BBC Media Action’s work in Bihar offers insights into a variety of ways partnerships can be formed that foster sustainable business models – and do so at Scale. The Shaping Demand and Practices (SDP) project has shown that creating partnerships with civil society platform-managers can encourage lasting delivery of face-to-face communication activities. For instance, BBC Media Action has licensed versions of the radio programme Khirki Mehendiwali to organizations such as Project Concern International (PCI) and the Department of Education, Government of Madhya Pradesh, for use well beyond the life-time of the SDP project and BBC Media Action’s involvement.
The national versions of Kilkari and Mobile Academy were supported for three years by a public-private consortium of partners. The Government of India covered the cost of the telecommunications connectivity and the cost of the data centre. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) funded BBC Media Action to lead the design, development and deployment of these services. The Barr Foundation supported BBC Media Action in the development of localized content, in multiple languages. USAID and BMGF supported the management and technical support of the services for 3 years, prior to them being transitioned to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW). USAID also funded BBC Media Action to support state governments in the roll-out.
Business models for mHealth products In Bihar, ground-breaking commercial deals with the leading telecom operators of India (Airtel, BSNL, Idea, Reliance, TATA and Vodafone) helped to make the services affordable and financially sustainable. They were launched as decentralized, cross-operator, short-code services, with a standard VAS revenue share business model, with vastly reduced tariffs – calls cost just 50 paisa per minute, which was a 90% reduction on standard VAS tariffs – and 99 common short-codes across all six operators were enabled, for the very first time in India. This model saw mobile operators sharing revenue with BBC Media Action and its technology platform provider, OnMobile to help cover operational costs.
When the government decided to scale Kilkari and Mobile Academy across the country, BBC Media Action redesigned its approach from a private sector business model to a toll-free enterprise model, which allowed for a much greater degree of sustainability. While the private sector business model required massive ongoing marketing costs to promote the services to ensure regular usage, partnering with the government and integrating with government data bases allowed for unprecedented scale. For example, in one year in Bihar as a paid service, Kilkari reached 160,000 families, whereas within four weeks of launch on the national platform, Kilkari reached 750,000 families. Today Kilkari reaches over 2.4 million families every week.
Given that the government was willing to cover all call costs, and women with unique mobile numbers in its database would automatically be subscribed to Kilkari, the complexities of configuring short codes and tariffs to enable subscription activation and weekly billing could be dispensed with and a much simpler toll free, long code approach could be implemented. With Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) already having pre-existing interconnect agreements for routing calls to each other’s long codes (a normal 10 digit mobile number), it was no longer necessary to negotiate agreements with multiple operators and open common short codes across operators to enable universal access (anyone from any network can call a long code on another network). The other major advantage of the government model in terms of enabling sustainability and scale was that the mHealth services could now be provided free of cost.