Using mobile technology to reach budding entrepreneurs in rural communities – can we do it?

January 30, 2019



Pakistan’s entrepreneurship ecosystem is abuzz. Although still in its nascent stages, more young people are becoming entrepreneurs and forming start-ups to take control of their future employment. The development community and the Government of Pakistan have shown their commitment to supporting entrepreneurs through projects dedicated to mentoring, incubating and funding start-ups. However, a lot of these initiatives are targeted at urban youth. The question we asked ourselves at UNDP was, “how can we reach millions of youth that are illiterate, in rural and/or remote locations and deliver training to them on entrepreneurship as an employment option?” 

With 86% of Pakistan’s 154 million cellular subscribers[1] aged between 10 – 30[2] the answer just may be in using mobile phones. UNDP has co-designed a one-month pilot experiment to deliver entrepreneurship training over mobile phones using voice messages with Telenor, the second largest mobile operator in Pakistan, and Viamo, a global organization with expertise in providing behaviour change solutions using ICTs. The voice message function, known as Interactive Voice Response (IVR) allows audiences to listen to the messages and respond by pressing keys. IVR is more personal and engaging than a traditional text message, does not require a smartphone or internet connectivity and is low cost with the potential to reach millions. Even more crucially, people do not need to be literate to listen in.

The experiment’s success depends upon delivering engaging content. With Viamo, UNDP is designing an audio drama series on entrepreneurship training that is accessible, free of cost and available on a simple mobile phone. The episodes are knitted together through a powerful storyline and learning is enhanced through embedded quizzes. The training will focus on the basics of starting a business, the qualities of an entrepreneur as well as marketing, financial management and sustainability.

To measure the effectiveness of the content we will record the number of listeners tuning in, assess their engagement rates by seeing how long they stay on the call and analyse which content gets the highest engagement rates to gauge user needs that can help in future content curation and UNDP programming. To understand the impact of the training delivered by IVR, our partner Viamo will assess data in terms of usage patterns of the listener together with field research and surveys by mobile phone to gather impact.

The pilot will be rolled out across three provinces in Pakistan - Punjab, Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and target 80,000 mobile subscribers.

In parallel to this initiative, UNDP is engaging a partner that can design an app and online platform to deliver more content on entrepreneurship training for internet-connected young people in Pakistan. By launching such an online platform, UNDP will be able to deliver a comprehensive training support package via various technology mediums to targeted audiences of potential entrepreneurs based on their needs and preferences.

Should the experiment prove successful, we expect the engagement rates to translate into profits for Telenor Pakistan as engaging content will be worth owning or commercializing to host it permanently on their mobile network. This would be the first instance for UNDP to work with the private sector in creating impact with profitability via mobile technology for development.

[1] Pakistan Telecommunication Authority

[1] ‘Smart Phone Usage in Pakistan’, Pakistan Advertiser’s Society -

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Ilena Paltzer
Innovation Coordinator, UNDP Pakistan 
Ilena Paltzer works for UNDP Pakistan as Innovation Coordinator, and previously for the FATA Governance Project on Coordination, Partnerships and Innovation. She has also worked for the UN in South Sudan, across the East & Southern Africa region, and New York. Ilena is interested in finding new approaches for achieving sustainable and holistic social impact and pushing the sector to reconsider the way we "do development". She is also particularly interested in innovative ways of strengthening women's agency and engagement in these processes



Abdullah Saqib
Country Manager for VIAMO in Pakistan 
Abdullah Saqib is the Country Manager for VIAMO in Pakistan - a global social enterprise that helps organizations (like UNDP) maximize social impact by leveraging the power of mobile phones and digital communications. In the past, he has worked with organizations like Acumen and Telenor with rich experiences at the overlap of technology and international development. He is a firm believer of knowledge sharing and supports MIT D-Lab in accelerating growth for early-stage social enterprises around the world.