February 19, 2013
by Yanki Tshering
At the Business Center for New Americans, we are always challenging ourselves to help reduce the digital divide for our clients. In 2000, a gift of equipment for our technology lab from the Hewlett Packard Company in 2000 provided the luxury of a laptop for each workshop participant. A grant from the eBay Foundation then enabled us to subsidize the purchase of hardware and software for 77 micro-businesses; and the workshops we've offered on social media have been extremely helpful to our clients. And many, many thanks to Citi Foundation, which has funded BCNA's Technology to Boost Your Bottom Line Program for the past few years.
This year the focus of BCNA's Technology to Boost Your Bottom Line Program is on how mobile technology can be used to educate, inform, and increase the bottom line of our clients.
According to the Center for Financial Services Innovation, while 26% of US households are unbanked or under banked, 96% of people have access to mobile phones. While not all our clients have smart phones, the majority have access to mobile phones. Micro-entrepreneurs like street vendors, taxi and car service drivers, and retailers who sell at various markets depend on this portable and affordable technology.
At BCNA we take advantage of mobile technology in many ways. We text clients, many of whom do not have email accounts, for instance, to remind them about loan repayments. Being able to do this has helped us to maintain a healthier portfolio. And their portable phone numbers help us keep better track of our refugee and immigrant clients, who often change addresses frequently:
In the coming year, we want to be able to use mobile technology to educate and inform clients about financial opportunities which may increase their income or reduce their costs. The first of a series of mobile technology workshops/ focus group sessions will take place this Tuesday in partnership with The Street Vendor Project. We will start by focusing on learning from our clients – street vendors, car service drivers, and even those will brick and mortar businesses. We hope to learn how they are using their phones and what specific challenges they have that the innovative technology companies based in New York City can be challenged to solve!