Principles for Design & Development

Designing with the User & Building for Sustainability: How Souktel Has Integrated the Digital Principles into its Mobile Service Delivery in Somalia

The following case study was submitted by SoukTel as part of their official endorsement of the Principles for Digital Development.

SoukTel_Logo_largeThe Somali Youth Livelihoods Program (SYLP) aimed to link close to 10,000 young Somalis with skills training and work. Funded by USAID, the 3-year project was delivered by EDC, Souktel, and local partners across the Horn of Africa, and used mobile technology extensively—to reach remote communities in a region with few reliable roads. Somalia’s unique characteristics—no central government, an isolated labor market, and poor infrastructure—meant that technology couldn’t be “copy/pasted” from somewhere else: It needed to be designed directly with local end users.

Drawing on their own unique experience building tech solutions in the conflict zone of Palestine, Souktel staff traveled to the Horn of Africa to work on-site with Somali peers. The team hired Somali tech counterparts—building a permanent local staff team—and held more than 20 focus groups with end users. They visited field sites to stress-test each mobile solution, and worked directly with the region’s leading mobile networks, private businesses and government ministries. Most importantly, they didn’t make a one-time, one-week trip: The blended Souktel team of local and expat staff maintained a constant presence in the communities where the technology was being used—listening to users and learning what worked (and what didn’t) on a daily basis.

Designing with the User was the first step to success; equally important was Building for Sustainability: In the project’s final year, Souktel worked with EDC to set up a local entity that would manage the mobile platform which Souktel had developed. When the project ended, the new entity charged youth and employers a nominal fee to access mobile content—and it launched with in-built capacity and contacts to seek out private funding. The software itself was also designed to ensure easy hand-over, and uninterrupted service: When the project closed out, the mobile platform carried on.

Five years later, the mobile job-find service counts close to 20,000 users and is managed entirely by an independent Somali team. A mix of user fees, private funding, and mobile network partnerships covers running costs and ensures sustainability. Meanwhile, community users know that the custom service isn’t a quick copy of a Kenyan idea—it’s a genuine Somali solution. Through informed decision-making (rather than one-size-fits-all logic), the Digital Principles helped ensure that tech and development worked together to achieve a shared goal.

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