even more people will soon be able to make the most of initiatives like betterplace.

Resources

1) CSR Wire: This is a news service with all the latest news, reports and events and where companies announce their CSR (corporate social responsibility) programmes and how much they are contributing. A great resource for any NGO looking to make a targeted appeal for funds. Website:http://www.csrwire.com/

2) Alibaba: Alibaba.com is an online marketplace started in China but is now global. It allows businesses from all over the world to trade with each other, make deals and find funding. Website: http://www.alibaba.com/

3) More photos from the Betterplace HQ in Berlin, Germany. Website: http://www.flickr.com/photos/15195144@N06/sets/72157622386871044/ and here https://davidsouthconsulting.org/betterplace-photos/ 

Published: September 2009

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=uXWUyfb4MacC&dq=development+challenges+september+2009&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsseptember2009issue

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

“A few weeks ago, David South, Development consultant and author of UNDP’s Development Challenges, South-South Solutions Newsletter, came by the betterplace office to take a look at our work. When I asked him how he had come about betterplace.org, he answered: he found me on twitter! So much for the twitter-scepticts. Read the article about how we can Make the World a Better Place for Southern Projects. (As the UNDP always publishes the newsletter on its South to South Website only months later, here is the link via David South’s blog).”

Photos from inside the Betterplace.org Berlin HQ: Betterplace.org HQ Photos

Joana Breidenbach
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© David South Consulting 2021

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Mobile Phone Shopping to Create Efficient Markets across Borders

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

An anticipated game-changing revolution in African trading set for 2013 is getting one innovative business very excited.

Southern African mobile phone “m-commerce” pioneer moWoza (mowoza.com) is developing new ways of selling services and products through mobile phones and developing the networks and infrastructure to capitalize on coming changes in Africa as cross-border trade is liberalized.

It is already selling food packages containing well-known South African brands that can be ordered by migrants on their mobile phones and then delivered to recipients – family or friends – even in remote and hard-to-reach communities. The service is currently operating between Mozambique and South Africa – the two countries share a border.

The start-up hopes to help the millions of migrant workers and small traders who contribute to the constant flow of trade and wealth between states in Africa. These people face many obstacles, including bureaucratic red tape, corruption and harassment.

Cross-border trade by economic migrants is largely informal. moWoza hopes to make it formal and efficient while reducing exploitation of migrants and corrupt practices by officials. By providing an easy-to-use mobile phone service, it hopes to build trust with these transactions.

Africa is a market of a billion people worth US $2 trillion in trade and business, but the World Bank estimates the continent is losing billions of dollars in potential earnings because of high trade barriers. It found that it is easier for African countries to trade with the rest of the world than with other African countries.

The continent’s leaders are calling for a continent-wide free trade area by 2017.

Studies by the World Bank and others have repeatedly shown that inefficient transport and trade barriers translate into higher prices of goods for consumers as importers pass along high transport costs to consumers. Food prices remain extremely high in Africa – almost 25 per cent higher than they were in 2006, according to the World Bank. In developing countries, people normally spend up to 80 per cent of their incomes on food.

With the world in the grip of an ongoing food crisis brought about by multiple factors – including growing populations, environmental challenges such as drought and soil depletion, declining rural economies, inefficient farming methods and commodity speculation – measures that increase efficiencies and trade can be a powerful counterweight and help drive prices back down again.

moWoza – mo stands for mobile and Woza is a Zulu word meaning running -sells a range of products including basic foodstuffs to a target market of cross-border migrants in Southern Africa. moWoza estimates there are 7 million migrant and cross-border shoppers in South Africa alone, and it’s building a network reaching into remote communities to deliver packages ordered through its m-commerce service on mobile phones.

moWoza aims to open up access to products in these underserved markets.

moWoza is trying to position itself for the new opportunities that will arise when, in 2013, 23 African borders open for regional trade, creating a vast trading area stretching from Cairo in Egypt to Cape Town in South Africa.

moWoza wants to be the m-commerce brand that people will turn to. It is chasing customer markets that include African economic migrants, small and medium-sized enterprises doing cross border trade, and the 30 million African economic migrants who are supporting family back in their home countries.

Founder Suzana Moreira says the company carried out extensive research in South Africa, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Kenya before launching its first trial runs between South Africa and Mozambique. “We ran several pilots to determine the most efficient way to provide access to packages for the beneficiaries and developed the necessary technology to enable our customers (migrants) to place orders simply. We are now operating between Johannesburg and Maputo,” she said.

Officially incorporated in 2009, moWoza did not get up and running until 2010.

Once a customer has experienced a delivery from moWoza, they are introduced to other services like banking or how to download information from the Internet. Many customers are only just learning about the resources available online.

“We look forward to the opening up of cross border trade as our findings suggest that the liberalization and facilitation of the cross-border trade initiative will increase demand for all products and services from South Africa to neighbouring countries,” Moreira said. “South Africa offers an extensive range of products compared to the choice of products that are offered in many of the neighbouring countries.

