Mobile technologies and the pursuit of scale and impact

February 17, 2017 12:00 AM
  • Mobile technologies and the pursuit of scale and impact
Scale, Impact and NGOs / NPOs

Scale and impact are measures of success common to any type of organization, be it profit oriented or otherwise. For commercial organizations, scale and impact are quantified in terms of profitability and market share, ultimately translating into value creation for shareholders. In the case of non-profits, be they government or non-government organizations, quantifying the scale and impact of their initiatives is in terms of achievement of social welfare outcomes.

Scale, Impact and Digital Technologies
Coincidentally, two of the defining characteristics of digital technologies is their scalability and their potential for impacting the user base. Oft-quoted examples of scalability include the extensive reach of social networking platforms wherein a small team builds a product accessed by millions, in some cases even billions of users. However, characterizing the resulting impact is often a tenuous exercise and is at best subjective. For instance, Facebook is known to be put to both beneficial and detrimental uses.
Given the desire of NGOs / NPOs to achieve scale and deliver impact, it is essential for these organizations to critically evaluate their use of digital technologies. Mobile phones are the most ubiquitous amongst digital technologies, particularly in their use by marginalized communities which are usually the beneficiaries of projects by NGOs / NPOs. Hence, due attention must be paid to the integration of mobile phones into the design of interventions by NGOs / NPOs.
Customizing solutions for maximum impact
When analyzing the scope for integrating mobile phone-based solutions into their interventions, NGOs / NPOs must aim for customization. Since it can be safely assumed that most NGOs / NPOs have clearly defined beneficiaries, it should be possible to construct detailed end-user profiles with the particular emphasis on their access to and use of mobile phones. For instance, an organization serving illiterate farmers could study aspects such as the types of phones the farmers own, the extent to which they are able to dial numbers despite being illiterate, whether the farmers can be trained to access incoming voice messages, etc. In case the planned intervention requires the beneficiaries to use unfamiliar features of the phone, the organization must consider the extent to which they can be trained. All these inputs will inform the solution design, which must be customized to the usage behavior of the beneficiaries. For instance, Vidiyal, an NGO based in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, designed a feature phone-based solution involving voicemail for use by illiterate women goat herders. To learn more about Vidiyal’s solution, click here to read an interview with the organization’s founder, Mr. K Kamaraj.
Most people in both urban and rural areas are familiar with mobile phones. It is possible to design mobile phone-based solutions of varying degrees of complexity for incorporation into the interventions of NGOs / NPOs. When appropriately customized, these solutions can propel NGOs / NPOs to achieve the twin objectives of scale and impact. This is how technology is being used for Non-profit organizations.


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Can NGOs/NPOs propel mobile apps to achieve the twin objective of scale and impact?

While to commercial organizations, scale and impact are quantified in terms of profitability and market share, to NGOs it is quantifying the scale and impact in terms of social welfare outcomes

The two defining characteristics of digital technologies are their scalability and their potential for impacting the user base.

Customization is key when analyzing the scope for integration of mobile apps into interventions


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