ZigWay – Small Loans Big Data

Micro-finance is a tool to foster economic development for the world’s poorest regions, and is often an answer to problems where the banking industry is not robust enough.

However MFI often focuses on the easy wins of mid-sized loans to small business owners in order to grow operations – sometimes part of female empowerment initiatives.

People want to borrow small amounts regularly, not for grand schemes or business investment, but to aid so-called ‘income smoothing’ on days that they do not work. For example in Myanmar, cash is king. People will live day-to-day on their earnings. Access to finance for farmers, small shop owners and the ultra-poor is very limited, leading them to seek out informal loan-sharks with the obvious risks attached.

ZigWay is a social enterprise start up in Myanmar that offers ‘nano-loans to lift people out of poverty’. In the gap underneath large bank lending and aid funded micro-finance schemes, it aims to give people an alternative to loan-sharks that often charge upwards of 100% interest for small 24hour loans – that to the spiral of debt.

I caught up with entrepreneur and co-founder of ZigWay, Miranda Phua, and she told me how data collection is at the heart of many of these schemes and how it works to bring down the cost of lending.

A struggle for any financial institution is to assess the credit worthiness of their clients. However in informal economies, people do not have bank accounts, credit cards or other means to demonstrate their ability to pay back the loans. There is simply “not enough data on non-repayments”, she says.

There are several precedents around the globe that have served as a model for ZigWay in Myanmar, using innovative solutions to this problem.

Tala, for example, lets people download an app that allows the company to glean certain data from their phone – such as number of contacts and geographical information – that have been deemed to be a more accurate determinate of trustworthiness.

Branch, working in East Africa, also uses the glut of information that is gathered by smartphones to make its lending decisions including: handset details, SMS logs, social network data, GPS data and call logs.

In Myanmar roughly one in ten people have bank accounts, but there are now more mobile phones than people – close to 90% of them are smartphones. It’s what has been termed technology ‘leapfrogging’, and has led to innovations that would not have been possible in other developing markets.

The thinking is that if you can show that you exhibit specific behaviours, such as regularly going to work or having a real Facebook account, the company is more likely to approve a loan. The risk to ZigWay and its equivalents around the world is much reduced – and the benefits for the users are quicker decisions.

To the Western sensibility, allowing access to your phone’s data so explicitly may be a huge red flag for privacy issues. However the leapfrogging process has also jumped the learning curve of how to treat access to personal data in Myanmar. Many people are eager to share all and sundry publicly on their social media accounts – there are instances of those being proud to receive their first ever credit card posting a picture of the thing on Facebook. On a more basic level, the less tech-literate will have their emails set up by the guy on a roadside stall, without ever knowing the password.

This means that getting information on what people ‘like’ or how they behave is – for friends to advertisers to loan companies – considerably easier than in other places. With all the caveats that then brings.

After a successful launch as a start-up, Miranda tells me that they are now looking to bridge the gap to between the day-to-day nano-loans business and the micro-finance industry. “We are automating the full loan process like the others,” she says, “but also working with micro-finance institutions to help them reach more customers – that is to say, we are the intermediary platform, rather than just a lender”.

Change is coming at a fast pace, especially in fintech (financial tech) and telecoms in Myanmar – and enterprises such as this can use that to drive forward development for the poorest sectors of society that are at risk of being left behind.

Digital Divide: Examining Infrastructure

Last week, the Aid & International Development Forum issued a release on global infrastructure, stating that it is a pressing issue, with “$26 trillion required by 2030 to resolve Asia’s infrastructure funding gap. Another $800 billion is necessary to provide 1.5 billion people in the region with access to safe drinking water and sanitation.”

“To keep pace with the rapid growth of economies, population and urbanisation, Southeast Asia needs to invest $16 trillion in transport, energy, telecommunications, water and sanitation. This is more than 60 per cent share of the global investment required.”

The global gaps in telelcommunications, connectivity, and access to technology makes involving beneficiaries in communications that leverage technology a challenge. If access is not widely and uniformly available, segments of the population are left behind in this conversation and are unequally able to participate.

The Forum cites that Myanmar was the “3rd least penetrated mobile market in the world in 2012, yet a low cost SIM card was introduced to make mobile communication more accessible.” Still as of 2016, it states that one third of Burmese hadn’t ever used a mobile phone. Without financial access to this technology, mobile phone use is limited to employed workers and women are left largely “expelled from the mobile revolution.”