“The structures and networks that compel migrants to come to South Africa are well established,” she explained.

“The social networks encourage the movement of labour. Hundreds of thousands of male migrants from the Southern African Develoment Community, SADC (http://www.sadc.int/), countries have spent the greater parts of their working lives in South Africa. They in turn had parents or grandparents who had worked in South Africa, while providing a lifeline to the family in the home country.

“This practice will continue: mobile money to a degree will facilitate this lifeline but as long as products can be sourced cheaper in South Africa, the demand for South African products will continue.”

The people behind moWoza sound like business radicals, proclaiming that traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses will be replaced in a shopping revolution by WAP (wireless application protocol) and SMS (short message service) business platforms operating on mobile phones.

Apart from developing the m-commerce business, moWoza aspires to become a well-known brand for the migrant community.

“Becoming a lifestyle brand is a bold statement on our part,” Moreira said. “However, this goal reflects a measure of success and would demonstrate that we are delivering value to our customers (migrants and micro-merchants) and their beneficiaries.”

The moWoza brand hopes to reflect the lives of their customers and be all about embracing fluidity and mobility.

“As our primary customers are transnational and highly mobile (immigrants with a dual existence), we would like moWoza to represent mobility and fluidity (attune to anytime, anywhere, always).” she said. “Their greatest aspiration is an improved livelihood and a simplification of the rigours of grass-roots existence.”

moWoza foresees big changes coming for the economies of the African countries affected by the opening up of regional trade. According to its website: “New markets and trading routes will mushroom, traditional value chains will be replaced with ICT [information and communications technology] innovations; a savvier and younger consumer will emerge who will value convenience and simplicity.”

For users, moWoza’s service works like this: A customer uses a mobile phone to make a purchase. An agent helps with selecting the right package and delivery options. When the payment is made, an SMS mobile receipt – a so-called m-receipt – is sent to the customer. The person who will be receiving the parcel will also receive a text message. During the delivery process, ‘m-updates’ are sent on progress to both parties and when the parcel is finally delivered, a final notification is sent of delivery.

Special drop-off points have been set up in countries where the service is available and there is follow-up contact with the customer to determine their continuing needs.

MoWoza hires people from the communities they operate in as agents. An agent works with the customer to show how the Internet works on mobile phones and to improve their literacy skills.

Product parcels are selected to meet the World Health Organization (WHO) nutritional guidelines. The packages are selected based on focus groups and customer feedback.

With offices in South Africa and the United Kingdom, moWoza is looking forward to expanding what it can offer.

“We will continue to innovate, and deliver services that improve the livelihoods of our target market and their beneficiaries,” Moreira said. “We will extend our packages to include seeds and other agricultural products, school and educational materials, and health products. As we grow, our services will extend to digital (virtual) goods, e.g. insurance products specifically targeting the underserved communities.”

Resources

1) A downloadable map showing border delays, bribes and barriers impeding cross-border trade. Website: http://www.borderlesswa.com/resources/18th-usaid-uemoa-road-governance-map

2) Borderless Alliance: Removing Trade Barriers in West Africa: Borderless is a vision for competitive trade in West Africa – of eliminating barriers to trade. Streamlining procedures, attacking corruption and facilitating the movement of people and goods will lower costs. Consequently, businesses will expand, create jobs and generate more revenue for government and more income for people. Website: http://www.borderlesswa.com/

3) Borderless Conference 2013 and 2014: Call for proposals: The Borderless Alliance Secretariat announces a call for proposals to host the 2013 annual Borderless Conference. Borderless Conference 2013 will be the second transport and trade annual conference in West Africa, and will bring together more than 300 stakeholders from around the world to discuss efficiency in logistics, using data for decision making and advocacy. Website:http://www.borderlesswa.com/news/borderless-conference-2013-2014-call-proposals

4) West Africa Trade Hub: Website:http://www.watradehub.com

5) Trade Mark East Africa: Supporting East African Integration: Through TradeMark East Africa, a cost-effective regional aid delivery mechanism has been established that can focus on building long-term East African capacity. TradeMark East Africa provides a durable platform for scaling-up of Aid For Trade to East Africa. Website: http://www.trademarkea.com/home/

6) Geneva Trade and Development Forum. Website:http://www.gtdforum.org/

7) Spaza News: The newspaper aimed at spaza shop owners seeking to connect them. Website:http://www.spazanews.co.za/

8) Africa Trade Gateway: Website:https://www.africatradegateway.com/

9) Cross Border Trade Desk: This website is a ‘resource’ to help cross border traders in Eastern and Southern Africa to find an association near to them, to voice their opinions and explain what COMESA is doing in improving conditions for small-scale cross border traders. Website:http://www.cbtcomesa.com/

10) Defragmenting Africa website including the report De-Fragmenting Africa: Deepening Regional Trade Integration in Goods and Services by the World Bank. Website:http://tinyurl.com/cta3ykf

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