iHub Research and Research Solutions Africa conducted a 6-month study in 2012 to increase the understanding of usage of mobile services, products, and applications at the Base of the Pyramid (BoP) and to understand their potential for economic and social empowerment. With the cost of mobile devices decreasing and such devices increasingly being considered as basic commodities, even amongst the BoP, iHub Research was commissioned by infoDev to conduct a follow-up study with a small sample of Kenyans living on less than $2.5 USD/day to better understand how they use their mobile phones for work-related activities and to earn a living.
Four of those videos can be found here.
The key focus areas of the follow-up inquiry were:
● To understand how the BoP in Kenya use their mobile phones as an income-generating tool;
● To understand how the BoP in Kenya use their phones for other work-related activities;
● To understand challenges faced during the initial purchasing of the mobile phone.
Mobile phone owners at the BoP in Kenya currently make up approximately 60% of the overall Base of the Pyramid population, according to 2012 Research ICT Africa data. The majority of these BoP mobile phone owners have purchased their phones themselves. Despite the up-front cost being a burden for a low-income earner, most of those interviewed acquired a phone by saving, enrolling in Savings and Credit Co-operatives (SACCOs) and “merry-go-round” financial tools. Savings were possible through the forgoing of leisure activities and other expenditures, such as khat (miraa in Swahili).
The sacrifices made to obtain a mobile device indicate the strong value attached to owning a mobile phone amongst the BoP. Similarly, upon losing a phone or having it stolen from them, most of those interviewed spoke of striving to replace the phone to ensure they are still reachable and remain “on the market.” The phone’s income-earning potential is derived mainly from being reachable through voice calls and SMS text messages.
The majority of the respondents stated that they had earned money through the use of their mobile phone. Of those who had earned money through their mobile phone, the majority did so by directly getting more work because they were more “reachable”. Many stated that missed calls, also known as “flashing” or “beeping” is common practice used by their clients to alert them that services are needed. The daily expenditure on phone airtime credit ranged from 20-50 Kenyan Shillings (the equivalent to $0.24 – $0.59 US cents); the amount spent on airtime depends on the availability of work. Some of the respondents said that once they find missed calls or “beeps” from certain people, they already know what these people want so their follow-up conversations do not last even 15 seconds, thus saving them money.
Although the majority of mobile phone owners at the BoP do not regularly share their phones, it does appear that they still allow others to use their phones on some occasions. Some share their mobile device with people in their household, while others allow their friends to give out their numbers in case of emergencies, M-PESA (Kenya’s mobile money service) transactions, or job referrals, and do not mind or demand payment for such sharing. This willingness to share might be motivated by the fact that the phone owners also at one time had no phones and depended on someone else to communicate or be communicated with.
Most of the respondents took time to identify the essential features on the phone that they enjoy and use. Upon probing, they were able to realize some of the features they believe are key. Most respondents noted that battery life is critical. During calamities and emergencies, the majority use their phones to contacts family friends and colleagues, and in cases where monetary support is required they send money using M-PESA.