Pap Padap Dirèk Dirèk- Mobile Communication

  • Posted on: 20 December 2011
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
News: 

Thanks to Digicel and Voila Comcel, obtaining a cell phone is the least of your worries when traveling to Haiti.  Almost immediately after arriving at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port au Prince, one spots red and neon green beach umbrellas, under which man holding a string of calling cards and other mobile phone related products.  Need a cell phone? No problem. 

 

Pap Padap is onomatopoeia, referring to Digicel minutes that you can purchase from a street vender. Dirèk Dirèk would be the equivalent for Voila.  About 85% of Haitians own a cell phone.  Haiti is Digicel’s largest customer base to date.  Digicel, an Irish company based in Kingston serving the Latin America, Caribbean and South Pacific regions, launched in Haiti in 2006.  Voila was launched earlier in 1998 and serves over 1 million users.  With brilliant marketing strategies, Digicel and Voila advertise cell phone products using Haitian musician celebrities as their spokespersons.  You can even purchase ringtones featuring your favorite Haitian band.  Digicel had a Barikad Crew (Haitian Hip-Hop Group) cell phone that came with the group’s rap song as a ringtone already installed! Even the Haitian President Michel Martelly got in on the action during his campaign.  Haitians would joke “Sweet Mickey called me personally and told me to vote for him.” Martelly’s campaign team was crafty in using cell phone prerecorded voice messages or text as a marketing tool in reaching millions of Haitians.

 

During carnival season or at large music festivals you can witness hundreds of people in the crowd wearing either Digicels signature color red or Viola’s neon green t-shirts. You don’t want to be left out of free marketing merchandise such as backpacks, key chains and rain ponchos!  Although both mobile telecommunication companies are grossing millions of dollars a year in a very poor country, they both have a sense of Corporate Social Responsibility.  Both companies have contributed economically by creating jobs for thousands of independent vendors selling pap padap or dirèk dirèk minutes. Voila, through the Voila Foundation, launched a pilot project to provide the disabled community in Haiti with a source of income by providing them with mobile phones to sell minutes.  Within 24 hours of the earthquake Digicel launched text and voice donation lines. The Digicel Haiti Relief Fund received and continues to receive support as they collected over USD $500,000 Voila had set-up a new text services specifically for disaster relief and, in collaboration with UniBank, Haitians are able to access mobile banking.  Both organizations also have foundations that have a variety of projects for sustainable community development.

 

Overall, Digicel and Viola have had and continue to have a positive impact in Haiti. It pleases me that both companies are culturally aware enough to feature models in their advertisements that accurately reflect the Haitian people and and culture in a positive way.  Their approach is profitable, treats the Haitian people with respect, invests back into the community, and is corporate social responsibility at its best.

 

