Unusual industries that have been powered by USSD (Part II)

In a previous article, we took a look at 3 industries that have been able to harness USSD to reach people across Africa and in other developing regions. Here are three more unusual industries that have been powered by USSD:

Unusual industries that have been powered by USSD (Part II)
Cover image for article on unusual industries that have been powered by USSD (Part II) 

In a previous article, we took a look at 3 industries that have been able to harness USSD to reach people across Africa and in other developing regions.

If you loved that article, you’ll definitely love this follow-on of innovative ways that people are using USSD to solve problems.

Read: Unusual industries that have been powered by USSD (Part I)

Here are three more unusual industries that have been powered by USSD:

Healthcare

Healthcare in Africa is one sector in dire need of innovation. The demand for good healthcare is constantly outpaced by any kind of supply. Admittedly there are many problems affecting the healthcare value chain, and USSD technology is not capable of solving all.

However, where USSD often finds application is in the last-mile healthcare sector—getting healthcare into people’s hands. It’s only a logical conclusion: if mobile phones are already in people’s hands, putting healthcare access in mobile phones, puts it in the hands of people

Here are some innovations that have been powered by USSD in healthcare:

  • In 2021, Airtel Nigeria and Axa Mansard partnered to make insurance available to Nigerians via USSD.
  • Ghana’s NHIS also allows Ghanaians to access their national insurance via USSD access.
  • In Kenya, people who use the National Hospital Insurance Fund can use a USSD code to choose an outpatient facility to receive care.
  • Bwenzi Lathu is a fertility awareness USSD tool created by Qina Jere,a  Malawian,. It allows women to plan for or prevent pregnancy provides accurate information about family planning, thereby improving women’s health.
  • Rocket Health, a Ugandan telemedicine company allows users to access a variety of healthcare services via USSD including making requests for doctor consultations, laboratory tests, pharmacy products, and more.

Transportation

If you live in a major African city, you’re probably already familiar with ride-hailing services like Uber, Bolt, Indriver, Safeboda, Rida, and more. They all come with beautiful-looking apps and require a smartphone and internet connection to help you find a ride.

But transportation is a need for people all around the world, regardless of the kind of phone they use and the quality of their internet access. To that end, certain African companies and have taken a punt at using USSD to solve the transportation challenge:

  • Safaricom’s Little Cab targeted non-smartphone users by introducing a USSD option where users can book a taxi without using data.
  • SGR-Kenya also leverages USSD for consumers to book and purchase their train tickets through its integrated mobile money transfer system (M-pesa).

Marketing

With the massive reach USSD has across Africa, it was only a matter of time before marketers started to look at how to harness it to reach underserved audiences. While it is not the most popular medium for marketers, USSD marketing has shown tremendous potential.

In 2009, Oglivy —one of the world’s most popular advertising firms— used USSD as part of its tools for user engagement during the Carling Black Label Cup in South Africa. The cup was a marketing play that allowed everyday people to choose their football team’s starting formation.

More recently, in 2021, Zenith Bank used USSD marketing as the main tool for customer acquisition to resounding success. Combining USSD and some other digital marketing tools proved to be a remarkable success.

Parting thoughts

While USSD is old technology, it is clear that we have not completely exhausted all the ways to maximize its impact. As time goes on, we will continue to look out for impressive ways people are using USSD to provide value.

If you’re looking to build USSD applications for Android devices, check out Hover - an Android SDK that allows people to automate USSD in the background of Android applications.