In this case study, we will see how mobile money can be leveraged to create innovative business models to improve access to water services. We will cover the details of a specific project implemented in Lilongwe, Malawi, and will focus more specifically on the mobile money integration perspective.
Getting water in Malawi
In Malawi, a significant portion of the urban population does not have access to running water. Those households often collect water from public water kiosks. However, these kiosks are manually operated: this means that when the operator is on leave, or during his off-hours, the kiosk is closed. And there is no water available. So, how could we improve the service for the users?
Towards water ATMs
The solution implemented during this project was to deploy water ATMs by combining automated water points with mobile money payments. The users would use an NFC enabled card to identify themselves at the water point. They could also easily load their water account at any time using their mobile money account. The project, implemented by SeeSaw in partnership with the Lilongwe Water Board and supported by GSMA, combines machine-to-machine hardware to mobile money to enable this new business model.
Setting up mobile money payments
To provide this new service, it was decided to partner with the two main mobile money suppliers in Malawi: TNM and Airtel. It took around five months to negotiate and sign a commercial agreement with TNM, and six months with Airtel. In parallel to the commercial agreement, we were making progress on the technical integration. With both operators, the objective was to get real time or close to real time payment notifications, so that we could credit the water account of the users as fast as possible.
The integration of mobile money
With the first operator, TNM, it was agreed that we would do an API integration, to get instant notifications of the payments. Unfortunately, TNM was changing supplier for their integrations when we started the project, and, in the end it took around ten months before the integration was finalized.
On Airtel’s side, we had initially focused on an FTP integration. Indeed, our perspective was that it would require less work from the integration, which could then hopefully be implemented quickly. However, after around a year of discussions, it was asked if we could instead process email notifications. This integration is now ongoing.
Mobile money payments management
The integration of the mobile money payments allows the administrators at SeeSaw and Lilongwe Water Board to visualize and manage easily the transactions done by the users. For instance, they can check the payments received, and correct mistakes if needed. It avoids the overhead of having to work with the paper or email reports supplied by the mobile money operators.
Working directly with the mobile money operators can bring significant benefits, as you have the potential to design a payment flow tailored to your needs, and negotiate attractive commercial terms. However, it also requires a significant time involvement, as well as potential delays in the start of a project. A possible solution is to work with companies that already have technical integrations up and running, such as mobile payment aggregators or dedicated solutions. If time to market is a criteria, this might allow you to get started quicker and make your users happy!