Grand Challenges is a family of initiatives fostering innovation to solve key global health and development problems. Each initiative is an experiment in the use of challenges to focus innovation on making an impact. Individual challenges address some of the same problems, but from differing perspectives.
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Rupert Scofield from FINCA International, Inc. in the U.S. will promote financial inclusion in the Democratic Republic of Congo by partnering with First Access and mobile network operators to build a credit-scoring model for individuals based on mobile phone usage and financial data. The aim is to provide financial services and develop new products for the unbanked majority.
Twahirwa Merab of PIVOT ACCESS Ltd. in Rwanda will improve access to credit for poor individuals in Rwanda by developing a credit scoring system so that digital financial service providers can better estimate risk. Their system will integrate data from a range of financial transactions such as utility bill payments and mobile phone top-up frequencies to produce a formal credit history for each individual. They will perform a pilot test involving a Rwandan mobile network operator and bank to assess the feasibility of their system and use the results to refine it.
James Goulding from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom will address the knowledge gap in developing countries that is hampering development particularly of financial services by accessing real-time mobile phone call records and mobile financial transactions and using them to locate and model financial behavior across Tanzania. This approach could be faster, lower cost and more reliable than existing approaches that use small sample sizes or are based on crowd-sourcing. They will mathematically process call records to extract location, and produce nation-wide informational maps supplemented by data from unmanned aerial vehicles and local residents for regions lacking detailed maps. These data will then be used to generate predictive models of financial flows, mobility and communications across the country for informing financial service providers and commercial enterprises. Their approach will be evaluated by comparison with existing models.
Ralph Lin and Kathryn Vasilaky of Groundtruth, LLC in the U.S. will develop a new approach to more accurately measure rainfall across farming regions in developing countries so that insurers can make more informed and rapid decisions for paying out to small-scale farmers with insurance against seasonal crop loss. This will also help farmers decide the best time to plant their crops, which is critical for maximizing yield. Satellite data are not currently accurate or stable enough to measure rainfall over small areas. They will further develop their existing low-cost field sensors to automatically upload rainfall data to a cloud server, and develop an SMS-platform that allows farmers to register their own rainfall measurements on the same server. Combining these two methods, along with satellite data, should improve the confidence of the measurements. They will recruit farmers in India to test their approach and help optimize it.
Amy Smith of Human Network International in the U.S. will provide free financial services information to mobile phone users in Malawi, and collect data such as mobile call details to help design and deliver better financial services. They have an existing free information service on a range of topics that they will supplement with financial inclusion material so that customers can dial in for free and request information of interest to them. Once the service is launched, they will collect mobile phone data on users and develop analytics approaches that can generate strategies to help mobile network operators acquire new mobile money clients. They will also calculate the overall cost between offering the service for free minus the income generated from creating new clients, which will lead towards promoting the approach in other African countries.
Iris Braun of IFMR LEAD in India will expand access to microloans for the poor in Bangladesh by piloting a simple credit-scoring test for rating individuals. Poor households are often in need of small, short-term loans to buffer fluctuations in income, but formally accessing these loans is problematic as most people have no credit score, and/or are unable to complete the application process. Their approach involves assessing customers by accessing their mobile customer data, such as top-up frequency, and by psychological testing, as well as performing a social survey to analyze local financial needs. The scores can then be passed to mobile money lenders to give them more confidence to lend to poorer households.
Tyler Radford from Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team in the U.S. will partner with the local tech community in Uganda to develop web- and phone-based applications that enable individuals to locate their nearest financial services such as an ATM or mobile money provider, and help financial service providers identify the best locations to expand access across developing countries. They will build a phone-based application for consumers that includes a simple search function as well as the ability to upload relevant information about the financial service, such as opening hours, to increase the value of the application. They will also develop a discovery application incorporating data from the existing OpenStreetMap, which includes locations of existing financial services, schools etc., and can identify underserved areas that would benefit from new services. The applications will be pilot-tested in Uganda, and success measured by the number of users and subsequently by the degree of expansion of financial services.
Julia Reichelstein of EFL Global Ltd in Bermuda will promote access to financial services for poor communities by producing a psychometric test for distribution by SMS that can identify dependable new customers and evaluate the risk of lending to them. Individuals in developing countries that would benefit from credit to break out of poverty and in turn boost economic growth are often unable to access financial services largely due to their lack of credit history. They have developed a simple questionnaire that evaluates psychometric traits such as intelligence, business acumen and honesty, to measure risk and future earning potential. They will create an automated SMS version to expand distribution while decreasing costs, and engage with a lending partner for pilot testing in a developing region with a large rural population.
Wilson Cusack from Trade Co. in the U.S. will develop an SMS-based platform to provide information on market prices and facilitate trade for small-scale farmers in developing countries. The platform will maintain user anonymity, and also handle payments thereby promoting the use of mobile money. It will also enable the arrangement of transportation of goods, and provide a database for monitoring agricultural production and markets. He will further develop the platform for pilot-testing by 100 farmers in Ghana.
Travis Lybbert of the University of California, Davis, in the U.S. will develop a simple, low-cost approach that uses mobile phone records to track changes in living standards and use it to evaluate new mobile money saving products and services in Haiti. They will develop prediction algorithms for mobile phone records using in-person and phone surveys collected as part of a planned randomized control trial (RCT), which will be used to evaluate a new type of savings account they are developing with a leading mobile services provider. The adaptive randomized control trial will involve 13,500 working poor in Haiti and will use their mobile phone records to measure the value of the savings account.