Going Beyond Numbers: How Technology Can Help Measuring Impact in Nepal
Small Farmers Agricultural Cooperative Limited (SFACL), Dhadin District, Nepal
CleanStart, UNCDF's global programme with focus on inclusive energy access, has the vision to dramatically expand consumer financing for low-income people who want to shift from traditional household energy applications to renewable energy. In Nepal the programme is partnering with four Financial Services Providers (FSPs), both wholesale and retail lenders, to provide accessible credit to rural households in order to make this switch.
Most of these partners have some experience in providing financing for clean energy technologies, by offering energy loans to low-income clients and promoting benefits such as savings or livelihood improvements. Thus, these need to be backed by evidence, and learning should be used to improve product offerings.
Though, in countries like Nepal data collection can be challenging. Many microfinance institutions are geographically isolated, staff employed at the local level lack technical skills, book-keeping is still done manually, and mobile telecommunications and internet connection are unstable in most remote areas of the country.
However, with mobile phones already being a common good, smart phones becoming affordable, and 3G network coverage spreading outside the capital, partners in remote areas are becoming more connected and open up to innovation.
In this context, the CleanStart programme is introducing an innovative way of collecting data that allows to embed impact measurement throughout the loan cycle. By looking at aspects such as the client's motivation to buy a product, its use, its impact on daily routine and improvement of livelihoods, the objective is to understand the client’s experience from the first contact with the loan officer to the purchase and use of the technology. Also, the quality of the offered services will be reviewed.
To this end, questionnaires focusing on various technologies such as solar, bio gas, and improved cook stoves, will be developed, digitized and uploaded onto smart phones. Partner financial institutions will train their loan officers to collect the data on this mobile platform, which will be updated at least once a year, pre- and post-purchase (loans typically run up to two years depending on the technology used).
The beauty of this measurement system is how it makes information collection simple, and reaches a greater number of users. Using mobile phones or devices for data collection, through automation and GPS-tracking, improves data reliability and verification. As a result, this will help increase data transparency and accountability, reduce the time of data gathering and consolidation, and eliminate the risk of misreporting information.
The CleanStart programme is in its final stages of putting the impact measurement tools together and identifying mobile solution providers. The plan is to do a test round with selected branches in late 2014 and do a full launch by early 2015.