Mobile phone technology is bringing low-income communities into the telecommunications mainstream. Already, mobile phones are the instrument of choice for 45 percent of China’s rural Internet users; meanwhile, India now boasts more rural than urban mobile subscribers.3 The spread of mobile technologies to low-income populations has created the opportunity for companies like agriculture data providers and financial service firms to generate profitable new inclusive ventures. (See Figure 2.) Not all industries have been enthusiastic about the opportunity, however. The limited functionality of mobile phones purchased in low-income communities has held them back. Yet that reluctance may change with the introduction of new business technologies that—when combined with mobile technologies—enhance companies’ access to low-income communities and boost the potential for profitable business ventures in a wider variety of sectors.
For instance, Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), a leading Indian consumer goods company, has built on advanced GPS and population density mapping technology to design its rural supply chains and sales network. While HUL still relies on SMS applications (short message service, or texting) to coordinate local distributors, GPS and density mapping have enabled it to more precisely determine seasonal changes in population and distances between villages. This information helps the company decide on the number and placement of distribution points, the volume of product throughput its supply chain can handle and the number of local distributors that HUL must recruit. Result? A more efficient supply chain for HUL’s inclusive business initiative, Project Shakti. This IBI provides women in rural areas with income-generating opportunities, health and hygiene education, and access to information through an Internet portal.