Learning visits offer a range of benefits, well beyond just taking in information and understanding the work your host is doing.
It’s more of an intellectual and physical journey that creates a common understanding, relationships forged in the fun and hardships of shared experience, commitments to new approaches, and a moment of reflection for the host on the journey travelled towards achieving (or not achieving) the objectives.
There is, however, a requirement for thorough planning so as not to not waste your visitors’ time and to ensure that the visit if worthwhile and effective for both parties. We had the privilege of hosting UX, an MAVC grantee, tech firm from Mozambique.They spent a day with us in Johannesburg in March 2017. We reflected on our respective journeys, learning and deep diving our approaches with the aim of finding themes that we could use as a basis for comparison.
The conversations were rich, and in most part a reflection for me as the CONNECT-TECH project lead on the rollout process, the people engaged, the challenges and the achievements thus far. Ux says that they found the day, offered us “the chance to take a look behind the scenes, to get acquainted with real people, understanding their problems and achievements”.
Four key themes were surfaced from discussions
The first is technology: we are a single platform with web, mobile and native app presence on both major mobile operator operating systems. UX is a solutions provider with multiple platforms they are building, with a very strong emphasis on USSD (unstructured supplementary service data) development.
Secondly, we’ve gone through the long loop of building our own partnerships, while the partnership development for UX was a short loop as most of the community relationship building work was done by the World Bank in-country team.
The third theme is building communities. It involves, in particular, awareness-raising amongst potential users and getting them to use our respective services regularly impacts directly on the sustainability of our platforms.
We both grapple with whether we should be spending large sums of money on marketing and promotion or how we design activation campaigns that really reach our target audience. What we know currently and agreed on is that big marketing campaigns are effective as long you keep spending on them, when you taper off the same happens to the usage on the platform.
Lastly, the natural path of scaling for each of our platforms in terms of sustainability is largely driven by partnerships with government entities such as municipalities and national departments.
The key learnings that we as the Yowzit team took from the visit
It's vital that we have a low-cost model when scaling technology projects, particularly when you are largely targeting low-resource environments. UX managed to get their USSD application zero-rated by all three networks in Mozambique which allows their target communities to use their application on feature phones, in fact, most of the usage of their MOPA platform is on feature phones.
Partnerships development and maintenance is vital in particular with government entities that are committed to changing the lives of the communities they serve. Working with Civil society organisations is hard and requires significant effort to ensure that there is alignment on the objectives and buy in for the vision and impact the project is looking to have on society.
Self-promotion and marketing is also key for the following reasons: firstly, without promotion very few people will find out about the work you are doing and how your work can impact their lives for the better.
Lastly, as a point of reflection and encouragement for the internal team; the implementation of these kinds of projects comes with a lot of obstacles and needs consistent motivation to keep your eye on the ball and to keep momentum.
The ability to adapt and try new ways of engagement is key, though the learning curve might be steep initially, with time the benefit exceeds the challenges. The UX site visit was a really interesting and excellent opportunity to reflect, learn and share stories of our respective journeys.
Though we have two differing objectives there are some similarities in the work we are doing. Going forward the discussions around how we can respectively learn to build communities, launching new initiatives and how sustainable impact can be achieved will continue to be top of mind for the Yowzit team.
About the authorKeke Molebatsi is Yowzit's Project Manager.
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