Jasmine

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By STEPHANIE STROM
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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Almost two years after an earthquake ravaged this city, some half a million people are still living in filthy tents, cholera has infected a similar number across the country and the president works from a flimsy prefab structure behind the still crumpled Presidential Palace.
Related A woman carried plastic flowers near the Marché Hyppolite, which was rebuilt by the Digicel Foundation. Denis O’Brien, an impatient Irish billionaire who tends to make his points with a few choice profanities, is determined to change all that. On a recent sunny morning, he presided over the opening of the 50th school that his vast telecommunications company, Digicel, has rebuilt since the quake struck in 2010 — and then he promptly pledged to build another 80 schools by 2014. His intention is not, however, to be a one-man force for change. With a skill for what he calls “frying feet,” he has sweet-talked, cajoled, harangued, nagged, strong-armed and shamed government officials, international financiers and business leaders into doing more to rebuild Haiti. “It’s all about project management,” Mr. O’Brien, 53, said in an interview at Digicel’s offices here. “Everyone’s on hand for the photo op, but where are the 100 houses that were promised after the cameras are gone? I’m the guy who’s going to count them.” In the process, he has become de facto ambassador for an emerging business-centered approach to the redevelopment of this disaster-prone nation, which has so long relied on the work of nonprofit groups and aid agencies that it is known as the Republic of N.G.O.’s, or nongovernmental organizations. “We’ve seen the growth of the N.G.O. community here for the last 20 years, and many of them do good work and there is a demand and a need for that work,” said Lionel Delatour, a business consultant and lobbyist whose brothers have served as government ministers. “But N.G.O.’s do not pay taxes, and when they bring their supplies and cars and other goods into the country, they do not pay customs duties.” Digicel, on the other hand, is the country’s largest employer and taxpayer. The privately held company has invested $600 million in Haiti, making it by far the country’s largest foreign investor ever, and it has democratized communications with its strategy of selling low-price cellphones and services to the masses.
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Mr. O’Brien has profited extensively from Haiti, which is Digicel’s largest market and accounts for roughly one-third of its 11.1 million subscribers. “There is something that is two-way about this relationship,” Mr. Delatour said. “It is not only a story of what Digicel and Mr. O’Brien have done for Haiti, but also what Haiti has done for Digicel and Mr. O’Brien.” For his part, Mr. O’Brien does not like to hear his work on behalf of the country or Digicel’s largess there described as corporate social responsibility. “If you make money in a poor country, you can’t just take it and disappear,” he said. “It would be bad business.” Thus, Digicel unveiled plans in November to invest $45 million in a new 173-room hotel next door to its offices, to be run by Marriott. That announcement came at a forum sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank that drew 500 business people from 29 countries. It was kicked off by a ribbon-cutting at a new industrial park in Caracol whose first tenant will be Sae-A, a Korean apparel manufacturer with extensive experience in Latin America. It is building a plant that plans to employ 20,000 and, unlike the low-wage apparel manufacturing operations that spawned vast urban slums, incorporate housing developments and other infrastructure. Just last month, Heineken, the Dutch brewing concern, increased to 95 percent from 23 percent its stake in Brasserie Nationale d’Haiti, a Haitian brewery and bottler, saying it saw greater political and economic stability in the country. Then there are commitments from the 60-odd members of the Haiti Action Network of the Clinton Global Initiative, or C.G.I., which include installing solar panels, increasing energy supplies, refurbishing homes and providing job training.
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Mr. O’Brien is charged with overseeing their progress on behalf of former President Bill Clinton, and so after the school opening, he headed to the Hotel Montana to grill the network’s members, as he does 10 times a year. “I hear Digicel is a difficult company to work for because he holds the people who work there accountable for everything, and he runs the network in much the same way,” said Anne Hastings, chief executive of Fonkoze, a microfinance institution in Haiti that is a member. “But he does it with a nice sense of humor, so that no one is afraid — and Haiti is a country that can benefit from someone keeping account, believe me.” President Clinton said, “The Haiti Action Network symbolizes the best of C.G.I.” in large part thanks to Mr. O’Brien’s unusual commitment to it. “What is striking is how deeply he has embedded his Haiti work into both his business and personal life,” Mr. Clinton said. “Because he cares so much, it’s easier for him to motivate and hold accountable other network members.” Mr. O’Brien does not limit his haranguing. He pointedly asked the guest speaker at a recent network meeting, Thierry Mayard-Paul, Haiti’s interior minister, about the government’s plan for a new Center to Facilitate Investment. “It has five people,” Mr. O’Brien said. “It needs 50. How will you staff it? How long will it take? How many weeks?” They are the kind of questions Josefa Raymond Gauthier knows well. In charge of the agency that finances a variety of government projects financed primarily by international donors, Mrs. Gauthier was the first chief executive of the Digicel Haiti Foundation, which oversees the construction of the schools. “I arrived at the foundation in late 2008, and all of a sudden it was, ‘We have to deliver a school by March because Denis O’Brien is coming,’ ” Mrs. Gauthier said. “Then Denis arrived and said, ‘What a nice school. Let’s have 20 more, one in each department of Haiti, before the end of the year,’ ” she said. “That’s Denis.”
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The foundation quickly realized, however, that simply putting up a school was not the answer. “Teachers are a catastrophe,” Mrs. Gauthier said. So Digicel began remedial teacher training and paying teachers when the Ministry of Education was late or checks went missing. And then there were textbooks and desks and myriad other things. “I always thought building the schools would be the hard bit, because of the contracts involved and all that,” Mr. O’Brien said. “But the hard part is really about getting the community together to support the school and identifying the leaders and so many other things.” As a young man, Mr. O’Brien thought he would make his fortune replicating the Home Shopping Network in Ireland, but instead he nearly went bankrupt, saving his investors and himself with the do-or-die purchase of an Irish radio station that became part of what is now the Communicorp Group. He then established Esat Telecom in 1990, eventually buying Ireland’s second mobile phone license — and igniting speculations that political favor had played a role in the bidding. After a 14-year inquiry, a judicial tribunal last year accused the government minister who awarded the license of accepting payments from Mr. O’Brien, payments he vehemently denies ever making. He has denounced the tribunal as a sham and has been accused of using his investments in the Irish media to squelch coverage of it, accusations he has described as “malicious and simply not true.” Amid the storm, Mr. O’Brien sold Esat in 2000, leaving him at 41 with a few hundred million in the bank and “bored out of my mind.” He saw an ad for the sale of a mobile license in Jamaica, picked up a phone in a Dublin pub, bid $47.5 million and won, opening the door to a telecom enterprise spanning the Caribbean and South Pacific. Forbes magazine ranks him 254th on its list of the world’s billionaires, with an estimated $4.2 billion. He walks a fine line in Haiti, where his take-charge manner and ability to push projects forward highlight government ineffectuality and weakness. Digicel, for instance, has put up street signs in parts of Port-au-Prince, serving as reminders of the company’s role in public life as much as guides for navigating the city. Most mornings, people crowd around the reception desk of Digicel’s office building, not to complain about the firm’s services but to see the mayor and other city officials whose offices are on the sixth floor since the earthquake. The company provides the space rent-free, Mayor Jean-Yves Jason said, and gave the city computers and furniture. “We have plans to build a new city hall in downtown Port-au-Prince, but we are so comfortable here it is easy to delay,” Mr. Jason joked.
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The mayor conceded that the arrangement has left the city vulnerable to charges of conflicts of interest and favoritism. Mr. Jason said, for example, he was having trouble getting another Haitian telecom company to pay its taxes. “We can’t really go after them publicly, though, because they are going to claim we’re aligned with Digicel, their competitor.” Mr. Jason said the city could not have functioned without Digicel’s help in the early days after the earthquake. The company prepaid its taxes, which allowed the city to make its payroll and other payments, and paid for dump trucks and tractors that were used to remove rubble and clear spaces. Digicel does not always get its way. It would like, for instance, to increase its role in the redevelopment of downtown Port-au-Prince around the iconic Iron Market, which Mr. O’Brien rebuilt with $16.5 million of his own money after the earthquake. But so far, he has been unable to get the necessary government approvals to move forward and redevelop parts of downtown. “We’re getting the slow no,” he said. There are other challenges. In an interview in New York after attending the Clinton Global Initiative’s meeting in September, Mr. O’Brien spoke enthusiastically about plans by Haiti’s president, Michel Martelly, to finance his program to provide free primary school education to all Haitian children with fees on cellphone calls and remittances. Mr. O’Brien said that despite opposition from his senior management, who knew the charges would be unpopular with customers, he regarded them as an innovative means of raising needed revenue and a promising sign of government resolve. Two months later, word broke that $26 million in the new National Fund for Education was missing. “I’ve spoken with President Martelly about this, and there will be an audit,” Mr. O’Brien said. “I will make it my business that it will be audited, one way or the other.”

