The largest payment platform on Earth can reach 2 billion people - so why haven’t you heard of it?

Jana, a cell-phone payment service which is very popular in the developing world, allows you to remotely top off a particular user’s prepaid phone credit.  This works on all prepaid carriers who are tied into the platform, which at recent count equals ~2 billion people.

Map of Jana Reach

Why would you want to top off someone else’s cell credits?  Well in addition to being a really nice guy, maybe you are interested in performing marketing research on users in a particular country?  Or by directly giving them a ‘discount’ when they buy your product in a store (the store will issue a Jana ID on the receipt which can be redeemed for credit).

His ultimate goal for Jana, he says, is to divert a significant chunk of the $200 billion that consumer-goods companies spend on market research in the developing world into consumers’ pockets. These firms are betting that a consumer just coming into the middle class is going to be worth a lot of money over the course of her lifetime. Companies like Unilever, which makes most of its money in emerging markets, want a service that can connect them with customers all the way from asking them questions in marketing surveys to giving them coupons to following up with them after they buy.

“We have built a technology that can add value to lives and increase disposable income, and ultimately the goal is to have users cut their mobile spend in half,” says Eagle. For people in the developing world who are spending a tenth of their income on mobile service, that represents a 5% raise—good both for them, and for the companies that sell to them.

Jana’s obvious (and touted) angle is marketing research (they talk a lot about targeting your product the fast-growing middle class)… but I’m more interested in how this platform could be leveraged by NGOs and other development organisations to look at all social groups, including the less-privileged. 

Cell phones in developing countries often reach a lot farther than other services, like water, sanitation, health care, access to banking, etc.  I could imagine NGOs running surveys on any number of topics to gauge the need or impact of a particular project.  Running incentivized education campaigns could also be very interesting (e.g. learn about malaria prevention and earn a free jana credit).

Fascinating stuff…

Read the full article over at Quartz.