Digital Inclusion

Selected

Brastorne

Providing access to the digital world without smartphones or data bundles

Team Lead

Naledi Magowe

Solution Overview

Solution Name:

Brastorne

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One-line solution summary:

Brastorne connects the unconnected across Africa, enabling rural villagers to access the digital world without smartphones or data bundles.

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Pitch your solution.

Brastorne is committed to connecting 760 million Africans who lack meaningful access to today’s digital world. We believe everyone has a right to social connection and educational and economic opportunity. The proliferation of mobile phones glosses over a lack of digital access—smartphones are limited to the wealthiest, and data plans are priced beyond reach. Brastorne upconverts feature phones into digital portals at <$0.05/day, leveraging data protocols over standard telco networks. One example: mAgri, a multi-channel solution providing farmers access to advisory services, weather/pest alerts, crop prices, and financial services on their feature phones via USSD, IVR, or voice. Farmers receive agricultural information and can trade, chat, and e-mail in local languages. Other solutions include Mpotsa (internet search/Wikipedia) and VukaChat (WhatsApp-like chat). Brastorne’s technical savvy and community approach facilitates educational, economic, and social opportunity for all, providing the rural poor access to the digital world without smartphones or data plans.

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Film your elevator pitch.

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What specific problem are you solving?

Of Africa’s 1 billion people, 650 million own mobile phones—yet, paradoxically, most lack meaningful digital access; experts project 750 million Africans are “digitally excluded.” Why? Because most phones are ‘feature’ phones that lack apps—and because Africa is the world’s most expensive region for data. 1GB of mobile data averages $6.44—a week’s salary for most of Africa’s poor. We believe everyone has a right to social connection and educational and economic opportunity, but Africans remain disproportionately unconnected to the tools, opportunities, and services provided by the Internet and mobile apps. The business model for telcos and mobile app developers, and the entire digital economy, are currently built to leave Africa’s poor behind. Thus, our mission: connecting the unconnected.

 

Our lead initial solution is mAgri, an agricultural app for farmers. The reason to focus on farmers is clear: 80% of rural African households derive their livelihood from agriculture. Farmers depend on access to information on weather, pests, and crop prices, without which their livelihoods can be destroyed, or they struggle to market their produce/livestock. Other solutions provide students and rural villagers access to education and the vast array of information available to the digitally included on the Internet.

 

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What is your solution?

Our solutions leverage simple data protocols (IVR, USSD, SMS) to enable users to connect over their existing telco networks using their feature phones. A new user dials a short-code, and registers, using their preferred language. Once registered, the user can access the full suite of Brastorne’s solutions, such as mAgri. Brastorne uses outbound SMS to alert users of new information and new services, even if they are logged out.

 

We also use the power of IVR to provide users with valuable information and alerts, (for instance, disease/pest outbreaks or an approaching storm) optional voice prompts support more information, similar to USSD.  Users can also call the number to receive valuable information across a variety of themes and topics, which is particularly useful for illiterate users.

 

Importantly, Brastorne manages everything through our agreements with telco providers, like Orange. For our rural users, Brastorne’s apps are seamless service offerings on their feature phone, analogous to what digitally-included smartphone users rely on every day—but at a dramatically lower data cost. Most Brastorne users pay <$0.05 per day in total data costs.

 

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Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

Broadly, we serve the rural poor in Africa, 80% of who rely on farming. Mpotsa and VukaChat provide them with access to information and social connections that most of us take for granted through our social media, e-mail, chat, and Internet access. mAgri creates value for rural farmers by connecting them to the agricultural economy in their region. More than 50% of African farmers are women, and >60% are under 30 years of age; mAgri will have a significant impact on these groups. giving them meaningful opportunity to enhance their farming practices, save costs, (travel and data costs associated with sourcing information) and market their produce/livestock profitably.

 

We collect data on our users and engage them directly through SMS. We have learned that Brastorne farmers have increased bargaining power due to knowledge of market prices; increase their incomes; and grow their farming business through knowledge about market opportunities. They also learn how to up-skilling them access to training opportunities offered by government organizations, and through financing farm inputs, both of which they can now access through mAgri. Improved practices and economic empowerment can lead to an increase in income of up to 30%.

