Monday, November 12, 2012

New Field Partner: Bringing information technology to farmers with Grameen Foundation AppLab

We're thrilled to welcome Grameen Foundation AppLab as our newest Field Partner!

Those familiar with microfinance know the Grameen Foundation as one of the most prominent nonprofits helping the world's poorest people escape poverty. But what many people may not know is that Grameen Foundation, through its AppLab initiative, has spent more than a decade successfully exploring ways to use mobile phones to improve people's lives through information sharing.

Grameen Foundation has long believed that barriers to information about health, finance, agriculture, job openings and more create a kind of "information poverty" that keeps poor families poor. By leveraging the power of mobile phones to both collect and share information -- and by working directly with the poor, who form unique "human networks" of trusted intermediaries at the village level -- Grameen Foundation has built a successful record of expanding opportunity and services into rural and developing communities.

That's where the AppLab's Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) initiative comes in. This program is building a network of "farmer leaders" nominated by their local communities to become Community Knowledge Workers. 

Each CKW is equipped with a smart phone that enables them to access and share agricultural information with their small-holder farmer neighbors -- most who live on less than US$2 a day. This info includes weather forecasts, tips for how to fight crop diseases, how-tos for new agricultural practices, market price tracking and more. The end result: better crop yields and more income for farmers.

CKWs are also responsible for surveying their neighbors and collecting information about their work and lives. This data can then be used by local NGOs, nonprofits and governments to improve social and financial services in these regions. CKWs also get paid a small salary based on the number of surveys they collect, allowing them to generate even more income.

Information can make a tremendous difference. It travels fast and motivates change. Armed with the right data, farmers can switch to higher-value crops, convert to organic processes, learn when it's best to take their goods to market, prepare for lean times -- and the list of advantages goes on.

Grameen Foundation works with a number of agricultural organizations to package the most useful information possible and make it accessible through mobile phones, menu-based software, simple language and illustrative graphics. The AppLab also works with poverty-focused organizations to develop surveys that get to the heart of what farmers actually want and need.

So what's Kiva's role in all this?

Kiva loans will be used to cover CKWs' startup costs. Borrowers will receive their loans in the form of business kits containing smart phones, phone charging devices and even weighing scales for crops. Combined with training offered through Grameen Foundation, these tools are all CKWs need to get started earning revenue.

For Kiva lenders looking for high-impact investments, the CKW program is for you. By funding these loans, you're truly making things happen.

Rebecca is one of Grameen Foundation's first Kiva borrowers in Uganda. At age 30, she's married with four children. Her family has been supporting itself by growing a host of different crops and raising goats, chickens and pigs. As a Community Knowledge Worker, Rebecca has the potential to double her farming income -- and become a role model for girls in her community.

We here at Kiva aren't alone in rooting for the success of the CKW initiative. The program is truly a cooperative effort between Grameen Foundation, Google and telecommunications company MTN Uganda. You can learn more about how they're involved here.

Of course, we couldn't be more proud to join this list and help Grameen Foundation expand its AppLab program to recruit more CKWs, reach more farmers and branch into even newer technologies -- like mobile money transfers and beyond.

We're starting in Uganda, but we get the feeling that this is just the beginning!

Check out all Grameen Foundation AppLab loans here. We're sorry if they're all funded. We promise there are more to come!

Have questions about Grameen Foundation AppLab? About Kiva Field Partners? Send them our way at

Images courtesy of Grameen Foundation.