The Associated Press
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Haiti's biggest employer has named a new chief executive to run Digicel, the mobile phone company announced Wednesday. The Jamaica-based private company is bringing in Damian Blackburn to replace Maarten Boute, who will be leaving in March to spend more time with his family, Digicel spokeswoman Antonia Graham said. Boute added in an email message that he was going "to do a deep recharge of (his) batteries" as he and his wife await the birth of their second child. The new head, Blackburn, recently CEO for Digicel Honduras, has more than 14 years of experience in the telecommunications industry. He will oversee operations for the company's largest market, Haiti, which accounts for about a quarter of its 11.1 million subscribers. Digicel, whose Irish CEO Denis O'Brien promoted development in Haiti before the 2010 quake, has invested $600 million in the impoverished Caribbean nation since it began work in 2006. The company's foundation has also done charitable work such as building schools and helping with other infrastructure projects. In recent months, the company erected street signs in the capital and road signs in the countryside and last year spent $18 million to renovate the historic Iron Market damaged in the quake. In November, Digicel and Marriott International announced plans to build a $45 million, 173-room hotel in Port-au-Prince. The hotel is slated to open in 2014. Digicel's competitors include Voila and Natcom, a joint venture created last year between Vietnam's Viettel and the Haitian government to replace the state-run Teleco.

