Derrick Ashong, CEO and founder of Take Back the Media (pictured), described how technology is being used to unlock opportunities in developing markets and address long-standing imbalances around rewarding the content creators who have shaped the world’s cultural identity.

In the opening keynote of day two at MWC Barcelona 2024, Ashong discussed the KOLA rewards programme, a set-up in which users earn points for digital interactions that they can then trade for real-world benefits.

He pitched the approach as a means of tackling the connectivity gap affecting around 3 billion people globally who are within range of mobile networks but lack the means to access them.

“KOLA is a universal reward token that is optimised for the media and entertainment industries. It’s like frequent flier miles for fans and for creators.”

The scheme is funded by digital advertising, with each token worth around $0.23, funds Ashong explained consumers can then use to access real-world products while ensuring content creators are rewarded for their work.

Ashong said Mastercard is a key partner, helping to provide “new and innovative financial service products to more communities”, in turn ensuring “real-world value can be exploited and utilised by real people”.

For operators, KOLA can address the connectivity gap by helping people to purchase airtime. “We’ve already done the first technical integration in Nigeria to prove how that works.”

There is also the potential for KOLA to be used to purchase phones, creating a virtuous circle whereby consumers have “an opportunity to get connected, get a device” and remain connected.

He added there had previously been little incentive for big technology companies or media organisations to address the lack of access for people in developing markets, but said the worm is now turning as emerging nations are in the ascendancy at a time when traditional developed markets are entering a period of decline.

Alongside the potential business and connectivity benefits of schemes like KOLA, Ashong noted the societal gains available by bridging connectivity and coverage gaps in terms of driving multi-culturalism and inclusion.