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Partnership Announcement

With support from Google.org, Arifu partners with Praekelt.Org to promote the economic recovery of 500,000 micro and small businesses (MSMEs) in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa.  

Together Arifu and Praekelt.Org have created a suite of free interactive training and information to help MSMEs hit hard by COVID-19 navigate challenges to their business, stay up to date on regulatory changes, and access products and services that will support their recovery. 

By sending in the code SME” to Arifu’s SMS or Whatsapp channel, MSMEs are now able to chat with the Arifu Digital Adviser to access targeted digital trainings on:

  1. COVID-1 9 specific advice on health, finances, business, education, and stress management
  2. Digital literacy skills for business (adapted from GSMA’s Mobile Internet Skills Training Toolkit)
  3. Job seeking support tools
  4. Changing regulations relating to COVID-19 measures and re-opening
  5. Info and linkages to recovery products and services 

This free service will be provided to 500,000 low income MSMEs, employment seekers, and small-holder farmers across Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa with the objective to increase employment, increase income, and increase resilience to economic shock among beneficiaries. It will be available on Arifu’s Open Marketplace, accessible using interactive SMS and WhatsApp through an integration with Turn.io, an organisation incubated by Praekelt.org that helps social impact organisations have chat-based personal, guided conversations at scale that improve lives.

MSMEs can access their free economic recovery content by sending SME to 22744 on SMS or on Whatsapp +254 735 040081 in Kenya or sending Hi to +27 60 011 0110 on WhatsApp in South Africa. 

Craig Heintzman, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Arifu, explains “We’re proud to join forces with Google.org, Praekelt.Org and Turn.io to play a part in supporting the economic recovery of people impacted by this global pandemic. Governments, NGOs, and companies can now easily support the employment of job seekers and resilience of small businesses in their communities with this free chatbot-based learning content”.

Gustav Praekelt, Founder Praekelt.org and Turn.io said “We are excited to be using our Turn.io technology to provide actionable resources and training to learners and SMMEs across Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa during this challenging time. We chose to work with Arifu given their vast experience with learning content having trained over 1.5m learners in Kenya since they started so we’re very comfortable in their ability to deliver to the huge learner base out there”

“Google.org are very pleased to support Praekelt.org and Arifu joining efforts and together accelerating tech solutions helping SMMEs in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa through economic recovery.  We believe that  accessing information at no cost will be critical for beneficiaries to make informed decisions and sustain economic livelihoods” commented Liza Belozerova, Google.org Sub-Saharan Africa Lead.

About Arifu

Arifu is a smart chatbot making it possible for anyone to access information and opportunities for free from organizations they trust over any mobile phone. With Arifu, people seeking to learn can freely chat using interactive SMS or smartphone apps to master new skills, discover a world of free educational content, and earn rewards from our partners, without need for internet or airtime. The Arifu chatbot delivers personalized content designed in-house in close collaboration with our partners such as financial service providers, mobile operators, agribusinesses and NGOs. Arifu uses interactive SMS and smartphone messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to disseminate content to over 1.5 million trainees across Africa since 2015. For more information visit https://www.arifu.com

About Praekelt.Org and Turn.io

Emerging out of Praekelt.org’s decade of experience leveraging mobile technology to solve some of the world’s largest social problems, Turn.io helps social impact organisations have personal, guided conversations that improve lives at scale.

About Google.org

Google.org, Google’s philanthropy, supports nonprofits that address humanitarian issues and apply scalable, data-driven innovation to solving the world’s biggest challenges. We accelerate their progress by connecting them with a unique blend of support that includes funding, products, and technical expertise from Google volunteers. We engage with these believers-turned-doers who make a significant impact on the communities they represent, and whose work has the potential to produce meaningful change. We want a world that works for everyone—and we believe technology and innovation can move the needle.

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Categories
Articles Impact

Designing Technology Products for Women

By  Wafa Masood Khan

The adoption of technology plays a significant role in productivity enhancement and economic growth [1]. More often than not, programs designed to achieve this goal tend to not be designed for women, limiting the potential for economic development for the country at large, and for women in particular. Technology-based programs that specifically aim to address the needs of women have been deemed essential to enhance their socio-economic status and household welfare [2]. Despite evidence on the positive effects of technology adoption by women, there exist significant barriers for them towards adoption which vary by context [3]. Therefore, to meet the desired impact of technology-focused programs for women, it is imperative to study, understand, and address these barriers or design within them,  with the goal of overall welfare improvements in mind,  to improve the adoption and utilization of technology.

