Challenge accepted!

April 28, 2014

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In March, the social innovation lab launched the BRAC Innovation Fund for Mobile Money. The challenge fund was an opportunity for us to think ‘digitally,’ and explore the potential of mobile money to innovate and improve BRAC’s work.

In March, the social innovation lab launched the BRAC Innovation Fund for Mobile Money. The challenge fund was an opportunity for us to think ‘digitally,’ and explore the potential of mobile money to innovate and improve BRAC’s work.

Senior Director Asif Saleh in conversation with Liz Kellison from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation during the fund’s launch at the Frugal Innovation Forum 2014

Senior Director Asif Saleh in conversation with Liz Kellison from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation during the fund’s launch at the Frugal Innovation Forum 2014

Mobile money is not entirely new to BRAC programmes. In 2011, BRAC Microfinance launched two pilots – monthly savings collection and enterprise loan repayment – that switched existing transactions from cash to bKash. The objective was to make these products more convenient and accessible for clients. Instead to travelling to the nearest BRAC branch office every month to pay in cash, clients could now send their payments via mobile money from the convenience and safety of their own homes. To improve efficiency and better reach the target population, BRAC Education recently began disbursing its Medhabikash student scholarships through bKash instead of cash as well. However, with Bangladesh being the fastest-growing mobile money market in the world, the obvious question is, what more can we do with this technology to improve the lives of our clients and our own efficiency?

For many clients, going to the neighbourhood bKash agent is much more convenient than travelling to BRAC branch offices every month to pay their instalments

For many clients, going to the neighbourhood bKash agent is much more convenient than travelling to BRAC branch offices every month to pay their instalments

We took this question and posed it to the wider BRAC community, mobile money experts, development practitioners from across the world, and anyone with ideas on how BRAC can offer better services and improve operational efficiency. In March 2014, we launched our first challenge for the BRAC Innovation Fund for Mobile Money through an open online platform where anyone could submit their ideas, comment and vote on other ideas. The breadth and creativity of the responses we received were impressive, as was the excitement the Innovation Fund sparked within the BRAC community!

Ideas were submitted and over 4,500 votes were cast from people across the world

Ideas were submitted and over 4,500 votes were cast from people across the world

Over the course of five weeks, we received 100 ideas, which were reviewed and rated by over 21,000 page visitors from 67 countries. The ideas submitted ranged from new products such as microinsurance to cashless branch offices to affordable agricultural inputs. Some ideas, such as tuition collection using bKash, made services more affordable for clients. Others, such as remote 24/7 health consultations, were innovative new services that were enabled through the use of mobile money technology. Yet others aimed to improve service delivery through products like disaster relief vouchers. Our contributors were ambitious, suggesting branchless microfinance, a model ward with 100 per cent mobile money adoption, learning and savings games for students, etc. Some were a little ahead of the market in terms of feasibility, but may be more feasible when we launch our second challenge next year.

Amid much discussion and excitement, the submitted ideas went through a rigorous selection process to create a shortlist for the next round. They were first assessed for feasibility by global mobile money experts and bKash’s senior management.  Following the first round of screening, ideas were shared with relevant programme leadership to assess their interest and feasibility in the context of their programmes. We shared the feedback from both groups with our judging panel, comprised of a few of BRAC’s senior leaders, who reviewed and selected the top ideas to progress to the next round of the challenge. These include, among others, micropensions, mobile money for relief assistance and paying BRAC’s frontline workers through bKash (view full list of shortlisted ideas here).

Over the next three weeks, the shortlisted ideas will be developed into full proposals and undergo another round of evaluation by our judges. With winners due to be announced at the end of May, we excitedly await the start of BRAC’s digital revolution!
Tasmia Rahman is the deputy manager of the social innovation lab at BRAC.

 

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[…] In March, the social innovation lab launched the BRAC Innovation Fund for Mobile Money. The challenge fund was an opportunity for us to think ‘digitally,’ and explore the potential of mobile money …  […]