Social grand challenges (e.g., poverty alleviation; access to health care), particularly in emerging economies, are often assumed to require big solutions by big governments or philanthropic aid by non-profit agencies and foundations. We propose to challenge this mainstream view by conducting a deep dive into the emergence of global mobile money industry, which has provided unprecedented financial access for the unbanked (and poorest) population in the world.
By gathering and analyzing rich longitudinal data across multiple countries and examining the role of for-profit/non-profit organizations and public agencies in the emergence and diffusion of mobile money, we hope to provide empirical support for two main premises. First, to be truly sustainable and scalable, solutions to social grand challenges require enterprising individuals and firms to engage in win-win trade relationships that provide them their livelihoods and enable the focal customer to receive timely, quality, and cost-effective products and services. Second, innovative solutions to grand challenges do not simply emerge through omniscient social planning. Rather, they require a trial-and-error process where all actors who share this purpose have to engage in experimentation and learning by doing. This is because during the nascent stages, creating robust solutions such as mobile money requires for-profit, non-profit, and public actors to navigate through fundamental uncertainty and build relevant knowledge, market infrastructure, and institutions.
The insights of our study will help inform academics, policymakers, and practitioners on processes through which sustainable solutions to social grand challenges emerge as well as the socio-economic benefits to embracing experimentation in a collaborative manner. These insights can also accelerate the emergence and diffusion of solutions to other grand challenges, including reduction of post-harvest loss and access to health care in emerging economies.