Tuesday marked the culmination of over six months’ worth of information gathering, interviews, and workshops focused on finding successful business models for connectivity.
On a sunny afternoon in Washington D.C., FHI 360 hosted the launch event for the mSTAR report titled Business Models for the Last Billion: Market Approaches to Increasing Internet Connectivity. Attending the event were representatives from the White House, USAID, the State Department, and major corporations such as Microsoft and Cisco, as well as other experts in the field of ICT4D.
But importantly, and in line with the recommendations in the report itself, both entrepreneurs who have started successful businesses that increase connectivity, and the investors who have helped them scale so far, were present and spoke during the event.
In this report, written by SSG, we make the contention that both the technology and the business models exist for increasing connectivity to the so-called “last billion.” Of the approximately 4 billion people who currently do not access the internet, we focused on those with the lowest income, most of whom live in rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Subcontinent. By addressing those hardest to reach markets, we found truly innovative ideas that may well work for the “middle billions” as well.
In both our launch event, and during the workshops (termed “white boarding sessions”) that informed our conclusions, we invited a variety of stakeholders from various points throughout the connectivity ecosystem, and brought together perspectives that don’t often mix. In New Delhi, we heard heated discussion between government regulators and Internet Service Providers. In Silicon Valley, the development experts explained more about the procurement process to members of large technology companies. Creating these networks within the process of the report brought to light a key element of our recommendations: in order to create a fully successful system that allows effective business models to scale, we need to encourage and develop relationships within finance, information-sharing, and technological expertise. As we write in the report:
Bringing together the resources of donors, philanthropists, investors, industry, and local communities means that scaling last billion connectivity business models and closing the digital divide does not require substantial new infusions of funds or the creation of entirely new tools.
The entrepreneurs and financing bodies represented at the launch event were a perfect complement to this thesis. Lauren Kickham of Vulcan, and Jim Forster, Chairman and angel investor in Air Jaldi and Mawingu, discussed the way they came together to finance one successful connectivity business model called Mawingu. As he introduced the 12 grant recipients of the new Affordable Access Initiative, Namema Amendi, of Microsoft, detailed the reasons why, as a firm, increasing connectivity not only provided social good, but also increased the company’s potential market. Michael Ginguld of Air Jaldi shared his hope of connecting the Internet infrastructure that he was building with other forms of infrastructure, including water and electricity, and Paul Talley, of ViRural, discussed his realization that working on a connectivity play in Nigeria meant that he could not only focus on more traditional types of investment, but that he could also look for types of financing interested in supporting the social impact his model would have as well. Philip Zulueta, of Wi-FI Interactive Network (WIN), described the investment opportunity, by declaring that “data is the new oil.”
In the launch event, we saw the excitement surrounding the recommendations we lay out in our report. We found models that work, the technology that already exists, and the potential partners who are ready to be a part of a broader network to support the scaling of these models. We hope to see the momentum for this network building, and continued support from members interested in connecting the last billion.
Want to learn more? Start by reading our report.