Across Southeast Asia, access varies greatly. In Thailand, where I live, more than half of the population is found to be using the internet. Cambodia leads the pack with 133.6 phones per one hundred people. Apart from limited access to this technology, it is cited that in Myanmar, internet penetration is as low as nine percent – but many don’t want to use the internet because of a negative perception of it.

 “Data service users have limited digital skills and, as a result, a limited understanding of what the ‘internet’ is”, states the report. Their usage is often limited to mainly social media and calling apps. There is also a lack of cultural relevance encouraging people to access the internet, as many still do not use it.

As development professionals, as we are called upon to utilize new media and engage our audiences in new ways that appeal to our funders, we must be reminded to listen to our stakeholders, and speak to them where they can be reached.

 

Infrastructure resilience & ICT development in Southeast Asia. Aid and International Development Forum. 16 March 2017. http://www.eco-business.com/press-releases/infrastructure-resilience-ict-development-in-southeast-asia/.

How do Beneficiaries want to be Engaged?

In my last blog post, I focused on urban listening, a way to use social media to monitor and aggregate conversations, gauge audience sentiment, and ultimately measure developmental impact in ways not being captured by traditional monitoring and evaluation methods. In that vein, I became more interested in the topic and found myself searching for:

Examples of development campaigns engaging beneficiaries

I googled, “best social media campaigns international development”

I wanted others’ takes on beneficiary engagement that had been done really well.

What I found were a lot of articles on how the United Nations is utilizing social media around International Day (they’re teaming up with the Smurfs to promote Sustainable Development Goals), and one article that I found particularly interesting (although almost a year old) which was one of the only resources that I could find talking about what beneficiaries wanted out of communications.

The article, posted by the London School of Economics and Political Science, presented several views of activists and development professionals speaking about how social media can engage more deeply with “beneficiaries.”

Aya Chebbi, a Tunisian activist and youth leader spoke during the opening session and implored the NGO members of Bond, “Speak to us, not about us.” This idea continued in the breakout sessions on campaigns and media. The speakers who led these sessions on social media, online activism and the role of global processes repeated this idea that people are not recipients of aid, but they are the agents of their own development if only the development industry would see them as such.

Danny Sriskandarajah of the CIVICUS Alliance, global network of civil society organizations and activists. Right now social media is mostly a fundraising and reporting tool of development NGOs and aid agencies. It’s just another way to “demonstrate results” and make appeals for financial support. But the power of social media remains in its ability to make the marginalized heard in their own voices.

It has been the in-country human rights defenders that NGOs introduced to me that have told the most compelling stories of rights abuse in Bahrain, Myanmar, Pakistan and Egypt. Instead of Human Rights First simply telling me about the civil rights abuses in Bahrain, the organization directed me to Bahraini rights defender Maryam Alkhawaja by elevating her social media feed. This allowed other human rights defenders to track her return to Manama from exile—the world was watching the regime as her flight landed, as she passed through immigration, walked through the airport and into the arms of her family.

Each presenter spoke about ways that the communications can be more participatory. Not just sending messages to stakeholders, but allowing them a chance to speak and deliver the messages themselves.

References

“Speak to us, not about us”: social media and international development. London School of Economics and Political Science. 11 March 2016. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/internationaldevelopment/2016/03/11/speak-to-us-not-about-us-social-media-and-international-development/

Mobilizing For A Larger Development

In the days and weeks following the United States’ inauguration of President Trump, my social media feed was busy with events, marches, and protests organized by different groups. Friends on Facebook, also living in Washington DC and metropolitan area, showed they were interested, and clicked that they were ‘going’ to a variety of events; Women’s March, No Muslim Ban, Rally for Refugees at DCA, Stand With Planned Parenthood, A Day Without Immigrants, Onward Together, and People’s Climate March, to name but a few. A pool of different organizations, missions, and causes. So what does that mean?

Recently, I spoke with an Caucasian American woman I know, let us call her Mary. Mary, like many other people I know in DC metropolitan area was very upset due to the results of the election. She told me that soon after the election she donated money to American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Many others she knew donated to them, and other organizations as well. But then what? Over the last few months Mary has connected, spoken with, and listened to activists, lecturers, and others with a similar sense of need to mobilize and take action. She like many others, feel like donating alone is not enough. Mary said she wanted to do more, had to do more.

