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Setting up a mobile phone programme

In her latest post, Amanda McLelland explains how the emergency response team successfully set Concern’s mobile phone transfer programme in Niger.

Most of the women we are targeting with our mobile phone transfers are illiterate, with no numeracy skills and little access to electricity. To complicate matters even more, signal coverage is sporadic. But if we can make this work here, we can make it work anywhere! 

Getting started

We started by tackling the biggest issues. We purchased phones, sourcing new, very low-cost models. We produced picture-based teaching tools and mobilised teams to over a hundred villages. These teams taught women to recognise letters and numbers, to send and receive text messages and codes they’ll receive for cash. Concern also gave groups of women solar-powered chargers.

Biggest challenge

We realised that each beneficiary would need photo ID to sign a phone contract. A couple of calls confirmed that the women we were targeting had no form of ID whatsoever. No problem, I thought. We’ll just make them some ourselves. It seemed like a great idea: it would decrease fraud, increase accountability and allow third parties to verify recipients’ identity.


Reality kicked in when I faced the fact that we needed to photograph 9,000 women in 116 separate remote villages. We scoured the internet for hardware to allow us to design and print the cards. We also had to get community leaders to confirm each individual’s identity.


We gave each of six of our education teams a laptop and a webcam. We have excellent local staff, but out of the 24 assigned to help, only four had strong computer skills. So, intensive training sessions were held on how to use the software and tools.


The villagers had never seen anything like it and were totally fascinated. Most of the women had never even seen a photograph of themselves. Now they were looking at themselves and their friends on a computer screen. Everyone wanted to look, causing quite a commotion and slowing the teams down considerably.

Tracked for research

After six days, the process was complete. Three weeks later, 9,000 women possess their first ever photo ID, allowing them to get their cash at authorised  points. We track the participants across not only our cash programmes, but also our nutrition programmes. This helps Concern’s research into the effectiveness of cash interventions in food crises and their impact on malnutrition rates.

With 7.1 million people facing extreme hunger in Niger, we are working against the clock to give people what they need to survive.