Last summer we released some exciting research in partnership with DAI, which aimed to highlight the important and hitherto underleveraged role that value added service (VAS) vendors can play in mobile for development (M4D). It highlighted the mutual benefits that MNOs, development community actors and value added service (VAS) vendors could receive by working more closely together to launch commercially successful M4D services at scale. Therefore, it’s been very interesting to see how one mobile VAS-inspired social enterprise, OnionDev, is approaching the increasingly important M4D space, by purely focussing on services with a social impact. It is formed through a strategic partnership between Gram Vaani, an IIT-Delhi incubated social enterprise and OnMobile Global Ltd, which is one of the largest, public-listed mobile VAS vendors globally, with presence in over 59 countries and partnerships with tier 1 mobile operators and media partners.
For those that may not be aware, VAS vendors are commercial companies that regularly support mobile network operators (MNOs) in offering common products, such as infotainment, that complement the MNOs’ core voice, sms and data connectivity services. Services such as the prominent caller ring back tones, news alerts and balance top ups are common examples of commercial VAS and the large majority of MNOs will work with VAS vendors at some point as they develop and launch VAS under their brands (you can learn more about VAS Vendors’ role in the mobile ecosystem in Appendix 1 of this report).
VAS players in some developing countries have been seeing an increasing number of organisations that want to use the mobile channel to reach underserved populations, such as those in remote, rural areas where illiteracy is high. However, among those organisations which most want to connect with these populations -those in the social sector, government and enterprise sectors in particular – there is a lack of understanding about the mobile ecosystem and a lack of capacity to develop, deploy and manage mobile services: scalability and sustainability present significant challenges. It is also clear that social sector and development-focused government organisations in particular require different ways of working compared to the more traditional clients of the mobile VAS industry. For example, business models and accounting and financial compliance procedures are very different for organisations working through donor funding vs purely commercial clients.
Given the increasing relevance this area represented, as well as the specific approaches required to serve social sector and government clients, in 2015 Gram Vaani formed OnionDev and decided to execute a strategic partnership with OnMobile. The new entity aimed to leverage the technology and deep operator relationships that OnMobile has internationally and Gram Vaani’s on-the-ground networks and knowledge of the base- and middle-of-the-pyramid users. It develops Gram Vaani’s bottom-up media platform Mobile Vaani, which enables underserved rural populations to access and contribute to information services relevant to their lives. The platform also serves as the marketing vehicle for social impact VAS through its reach of more than a million rural users. Smartphone penetration and mobile data use amongst this segment are currently low; Mobile Vaani aims to stimulate awareness of and demand for localised content and to build digital skills, all of which are foundational to bringing communities online in the future. You can learn more about how OnionDev engages low literate, low-income and rural populations with life-enhancing local content in our case study here: http://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/programme/connected-society/oniondevs-mobile-vaani-case-study.
It will be interesting to watch how the VAS industry continues to respond to the M4D opportunity. If you would like to learn more about the potential role of VAS vendors in M4D to support the social and commercial impact goals of MNOs and the development community, download our report here.