On February 18, 2017, I visited the Onward Together: A DC Volunteer and Advocacy Fair, which I, ’of course’, found through social media. For four hours, people were circling in and out of the venue; educating, connecting, exchanging email addresses, engaging, and signing up to join different organizations. Just a few of the different organizations I saw worked with anything from Muslim Pakistani networking and Latino health care advocacy groups, to Planned Parenthood and proponents of raising the minimum wage. The spread was wide and the options were many. Of the people I have talked with, this seems to be a common observation – there are just so many options out there, so where do you start?

Mary said she had wondered what she could do to get more involved and told me about a ACLU’s project People Power. David Weigel (2017) for the New York Times writes “Peoplepower.org will be a one-stop hub for activist resources and listings of ACLU nationwide mobilizations, activities sponsored by like-minded groups, and information about local gatherings posted by volunteers across the country”. What I find interesting here, and this may solely be based upon my own friend circle, is that many of the protesters I know are doing relatively ‘well’ in life, and are not necessarily affected themselves by the policies and stances by the new president (aside from women’s rights to their own body). This makes me reflect upon not only who is involved but also why. The authors Barbera, Wang, and Bonneau et.al. writes:

Although committed minorities may constitute the heart of protest movements, our results suggest that their success in maximizing the number of online citizens exposed to protest messages depends, at least in part, on activating the critical periphery. Peripheral users are less active on a per capita basis, but their power lies in their numbers: their aggregate contribution to the spread of protest messages is comparable in magnitude to that of core participants. (Barbera, Wang, and Bonneau et.al. 2015:1)

All these different individuals and groups are wanting and working toward a development of current systems, rights, equalities and justices. So how do you go about doing that, or if you are in the United States – what can you do? The Washington Post shared a statement made by ACLU, that they were for recruiting even more than the 2,000 volunteers they already have for “a plan to fight the Trump administration lawfully and systematically, not just by defending each individual as they are detained, harassed, or deported.” It can be overwhelming, and having a common resource to navigate this massive playing field may just be one of the answers. Because to think that just one organization can be and ‘do’ it all, may be wishful thinking, but then again, maybe that is exactly what this movement needs in order to be successful?

References – imbedded in the text and:

Barberá, P., Wang N., Bonneau R., Jost J-T., Nagler J., Tucker J., et.al. 2015: The Critical Periphery in the Growth of Social Protests. PLoS ONE 10(11): e0143611.

Google, the Big brother or The Saviour of 21st century?

Two days ago, the internet giant Google announced, they are going to improve the quality of its search, which made quite a buzz. The army of 10 000 Google’s quality raters are now trying to teach the search engines, how to flag content someone might find offensive or untrustworthy, and refine the search results. “With the change, content with racial slurs could now get flagged under a new category called “upsetting-offensive.” So could content that promotes hate or violence against a specific group of people based on gender, race or other criteria,” AP informed.

The result of the adjustment should be that the better quality content is ranked higher. Also, untrustworthy information will not appear in the top search results. “We’re explicitly avoiding the term ‘fake news,’ because we think it is too vague,” said Paul Haahr, one of Google’s senior engineers who is involved with search quality for Searchengineland. “Demonstrably inaccurate information, however, we want to target,” he explains. I had a look into quality rater’s guideline to find out, how they are going to evaluate the information quality. I found this:

3.1Page Quality Rating: Most Important Factors

Here are the most important factors to consider when selecting an overall Page Quality rating:

  • Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness: This is an important quality characteristic. Use your research on the additional factors below to inform your rating.
  • Main Content Quality and Amount: The rating should be based on the landing page of the task URL.
  • Website Information/information about who is responsible for the website: Links to help with website information research will be provided.
  • Website Reputation : Links to help with reputation research will be provided

Google also describes, what expertise in a certain field means, and provides quality raters with examples of high-quality pages. About news and other high-quality information pages, Google states this:

  • High quality news articles should contain factually accurate content presented in a way that helps users achieve a better understanding of events. Established editorial policies and review processes are typically held by high quality news sources.
  • High quality information pages on scientific topics should represent well­ established scientific consensus on issues where such consensus exists.

The idea to try to evict misleading information and stop its spreading is praiseworthy and I am strongly supporting it. But as a journalist, I had to ask myself, if this is not conflicting the freedom of speech. Isn’t that a censorship? The answer is very simple – not at all. Google is a private company and its primary goal is to generate money, not controversy. The company is providing very useful services to its users, but since they know basically everything from their digital traces, they can monetize it by selling an advertisement. They have been always showing us the search results they wanted us to see. Racist pages should be primarily subject to a police investigation, but Google also has a full right to remove it from the result. And it is pleasing, they are doing this.

What do you think? Please feel free to comment!