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My Oral Village & Ultra Poverty
Category: Microcredit | By SDR, 21-Oct-2018 | Viewed 996  Comments 0 | Source Brett Matthews

A path out of ultra poverty

By Brett Matthews


Brett Matthews - Ex Dir - My Oral Village

This summer (2018) I was privileged to join a Rotarian-sponsored summit dedicated to "ending ultra-poverty by 2030." This Rotarian commitment to a population that is both very neglected, and very hard to reach is profoundly commendable. 

Today I'm asking you to consider taking a specific action connected to that commitment.

How My Oral Village (MOVE) helps

My Oral Village is focused on solving one of the defining challenges of ultra-poverty: meaningful financial inclusion for nearly a billion illiterate adults - of whom about two-thirds are women. Illiteracy significantly disables participation in the cash economy and formal financial system. Cut off from reading financial information, poor people can't plan for their futures in cash or financial instruments. Instead, they seek safety in non-cash stores of value like animals and crops. Philanthropic projects may help them to build up financial assets, only to fall back into deep poverty again after these programs end. 


we're best known for our cash-based scrollbars for Android, which allow users to 'write' Indo-Arabic numbers in cash, without knowing written numeric notation. Our field research has pinpointed five vital steps to achieving basic 'financial numeracy' among ultra-poor populations (see Table). To graduate into the modern economy, everyone must learn these skills. But they're not easily learned with the poor schooling endemic among ultra-poor families. 

Our solutions address each step directly, using both paper-based and digital solutions. An example is the cash scrollbar at right (DIAGRAM 1), which allows users to input vital financial data onto mobile phones, such as the amount of money to send home. Our approach merges principles of human-centred design with those of assistive technologies developed for disabled users. 

Since 2012 we've been developing step-wise solutions in poor communities across Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Instead of training adults on topics that may feel more distracting than useful, our solutions rework user interfaces so that illiterate and innumerate adults find them usable and empowering, and learn at their own speed during repetitive use.

Numeracy and record-keeping skills needed

In February 2018, I visited several Rendille- and Samburu-speaking communities, where women live in temporary encampments with their children on the arid lands of northern Kenya. I was hosted by The BOMA Project, an NGO launched in 2005. Founder Kathleen Colson conducted two years of intensive local consultations here before launching a two-year 'graduation' program to lift these women from ultra-poverty. The program, including targeted cash transfers, entrepreneurship training and coaching, and savings group support, has served nearly 120,000 women, and is on track to lift 100,000 out of extreme poverty by the end of 2018. BOMA envisions reaching 1 million by 2022. 

This project is one of a growing family of graduation projects world-wide, reaching many millions of ultra-poor people. There are impressive results, but the evidence also shows that many graduates fall back into ultra-poverty within a few years. Kathleen told me that numeracy and record-keeping and key bottlenecks. It is possible to start a business while relying on one's children for record-keeping, she explained. But expanding it without being able to read or calculate in long numbers is a different story. Existing training programs can't solve this: they aren't aligned with either record-keeping systems, or the needs of people who will very rarely ever learn to read or write. 

We've worked out a solution - and need your support

Our planned project will cost about US $100,000. Are you part of a Rotary club that might want to participate? Are you the person that would champion this cause? Other articles on this site show how matching grants provide leverages of 4:1 - effectively reducing the $100,000 cost to less than $25,000. 

Our project involves two steps.

1. We will design a record-keeping system for illiterate microentrepreneurs. The MOVE-BOMA system will work without obliging users to be able to read or write text, but will support skill acquisition through regular use. Our designs will be adapted to these users, but based on development processes that have been extensively tested already. This will be the first system of its kind to reach thousands - perhaps hundreds of thousands - of illiterate users. 
2. We will also develop a series of training modules in numeracy and record-keeping, for delivery by BOMA's staff and for integration into their microenterprise training manual. This training, like the record-keeping system itself, will emerge directly from deep consultation with users. 

We expect

that this project will substantially reduce the risk that families will fall back into ultra-poverty after they graduate, that entrepreneurs will demonstrate substantially better and more enduring numeracy and record-keeping skills, and that other organizations engaged in poverty graduation programs - including NGOs and governments - will be interested in adapting this approach and replicating it. Once the project is working well, we plan to develop smartphone-based tools such as mobile wallets and enterprise record-keeping systems that illiterate microentrepreneurs can use. BOMA plans to tap their own donor circle to digitize it with us once it is operating well. 

If you are interested, please contact Brett Matthews (brett@myoralvillage.org).

See original article with some live links at:

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