Across the developing world, ownership of mobile phones has expanded rapidly in recent years. More people in India now have mobile phones than have access to toilets. At the end of 2015, 46 percent of the population in Africa subscribed to mobile services, equivalent to more than half a billion people. And mobile phone penetration in Africa is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 6 percent through 2020. This spike in mobile accessibility enables organizations like RTI, who lead development projects, to engage people directly—facilitating communication and project operations in exciting and useful ways.
For example, in countries with a robust mobile money system, such as Kenya and Tanzania, projects can leverage mobile technology to manage micro-transactions often required to pay vendors or compensate program participants such as teachers, health care professionals, or smallholder farmers.
Ensuring both the speed and accuracy of those payments, while also documenting payment records to satisfy the requirements of funders and donors is a significant challenge. Many development organizations still rely on manual systems that are cumbersome and prone to error.
Integrating SMS and Data Verification Applications for Fast and Accurate Mobile Payments
To address the need for fast and accurate mobile payments, our experts in information and communication technology integrated two RTI technologies: Gooseberry and Strawberry.
Using our Gooseberry SMS application, program participants can enroll by text, following a series of questions or prompts to enter their name, mobile payment number, location, and other data. By building in smart look-up functions, we reduced the burden of this process on users, who are charged by their providers for SMS messages, by 85 percent.
Our team builds a custom database to house the information submitted by participants, and we train field staff and data clerks to curate and manage the data.
This database also integrates with an RTI application known as Strawberry, which enables us to marry digital records generated via Gooseberry with physical documentation—such as registration sheets or other records that document a participant’s qualification for payment.
For example, when a training event ends, registration sheets can be scanned in by field staff and uploaded to the database, along with required metadata. Records are then submitted for review and verification by trained data clerks, and are reviewed twice more―by a finance checker and approver―before the transaction is initiated.
Mitigating Financial Risk and Safeguarding against Fraud
Together, Gooseberry and Strawberry allow us to provide clients with an unmatched level of accuracy, transparency, and risk mitigation—while also offering a fast and efficient payment system.
Using our suite of tools, project staff can execute a quadruple-check process efficiently, confirming at each step that all data match. The process, records, and safeguards built into the system enable us to detect and prevent fraud and offer our clients a high level of confidence in the integrity of the process.
Gooseberry also analyzes data about user interactions, such as average time to complete a transaction, and identifies questions that result in validation failure—enabling project staff to improve the questions and further streamline workflow.
When fully integrated with a mobile money platform, Gooseberry and Strawberry provides the auditability and traceability of payments required by clients and host country agencies who fund and support development projects.
Case Study: Lowering Administration Costs while Processing Hundreds of Thousands of Payments Every Month
In Kenya, where nearly 75 percent of people own a mobile phone, a company called Safaricom developed a mobile money system known as M-PESA—today the most widely used mobile money system in the world. Transactions on the M-PESA system vary widely—from sending money to family in rural areas, to paying for food at a restaurant, to paying electricity bills.
Under a USAID-funded education project known as Tusome, our project team integrated the Gooseberry and Strawberry tools with the M-PESA system to accurately and efficiently pay teachers who participate in program trainings. Under Tusome, we pay up to 100,000 teachers across the country every three months. We also use M-PESA to administer staff advances, vendor payments, and workshop allowances.
By enabling us to use Kenya’s mobile money system with full traceability, Gooseberry effectively reduced administrative costs associated with in-person payments—such as vehicles and security—by an estimated 75 percent. Our tools also reduced the time for project participants to receive payment from weeks to just a few days. This helps boost engagement and enthusiasm on projects where participating in trainings or other key activities comes at a cost to the participant.
This boost in engagement translates into better project outcomes: When teachers trust that they will get paid on time, they’re more likely to take the training. And the more teachers we train, the more students we reach.
Evolving and Adapting to Support Projects in Health, Agriculture, and Other Sectors
Designed with a deliberate simplicity, Gooseberry and Strawberry are highly customizable and have proven effective and efficient at large and small scales.
Since the launch and initial demonstration to support mobile payments, we have since adapted it to collect school field reports, disease surveillance data, and even rainfall reports to help track malaria season.
We are also adapting Gooseberry to streamline communications between head teachers and the curriculum support officers, who are responsible for ensuring classrooms have enough books. By enabling teachers to send messages about fluctuations in class size—which are common in Kenya—we will be able to update enrollment figures quickly, and ensure that Tusome classrooms maintain a 1:1 ratio of books to pupils. Our aim is to pilot this new use of Gooseberry in early 2018 following initial delivery of some 2.4 million class 3 books.
We see tremendous opportunity to deploy the Gooseberry SMS platform to support a wide variety of development projects and helping us exceed client expectations for cost-efficient operations, reliable data, and full accountability.