Investing in the Malawian youth and the country’s future
Launching the Internet of Good Things (IoGT) in Malawi
Internet of Good Things has been running in Malawi for some time now, being distributed via Free Basics by Facebook but since Charlie Hartono came onboard with UNICEF Malawi some real momentum has been created. As the office prepares for a large launch on December 11th with mobile network operator partner Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM), I had a conversation with Charlie about what it takes to bring innovative projects like IoGT to life. Here are some excerpts of my discussions with him.
Can you share a bit about the context in Malawi to launch a digital service like the Internet of Good Things?
Charlie: Known as a land-locked country with over 18.5 million population. It is a youthful country where almost 70 percent of the population is under age 30. In its latest June 2017 ICT Indicator Trends, Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) mentions that there are 7.15 Million mobile phone subscribers in 2016. And, half of them are subscribers of the internet.
What are the main obstacles to overcome and consider prior to the launch?
Charlie: From the figures I mentioned before, it clearly shows that the opportunity for internet in Malawi is still the way to go and absolutely can grow bigger. The main challenge at this moment is that to get connected in Malawi, you still need to spend an extra amount of Kwacha from your pocket. In Malawi, less than 17% of the population has ever access to the internet, in part because of costs associated with buying a data bundle. Another obstacle we see is that many people who are not connected might just not think that the internet can add value to their daily life. A challenge is to communicate and promote enough for parents to know that there’s a rich media platform like IoGT accessible for free where they can find games and activities to play and interact with their child. But, I am a great believer that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. The cheap cost of mobile devices, disruptive approaches like IoGT and the reduced price of internet connections will contribute to the faster growth of internet users in Malawi.
In your long-term vision, how can IoGT be useful for Malawi?
Charlie: The effectiveness of traditional communication like the posters, flyers is waning. We are seeing more and more consumers receiving and viewing messages in new ways, particularly via the internet. There is an astonishing amount of brainpower and creativity in Malawi youth – particularly the online community. WhatsApp groups, blogs, and Facebook community all show us that members of this community are willing to do extraordinary work for little or no compensation, simply to pursue their passions and to bring positive hope for the country. With the rapid growth of the online community, there is a lot of information going around and these days good trustworthy content is a must. With IoGT Malawi we provide UNICEF reviewed information created by subject experts so that the platform can be the go-to destination to find sound health and education information you can trust. In the mid to long-term, we plan to monitor how users of IoGT use the content if they’re learning, and what they can achieve with the information they learn on IoGT. I regard the presence of IoGT in Malawi as part of planting a seed where we can see the impact in the next couple of years. I am sure the internet will grow tremendously and by that time we will reap our investment.
What makes IoGT Malawi different than other countries?
Charlie: Still within the spirit of innovation, UNICEF Malawi is planning to add new components of audio and video to be embedded in IoGT Malawi. And we are proud to say that Malawi will be the first country globally to provide completely free access to these multimedia files. Main reason is that we want to ensure that no one is left behind and people with low literacy rate and hearing-impaired people can still learn and enjoy accessing the platform.
Can you share your strategy to introduce IoGT to Malawi people?
Charlie: A closer collaboration with private sector partners i.e. Mobile Networks operator is a must and am so grateful that we have a solid direct relationship with Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM). TNM has committed to support the launch of IoGT through its TNM.org app. Besides press release, UNICEF Malawi will also boost its social media campaign together with U-Report SMS broadcast to its 152,000 U-Reporters and some digital promotion activities. Strong engagement with public figures, celebrity like Sangie Angel is another instrumental component to boost the marketing penetration of the platform so people in Malawi can get used to it.