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How Premise is crowdsourcing economic data in developing countries

I have to tell you all about a company that I just discovered called Premise. I think it’s incredible what they’re doing and a perfect example of mobile (smartphones) eating the world.

The problem that Premise is solving is that of developing-world economic data being both not timely enough and not all that accurate/granular. This is important, because lots of big organizations – ranging from governments to private companies – are making funding and investment decisions based on this inadequate information.

So here’s what Premise did:

They put smartphones into the hands of the people who are on the ground in these places. They paid them meaningful amounts of money (relative to local wages). And they developed a technology platform that could index and analyze the millions of local observations being sent in. So far they have paid out over $3 million to their contributors located across 34 countries.

As an example: Premise has developed food price indices. And the data comes directly from locals physically going to the market on a regular basis (which most would do anyways) and snapping photos of the food + prices. This allows Premise to provide basically realtime pricing data. (There are checks and balances to ensure data integrity.)

Why does this matter? 

Because it allows Premise, for instance, to figure out exactly what happens to food staple pricing when something like an Ebola epidemic hits:

“Premise started tracking food prices in Monrovia on September 8, and throughout the month we observed upward pressure on prices (our Liberia indices and data are freely available at data.premise.com). The price of rice, Liberia’s primary food staple, increased 12% during September. Moreover, we saw significant price differences across the city. Prices in neighborhoods with the most exposure to Ebola were 8-12% higher on average than relatively unaffected neighborhoods. As the disease tore through the city, market sellers avoided the worst-hit areas and trade declined.”

This is powerful information and just one example of what Premise is doing. Obviously this data is also of use to for-profit companies, which is how the company has managed to raise over $66 million in VC funding. But I think there will also be big benefits for these developing countries. As the saying goes, you make what you measure.

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