USAID, Qtel, AusAID and GSMA launch GSMA mWomen Design Challenge

For Immediate Release

Monday, September 24, 2012
USAID Press Office

NEW YORK – U.S. Agency for International Development Chief Innovation Officer and Senior Counselor Maura O’Neill, Qtel Group CEO Dr. Nasser Marafih, Australian Agency for International Development Assistant Director General Jenny Da Rin and GSMA Development Fund Managing Director Chris Locke today announced the launch of the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge: Redefining the User Experience at this year’s Social Good Summit in New York.

The GSMA mWomen Design Challenge is seeking to engage the global digital design community for solutions that will make the smartphone user experience more intuitive, particularly for women in developing countries who, because of lack of opportunity, struggle with technical literacy.

Mobile phone use in the developing world is exploding, yet women are at risk of being left behind.   On average, GSMA research shows women to be 21 per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone in low- to middle-income countries.  The resulting mobile phone gender gap represents as many as 300 million women in the developing world who do not have access to this potentially life-enhancing tool.

AusAID Assistant Director General Da Rin, in kicking off the challenge, remarked that, “in East Asia and the Pacific, there is a significant gap between women and men’s access to mobile phones.  A mobile phone could change the life of a woman in a developing country in a quantum leap – immediate contact with a health center that would otherwise be days of travel away, instant information about food prices and markets, mobile banking – all at the touch of a button.”

Barriers to mobile phone ownership among resource-poor women include limited technical literacy; limited understanding of the full potential of mobile devices and services; cultural barriers to women’s use of mobile phones; and the overall cost of mobile phone ownership, including access to power for charging.

During the launch, Dr. O’Neill noted that, “if we are going to maximize the use of the mobile phone as a development tool, it must be designed for everyone in our community.  This especially includes women who can't read or write.  This Design Challenge affords us an excellent opportunity to apply innovative, scalable approaches that help to ensure women can take full advantage of the next mobile revolution via smartphones.”

A key step towards closing the mobile phone gender gap is to consider the user experience of resource-poor women as being central to mobile device design. 22 per cent of women surveyed in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda who do not use mobile phones say it is because they do not know how to use the phone.

To serve these women, mobile tools must be designed with simpler interfaces that overcome reading and technical literacy barriers.  In addition, mobile designs must address women’s specific needs, including how they engage with their phones, the services they most value and the cultural contexts in which they live. 

Qtel Group CEO Dr. Nasser said, “We are proud to support the trailblazing GSMA mWomen Design Challenge. Across our markets, we are committed to enriching people’s lives and helping them progress through mobile technology. We are already implementing a variety of services that cater to women’s needs and improve the quality of life for themselves and their families, ranging from a dedicated offering - the Almas (‘Diamond’) line – for women in Iraq, to providing easy access to healthcare and financial management information in Indonesia. In supporting the Design Challenge, we hope to discover innovative design solutions for the user experience that can be shared and help to boost women’s access to mobile phones and usage in emerging markets.”

Today, developing markets rely on feature phones, or standard mobile phones with basic functionality, largely voice and SMS capabilities.  Smartphones, however, are growing in scale and market share in developing markets.  As smartphones become more affordable, they will become the main way people in developing countries will access information, the internet and its associated benefits.

In most cases, if the smartphone user experience addresses the needs of resource-poor women, the design also will serve resource-poor men’s requirements, making such design innovations commercially feasible as smartphones continue to proliferate in the developing world.

Chris Locke, Managing Director, GSMA Development Fund, said, “We support our mobile operator members in meeting the needs of underserved women and men in emerging markets.  Improving the smartphone user experience is one way that the mobile industry can serve all its customers in a way that makes both commercial and social sense.”

Programmers, product designers and others are encouraged to submit their ideas at, where additional information may be found.  Submissions will be accepted until December 14, 2012.  Winners will be announced at Mobile World Congress 2013 in Barcelona.

The GSMA mWomen Programme aims to promote improved mobile access and usage by resource-poor women in the developing world by 2014. 

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