 

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Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Other
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Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.

Our solution aligns with the Challenge because we systematically address the digital gap in Africa. A critical root cause of digital exclusion is the cost of hardware and data; this is our core focus. We meet the rural poor where they are: on their feature phones lacking affordable data plans. For 85% of Africans, access to the Internet and app-like services will be through their mobile devices, yet data-enabled smartphones are the exception, and network coverage is low, mostly 2G. We aim to bridge the digital divide, through the simplicity of USSD/IVR and leveraging users’ existing telco plans.

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In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Gaborone, Botswana
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What is your solution’s stage of development?

Scale: A sustainable enterprise working in several communities or countries that is looking to scale significantly, focusing on increased efficiency.
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Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.

Scale:

As a result of our partnership with telcos in Africa, Brastorne has reached more than 1.2 million users in total, with 50,000 monthly users in Botswana—which represents 40% of active feature phone users on the Orange network in Botswana. Based on our success with Orange, we are planning to extend our services to additional countries. In May 2021, we launched Brastorne and mAgri in the Democratic Republic of Congo in partnership with Orange DRC, and in the first month we have reached 130,000 subscribers in the country. We are planning expansion to Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Morocco, Senegal, Guinea, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso by the end of 2022, a combined potential market of 49 million feature phone users.

 

 

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Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Martin Stimela

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More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology
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What makes your solution innovative?

Smartphones have been revolutionary, including in Africa; some 200 million Africans benefit from their use. Yet, not everyone benefits from the power of the Internet or the reach of mobile apps. Less than 20% of Africans have Internet access, mainly because the business model of the digital economy is exclusionary. Brastorne’s innovation is in leveraging the infrastructure of the digital economy—telco networks, and the low-cost data protocols not currently used for app-like services. We create a brand new business model for the digital economy, targeting the rural poor on the mobile devices and networks they can access, and providing them with Internet access and digital services they need for as little as $0.03 per day. We use simple mobile technology primarily used for the banking sector, and while USSD and IVR themselves are not innovative, Brastorne’s use of them is. We create a community of rural users that did not previously exist. Using mAgri as an example, Brastorne creates an agricultural ecosystem connecting rural farmers to each other and other actors across the value chain: government agricultural services, telcos, NGOs, and merchants are able to access hard-to-reach users directly in a more efficient way, engaging farmers in the digital economy without bankrupting the farmers with exorbitant data charges. Moreover, mAgri’s multi-channel approach enables access points into the community regardless of location, type of phone, or literacy level. This solution is catalytic, because it is easy to use and can be used by anybody across all telco networks.

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Software and Mobile Applications
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Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Rural
  • Poor
  • Low-Income
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 1. No Poverty
  • 2. Zero Hunger
  • 5. Gender Equality
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In which countries do you currently operate?

  • Botswana
  • Congo, Democratic Republic
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In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • Botswana
  • Congo, Democratic Republic
  • Ethiopia
  • Mali
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How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

The Brastorne platform and mAgri is operational in Botswana and DRC through, our partnership with mobile network operators. In 2022, we hope to be in Guinea, Mali, and Ethiopia. Our solution currently serves more than 1 million users, including 150,000 new subscribers in DRC within the first month of our launch there. We aim to serve 49 million users in the next 3 years through our partnerships with the mobile network operators across Africa.

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How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

No poverty:

  • Increased earnings: Number of people with increased productivity/revenue generating activities
  • Average annual income earned by target beneficiaries (BoP employees/ suppliers/ distributors/customers)
  • Availability of Products and Services, Number of individuals reached by product/service

 

No hunger:

  • Improved agricultural productivity, Number of individuals experiencing better agricultural yields number of which are women,  number of which are youth.

 

Gender Equality: 

  • Number of women with increased productivity/ revenue generating activities  
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About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

For-profit, including B-Corp or similar models

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How many people work on your solution team?

We currently have a team of 40 people. 30 Full time and 10 part-time staff

 

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How long have you been working on your solution?

We have been working on the solution for 6 years.

