Best International Ambassador Finalist: Qualcomm

Qualcomm: Creating Opportunity for Low-Income Entrepreneurs

Five years ago, Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach™ initiative partnered with Grameen Foundation to conduct a study to determine whether Grameen Foundation’s Village Phone model would work in Indonesia. Through initial pilots, it was found that Indonesia’s competitive telecommunications market was not a fit for the traditional model of having entrepreneurs sell only airtime on their mobile phone to other villagers. So the partners created a new program and a commitment to innovating new approaches proved to go a long way.


Indonesia is a vast archipelago of more than 16,000 islands and 234 million people. Approximately 75% of the population – or 180 million people – lives below the international poverty line of $2.50 per day.  20% – or 48 million people – live in extreme poverty below $1.25 per day.  Affordable access to telecommunications remains elusive for a large percentage of Indonesians, particularly in rural areas. Cut off from easy access to information, many Indonesians are placed at an economic and social disadvantage, as the poorest people can be overlooked by development programs that perceive them as being too difficult and costly to serve in a sustainable way.

With the knowledge from their initial study, Wireless Reach and Grameen Foundation created the Mobile Microfranchising Program, tailored to local market conditions, which extended affordable telecommunications access to people who could not afford a mobile device. The program also created a profitable business opportunity to the base of the pyramid.

To ensure long-term support for the expanding network of entrepreneurs, Grameen Foundation and Wireless Reach incubated Ruma, an Indonesian social enterprise whose name translates to mean “your micro-business partner.” Ruma operates as an implementing partner to help poor micro-entrepreneurs to first become electronic airtime resellers, and then to expand their businesses with new products and services that will further increase their income.

Building on the success of the Mobile Microfranchising Program, Wireless Reach, Grameen Foundation and partners from private and public sectors established a multi-tier suite of data services, called Application Laboratory (AppLab), that use existing SMS technology and increasingly available 3G technologies built on a mobile platform.  

One of the program’s entrepreneurs is Ibu Nur Zanah. She operates a home-based business that sells used clothes and her husband sells soup on the street.

Their household lives on approximately USD2.00 a day, which barely provides for their two children, ages seven years and 15 months.

As a Ruma Entrepreneur, Ibu Nur Zanah increased her household income by 100%, and now earns an additional $2.00 per day, moving her above the poverty line.

The Mobile Microfranchising Program helps poor Indonesians in two important ways: (1) by extending affordable telecommunications access to people who cannot pay for their own mobile device, and (2) by offering a profitable microfranchise business opportunity by providing some key factors for success: the business idea, training, funding and access to suppliers.

The core concept of the program is simple, effective and sustainable: a local small-business entrepreneur uses a microfinance loan to purchase a pre-packaged kit that includes a mobile phone and then re-sells the “airtime minutes” to neighbors. The mobile phone then serves as a platform for providing additional applications and services to further increase their revenues and profits. New applications and services are also being launched directly for the poor through a mass-market channel, which directly supports the poorest entrepreneurs.

The AppLab initiative develops and launches high-value social applications that entrepreneurs can provide to their communities via their mobile phones to close information gaps and reduce market inefficiencies — all while earning an income for themselves.

The services are designed to increase the income of the poor in Indonesia and can be accessed via two distribution channels: (1) via Ruma Entrepreneurs, a human network of women who own and operate mobile microfranchise businesses, and (2) through commercially available phones and the mass market. The apps that are currently available include:

  • Jual Pulsa (Top Up) application: Allows the poor to become entrepreneurs by selling airtime to customers.
  • Kerja Lokal (Local Work) application: Connects the poor to informal sector job opportunities, thus increasing the chances of stable income for families.
  • Market Intelligenceapplication: Enables businesses to better understand the needs and interests of low-income consumers, while providing additional income for some of the world’s poorest people.

What Qualcomm has Accomplished

Thus far, a steady increase in overall living conditions for all micro-entrepreneurs has been observed. This has verified Ruma’s effectiveness in increasing the daily income of a micro-entrepreneur. As of May 2012, more than 15,000 Ruma Entrepreneurs have served more than 1.5 million unique customers. More than 82% of the businesses are owned by women and 100% of Ruma entrepreneurs are profitable. An estimated 47% of the entrepreneurs who stay in the portfolio for more than four months have moved above the poverty line, which the World Bank defines as US $2.50 per day.

Why This Project Makes Sense

One of many obstacles to economic development is the lack of universal access to telecommunications and information. While metropolitan teledensity is high, affordable access to telecommunications remains elusive for a large percentage of Indonesians, particularly in rural areas.  With these facts in mind, it became clear to Qualcomm that there was a significant opportunity to spur economic empowerment through the use of mobile technologies. The Mobile Microfranchising Program allows the company to empower entrepreneurs and help to alleviate poverty, while simultaneously expanding its current market base.


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