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mIQ: The Youth Mobile Workforce

Mobile phone penetration globally is changing the way we connect, communicate and, work. Now, more than ever, youth have the opportunity to use mobile phones as a gateway to employment, from the comfort of their communities.

Photo of Hima Batavia
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What is mIQ? 

mIQ would be a platform that enables governments, NGOs and private sector companies to source and reward youth to gather relevant community data using mobile technology. 

In Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs), like India, targeting rural communities with products and services, ranging from healthcare and education to consumer product goods and telecom products, is increasingly a priority as organizations seek to expand their impact and market footprint. The challenge with executing on "rural marketing" or "social marketing" is gaining the necessary intel to design and iterate relevant programs, campaigns, services and products. Currently, the process is often to hire a market research company, which is expensive, and limits the geographical scope and sample size of the data recieved. Further, goverments are increasingly introducing "eGovernance" and "open data platforms" to not only promote transparency and accountability through real-time data capture and feeds, but to assess performance and prioritize key gaps and needs. 

A platform like mIQ can leverage the power of mobile technology to connect with a distributed youth workforce to gain ongoing intel on community needs, gaps, and cultural and social norms, while offering youth employment opportunities in the comfort of their communties. 

Use case 

When I worked with the Clinton Health Access Initiative in 2011 in the early stages of designing programs to scale up the use of ORS/Zinc for childhood diarrhea, our goal was to answer three basic questions: what do private pharmacies in India, Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya recommend for childhood diarrhea? is ORS/Zinc available? what is the cost of the range of diarrhea-related products (e.g. ORS, Zinc, Antibiotics)? Understanding the market for diarrhea was critical to identifying where to target efforts to increase uptake, and how to shift market dynamics in a way that aligned incentives for the right treatment.

Gaining this data was challenging. In India, we relied on second hand data since hiring a market research company was too costly for the scope of data we were going to recieve. Similar story in Nigeria. In Kenya, a market research firm was hired, but the data came in almost 5 months after we needed it, and in Uganda, a very small study was completed, so it was difficult to view the results as an accurate depiction of the market. 

How would it work? 

There are five key elements to mIQ: 

A. A self-serve web platform that enables governments, NGOs, private companies to set up "challenges," with the ability to specify geographical scope 

B.  An application that would sit on the smartphones of the distributed youth workforce. Challenges would be sent to applications, and relevant youth would have the opportunity accept the challenge. 

C. Payment integration  the platform would be integrated with mobile money options, such that, once data was collected and verified, youth workers could be paid instantly, virtually 

D. Analytics dashboard for clients to view the data captured 

E. Field force / customer service to recruit youth in communities and provide customer service to both clients and youth workers 

Who are the main partners? 

I believe South Asia (India, Bangladesh etc) and East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania etc.) would be ideal markets for mIQ. In these markets, the following partners would be vital to implementation:

ClientsMedium to large NGOs, Government departments, Medium to large private companies - all with an interest in understanding communities better to more effectively target and design products, services, programs and campaigns 

Community NGOs and/or Community StructuresGetting youth on and engaged in the platform is the achilles heal of mIQ. Further in-country research would have to be done to understand community dynamics that could be leveraged to enable penetration. Examples could be a community champion idea, working with local/village government field forces, establishing a network of community NGOs to sign up youth. 

Telecom Operators and/or Mobile Money GatewaysInstantaneous payment is an important part of making mIQ an attractive employment option for youth. Integrating with mobile money service providers, especially in markets like Kenya, where penetration and utilization is high would be an important part of creating a seamless experience. Another aspect could be working with telecom operators to develop payment plans for more powerful smartphones that enable remote work. 

What assumptions have to be validated? 
( Input from the OpenIDEO community would be great!) 

A. Is there sufficient demand for real-time community data, such that, this could be a part-time employment option for youth? 

B. What education level would youth need to have to accurately collect community data? What kind of training and support is required? 

C. Where is smartphone penetration accelerating the fastest and/or what options are there to offer youth payment plans for purchasing equipment that can eventually be a tool for ongoing employment and salary 

D. Where do you start - in terms of type of clients and data? Ex. you could focus in on governance and work with government partners, or focus in on rural marketing and work with CPG clients. 

Experiments & Inspiration 
There are a few examples of organizations/platforms that have recognized the connection between mobile technology, employment and community data capture, however most are based in urban US markets. 

A. Mobee: A boston-based startup that is crowd-sourcing retail data through a mobile application 

B. Jana: Enables brands to connect with emerging market customers via mobile advertising campaigns 

C. Nextdrop: Uses SMS to alert communities when water is available. When starting, had field workers collect the information on mobile. Two-way communication 

D. Rewardable: A mix of digital jobs and ones that require you to walk into a store for cash 

E. Gigwalk: Pays you $5 - $20 for completing tasks in your area (e.g. going to a store and checking if a brand's stand is put up)

F: iPoll: Earn cash to share your opinions by completing surveys 

Business Model 

- Public arm: set up as an NGO to lead "technical training" for youth. This allows the company to focus on the youth segment, without the pressure of having to hire more financially viable segments 

- Private arm: software-as-a-service (SAAS) model with lean customer support 

I personally like the idea of being a citizen mobile workforce for governance related issues, but have to continue to explore viability. 

Prototype Idea 

- Work with a community NGO that focuses on youth 
- Set up different challenges for a fixed period of time to collect certain types of data with target clients mind
- Monitor training, support, engagement and then analyze the quality and usefulness of the data 
- Take data sets to target clients and gain feedback on usefulness etc. 
- Use open source tools like Android ODK; getting mobile phones would be a challenge 
- Test using IVR for data capture, also using open source tools 

The idea emerged from:

  • An individual

How do you envision your idea being implemented?

  • Keen to prototype it, find partners and pursue implementation


Join the conversation:

Photo of Meena Kadri

Lots of awesome thinking here, Hima – and great that you've outlined assumptions for consideration. What are your next steps for mIQ? Do you have a lightweight experiment and location in mind? We're excited to learn more!

Photo of Hima Batavia

Yeah. Need to do some thinking on this - since there is so many ways to slice this - do you drive decisions by geography, type of data, mobile penetration. I guess you would have to start with the latter and work backwards. I think we could learn from US-based startups dealing with retail data (my friend runs Mobee), and then perhaps shortlist a few governance topics, and reach out to some organizations in the space to uncover data gaps, and begin matching that with potential challenges. Hmm. Lots of moving pieces to this for sure.

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