Mobile Technology Transforming Developing Worlds

October 2016

Guy Pfefferman, founder and CEO of Global Business School Network, talks with AACSB International's Dan LeClair about the impact technology has had on individuals in developing countries. He says that mobile technology-based education could help "enlarge the pool of local skills and to improve the standard of living in these countries."


October 2016

[00:00] Dan LeClair: You've said, I recall vividly, that you think the most important opportunity facing schools in developing worlds, sub Saharan Africa for example, is mobile, mobile technology.

[00:24] Guy Pfefferman: Ah, yes.

[00:25] LeClair: Tell us what you mean, what is the opportunity? What's happening now that you see will create new opportunities for schools in Sub Saharan Africa?

[00:35] Pfefferman: This is a very personal passion of mine, and you know that. I wouldn't say that...it could happen with the local business schools, but it could also happen outside the local business schools. Nothing has transformed the developing world more, and have benefited it more in the last 50 years than the advent of mobile phones. Farmers in Kenya who live way out in the boonies have cell phones.

[01:09] As you know, Kenya has been the pioneer of electronic banking, and there's this company Safaricom that I mentioned before, that developed something called M PESA, M PESA means mobile money in Swahili. So Kenyans and others, can now do all their banking transactions whether it's money transfer, saving, paying bills, etc., on their mobile phones. It also has benefited women, believe it or not. I remember being in a village in Kenya and my wife and I saw three ladies come and they were very cheerful, they were chatting, and we started talking.

[01:55] They told us, "Oh, you know we love this mobile banking because before when we earned some money, we had to go home and give it to the men." The men would do things with that money which were not necessarily socially very productive. [laughs] We have our savings on our SIM card, and men don't know how much there is, and then they said, "We just had our hair done."

[02:21] [laughter]

[02:21] LeClair: Productive things.

[02:25] Pfefferman: So it empowers people, and women in particular. Next step, why has mobile banking exploded and cell phones are also used very much for agricultural advice, and in the medical world, and global health. Why not in education? There is very little in terms of education being, good educational programs, that you can capture on cell phones. I started asking why, and there are several reasons.

[03:02] One is that in the advanced countries, in Europe, in America, and so on, everybody has computers, tablets, Wi Fi, broadband, etc., you do not need a cell phone in order to do online education. You go to Africa maybe 10 percent of households are connected to the Internet, but everyone has access to cell phones. Therefore, there has been very, very little research and progress on mobile education in the advanced economies. What there has been are a few NGOs that did pilots in India, and Africa, etc.

[03:47] Now I think we're on the verge of a breakthrough, there's several companies that have found what was missing, which is essentially a profitable business model that makes it possible for educational institutions to earn money and make mobile education sustainable. Because if you do mobile banking, it's very easy, you just add a percent to whatever it is, and you don't have any billing problems, it's very simple. If you want to put education on the cell phone it's very hard to chase your customers who haven't paid, and so on.

[04:24] I think we're on the verge of a breakthrough, there are a few companies now that have developed lessons in which the company earns money and at the same time in partnership with local business schools, they scale up their reach of these African and other business schools. We were just having conversations with a colleague of mine who said that the top 10 business schools in Africa only have 14,000 students or something like this, in a continent of a billion people.

[05:01] No matter how much you improve these schools, they're only going to touch the people at the tip of the iceberg. But if you had mobile education, you could multiply this by 10, and maybe eventually by 100 in the next 20 30 years, and that would be really the way to achieve what we started off with, which is to enlarge the pool of local skills and to improve the standard of living in these countries.