Mobile apps competition puts women online in the developing world

Vodafone is sponsoring a competition to encourage developers to build mobile apps for women in developing countries.

Vodafone is sponsoring a competition to encourage developers to build mobile apps for women in developing countries.

The GSMA mWomen 'Base of the Pyramid' apps challenge competition aims to address the needs of the 300 million women in developing countries who are not yet connected to a mobile device.

The competition was open to original applications from software development companies producing 'feature' and smartphone applications aligned to the socio-economic benefits of mobile connectivity for women in developing markets worldwide.

Vodafone's director of content services, Lee Epting, said there were still cultural barriers affecting whether women should have access to telephony in some countries.

"In territories including Africa, sub-continental Asia and parts of Latin America, women are 21% less likely to own a mobile phone than their male counterparts," she said. "This is a $13 billion revenue market of 300 million users in terms of unrealised sustainable ARPU and the mWomen initiative aims to connect at least half these women within three years."

Formally launched by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in February 2010, the mWomen programme is focused on mature market study data suggesting that women typically make 80% of the purchasing decisions in any household, be it in Harare, Haiti or Hammersmith, says Epting. "But until now, nobody has been thoroughly researching the developing nations market for mobile in terms of women's needs and examining the kinds of service, network tariff plans and content that needs to be built to serve this sector."

Commenting on the observation that women are still just 'people' and app users in the same way men are, Epting said there was still a personal connectivity divide in many parts of the world - and that was what this programme aimed to address.

"The mWomen programme is a public-private partnership between the global mobile industry and the international development community," she said. "Its focus is on ultra-low-cost, sub-$10 handsets of the kind Vodafone itself produces, total cost of ownership, technical literacy and the wider cultural barriers to adoption. There is a perceived lack of need for mobiles for women in these countries, so the programme is focusing on building a global view of women's wants and needs through kicking off insights and research to better target the segment. It does not exist today."

The 'Base of the Pyramid' apps challenge 'feature' phone winner, NextDrop, produced an app that links in with water utility companies and local communities to address the issue of water availability in the developing world.

The smartphone winner, TiendaTek, was inspired by that fact that most corner shops in Latin America are run by women. Using a barcode reader, Tienda Tek's app enables businesses to track transactions, connect to suppliers and sell virtual goods such as mobile pre-paid airtime and micro-insurance. Each winner received a prize of $10,000 from Vodafone to assist in creating, testing and commercialising the app.

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