Arifu’s free-to-use training content, delivered through SMS, Whatsapp, and more, aims to inform day-to-day decision-making and improve livelihoods for multiple population segments, including farmers, MSMEs, job-seekers, youth, and more. We carefully design and deliver actionable content, personalized for different audiences, to ensure ease of access and appeal and relevance for day-to-day decision-making for all our learners.

Designing Technology Products for Women A visual from Arifu’s rich media on Maize showcasing male and female farmers selling their harvests.

In order to provide relevant content for all, we comprehend and tackle the demand, access, and adoption challenges faced by different target population segments. Past studies and our experience shows that the barriers to technology adoption, which include limited access to credit, risk perceptions towards technology investment, and asymmetric information about available technologies, are often exacerbated for women, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa where access to technologies still remains low. The major reasons for this gender gap are restrictive socio-cultural values and norms, and the prevalence of male-headed households with significant control over resources and decisions [4]. 

These constraints, however, have not reduced the demand for technology among women. We have seen significant demand for digital education by women at Arifu. While overall the gender ratio of our learners is far from parity, we are in the midst of designing strategies that aim to measurably drive adoption and utilization of our service by women. Through the design iteration process, we have found women demanding more and more of our content. Four years ago, a blended training model designed for female micro-entrepreneurs in Tanzania, delivered in partnership with Technoserve, had an average of 150 messages of engagement with training content – an engagement rate at that point several times higher than our average. More recently, we have seen engagement more than double in Kenya with women engaging with 390 messages of business training content (relative to 370 messages by men) in a project deployed in partnership with the Government of Kenya and the World Bank. This is the highest average engagement level to date across our projects.

Arifu.img A young merchant engaging with Arifu.

None of this is to say we have cracked the case. Given the high demand for our content among women, we are looking to actively design more for the needs and decisions that women undertake within households.

Our current strategies include iterating upon and enhancing our content based on women’s preferences, developing partnerships with female-focused community-based organizations and self-organized groups, and organizing large-scale outreach activities for women specifically enabled by partnerships like that with Google.org.

To inform our strategy further, we are currently collaborating with AgriFin Accelerate, Busara Center for Behavioral Economics, and Dalberg in a project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This project is exploring the differential use of Arifu’s content between men and women in order to build recommendations upon our existing efforts to cater to women and unpacking further why these differences exist. Preliminary findings from this study show women engaging proportionately more with content related to planting compared to men who engage more at points of harvesting. We also see women engaging more with poultry-related content than men highlighting preferences based on underlying dynamics. The next phase of this study will provide insights on what drives these preferences and what more we can do to drive adoption and continued usage to improve upon our delivery of digital services for women.

Arifu’s aim is to provide access to useful content for all to inform day-to-day decision making. With the collaborations and efforts in place to understand the gender dynamics of technology adoption and usage, the next step for us is to upgrade our design and deployment processes and strategies to achieve increased technology adoption and content engagement for both men and women in order to drive welfare improvements, truly, for all.


 Footnotes

[1] Evidence has shown a reduction in poverty, and improvement in income and rural welfare through the adoption of new agricultural technologies, and modern seeds and practices in Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania (Adekambe et al., 2006; Muricho et al., 2011; Lipper et al., 2012).

[2] Evidence has shown that improvement in women’s direct income and livelihood has higher positive effects on household welfare through better child health and education, food security, and improved nutrition (Alkire et al. 2012; CGIAR 2013).

[3] The mobile ownership gender gap is modeled to be as high as 24% in African countries, with 41% of women less likely to use mobile internet (GSMA’s Mobile Gender Gap Report, 2019; GSMA’s State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report, 2019).

[4] Gender affects technology adoption since the head of the household is the primary decision-maker and men have more access to and control over vital production resources than women due to socio-cultural values and norms (Tesfaye et al., 2001; Mesfin, 2005; Omonona et al., 2006; Mignouna et al., 2011).

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