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How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

The mAgri team is equipped with skills ranging from software engineering and project management, marketing, finance, data analytics, and administration.

Martin Stimela: Martin is Brastorne’s founder and CEO with an MSc in Program Management and an extensive portfolio in both emerging and developed markets. As a highly qualified transformation manager, he has vast experience working in top tier organizations, setting up new businesses, and delivering successful projects while managing risks and maximizing value.

Naledi Magowe: Chief Growth Officer. Naledi has experience in product management, stakeholder engagement, social mobilization, and implementation of T4D projects, and has led the mAgri product development and launch in Botswana. She has also established visibility for mAgri in the international community through various speaking engagements, and pitching competitions. She is accountable for user acquisition and retention, and business development.

Tim Lang: IT Product & Solution Specialist with more than 5 years of experience in product engineering, solution architecture, and program and product management. He manages the technical integrations and mAgri USSD solution architecture.

Odirile Meshack: Head of Channels. He has more than 12 years of experience in contact center management, contact center solutions, and customer service. He ensures that the mAgri IVR system is optimized and manages customer support.

Christina Titus: Head of support services, Christina has 5 years of experience in HR, admin, and accounting. She ensures the financial success of Brastorne solutions.

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What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership team?

Brastorne is a youth-owned company and its management strongly believes in youth empowerment. The staff is comprised 100% of youth, including the founder of the company. In addition, 65% of Brastorne’s employees are female, and 75% of the executive team is female.

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Your Business Model & Partnerships

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
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Partnership & Prize Funding Opportunities

Why are you applying to Solve?

Our motivation for applying to Solve is to obtain further assistance from the Solve network on how we can better connect the unconnected.  We would like to showcase African talent, increase awareness of the Brastorne solution on an international level. and to bring attention to the importance of the partnering with mobile telecommunication providers by adapting existing technologies to new business models targeting the rural poor, with mAgri as a case study. We also wish to benefit from the technical and business acumen of the MIT network, connecting with thought leaders and industry experts to grow Brastorne into a pan-African enterprise. Multiple additional comprehensive solutions will serve the undeserved, create jobs, and improve gender equality, food security, and youth empowerment.

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development, etc.)
  • Legal or Regulatory Matters
  • Public Relations (e.g. branding/marketing strategy, social and global media)
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Please explain in more detail here.

We need support in multiple priority areas:

  • Human Capital. We have tapped into tech and business talent in Botswana to develop Brastorne, but sourcing the right talent to scale our solution is difficult. We currently have skill gaps in business, technology, management, and impact measurement (monitoring and evaluation).
  • Legal/Regulatory. As we expand across Africa, we expect to encounter a number of different legal and regulatory requirements, and would like to find partners or expert consultants who can help us navigate unfamiliar legal environments.
  • Communications. We have focused our marketing and branding on our clients, and would benefit from additional support with branding, marketing, and communications to reach new client sin new geographies, as well as partners and funders.
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What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?

To reach our goals we seek partnerships to facilitate and support our efforts to scale our solutions across Africa. Key partners include:

  • Investors/funders/grant makers. We will be raising equity capital in the next year, and would like to identify aligned investors who understand our mission and target clients/customers, as well as private foundations and development agencies aligned with our mission. Examples include family foundations, USAID, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation).
  • Technical partners. We would benefit from deeper relationships with telecommunications companies and advocacy groups, including telco operators, adjacent businesses, and mobile communications trade associations.
  • International NGOs. We would like to partner with International NGOs whose core focus is on the livelihood and educational opportunities of the rural poor.
  • Content developers. For both our current solutions (agriculture, Internet) and future offerings in financial services and other economic sectors (health, education), we will be seeking content developers who can create relevant information tailored to our apps and our clients in multiple local languages across Africa (e.g., Swahili , Hausa, Oromo, Yoruba, Amharic) as well as Arabic, English, and French. 
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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The ASA Prize for Equitable Education? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The Andan Prize for Innovation in Refugee Inclusion? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The HP Prize for Advancing Digital Equity? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Innovation for Women Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The AI for Humanity Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The GSR Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Solution Team

 
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