Guardian
By Francis West
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In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Twitter was spontaneously used by response teams to share information and images, gather donations for the relief effort and even to indicate isolated outbreaks of cholera. A recent report in the American Journal of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine subsequently found that systematically using social media helped track the spread of cholera much more quickly than existing mechanisms. Since Haiti, mobile phone-based humanitarian projects have proliferated, piggybacking on the rapid increase in mobile subscriptions in the developing world – now estimated at 77.8 per 100 inhabitants. With very few of these 'mobile for good' projects ever reaching scale, it is hardly surprising that a consensus now exists on the need for greater co-ordination of these initiatives to unlock their full potential. New research funded by Save the Children and the Vodafone Foundation – Mobile Technology in Emergencies –sets out how this might be achieved by governments, civil society organisations and the private sector working in partnership. In order to realise the full potential of mobile phone technology to assist disaster-affected populations there are three key challenges that must be addressed: accountability, preparedness and collaboration.
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Putting affected communities at the centre of an intervention is common aim in the humanitarian field. But used effectively, mobile phones really can do just that, allowing the flow of real-time information from those marginalised in times of emergency – including their most pressing needs. This information can be used to shape the response, which can then be monitored through feedback and complaint mechanisms. For example, the Middle Eastern Souktel mobile platform offers humanitarian agencies such as OCHA and the IFRC the AidLink surveys service that consists of an SMS poll of target communities, the results of which can be viewed immediately. There are undeniable challenges to this model, not least limitations in network access and mobile ownership that might obstruct the most vulnerable from communicating their needs during an emergency. To mitigate this risk, our report recommends that mobile phone companies prioritise network coverage for the most remote areas in the midst of emergencies, and that governments incorporate the restoration of those networks into the first-phase of their disaster response. Humanitarian agencies are encouraged to get to grips with traditional communication pathways within communities, and to take every measure necessary to ensure the most vulnerable in society are included in two-way communication using mobile technology.
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Mobile technology is not a silver bullet for the complex challenges faced by emergency response teams. The power of this technology is instant communication that gets the right information to the people that need it at the appropriate time. This implies a horizontal organisational structure with staff empowered to make quick decisions. Without sufficient training and education for humanitarian staff in who to contact, how to use mobile phones effectively, and to filter through the mass of information, this technology could actually result in a fragmented and incoherent emergency response.
Simple steps, such as agencies conducting surveys of their staff's competence in using mobile phones in disaster-prone countries, can avoid this. To fill any gaps in knowledge, the private sector should design training programmes for humanitarian staff that explain the multiple functions that mobiles can serve during emergencies. Governments too can play a significant part by running simulation exercises with both mobile operators and NGOs to enhance each sector's understanding of their roles and responsibilities at the onset of a crisis.
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Cash transfers during emergencies have been a pivotal part of Save the Children's work in recent years, with $37m (£23m) being distributed in Pakistan alone. Had there been agreements in place with private sector network providers, our staff on the ground feel that mobile phones could have been used to reach thousands of people within an hour, significantly enhancing the cash transfer programme. This is why partnerships between governments, NGOs and the private sector should be placed firmly at the centre of disaster preparation and emergency response. The signing of memorandums of understanding between relevant organisations on issues such as temporary reductions in service charges for mobile cash transfer would go a long way to enhancing the effectiveness of integrated responses. Expanding this mobile phone strategy in emergencies depends on accountability, preparedness and collaboration and essentially reflects the old adage that people and process – as well as technology – are fundamental to any successful project. What this means for development and humanitarian assistance is that people's lives won't improve just because they have a shiny new phone. Structural obstacles will persist – for instance in parts of northern India where, rather than being empowered by mobile phones, women have been prevented from using them. Mobile technology can be a catalyst that enables a process of change, but ultimately that change will depend on the people who hold those phones and the rules and institutions that govern them. Save the Children aims to make sure this change happens in emergency situations by field testing the approach outlined in our report and equipping staff with a 'mobiles in emergencies universal resource pack' to ensure they understand the capability, potential and limitations of mobile phones. Francis West is senior private sector adviser for Save the Children.

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