Mobile Money: IT for Tackling Global Poverty?

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Did you know that 2.5 billion people in the world are without bank accounts?

For many people in developing countries, it is simply too expensive to maintain a traditional brick-and-mortar bank account or the distance to a bank or ATM is too far to travel. This translates into greater economic insecurity for the people who need it most.

safaricomYou also may not have known that 2 billion of these people now have access to a cell phone, and that new mobile banking technologies are allowing millions of first-time customers in developing countries to start banking every year.

These new “mobile money” technologies are one of the most promising and talked about innovations in global development. They allow users to instantly and cheaply send money to family members and friends in need, and to receive wages and pay bills with greater ease.

I believe that this technology could redefine what it means to be poor by providing basic financial services to people who would otherwise not have access to them. You can learn more about mobile money in a great new motion graphics video from Brookings.

Watch it now:

Read the related report from the Brookings Blum Roundtable »

In Kenya, where two-thirds of the population live on less than $2 a day, mobile money is now ubiquitous and has enjoyed outstanding adoption rates among low-income customers. Early evidence indicates it is already changing lives. For Safaricom, the leading provider of the service in Kenya, mobile money—or M-Pesa, as its product is called—has contributed directly to the company’s bottom line, while strengthening its market share.

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Mobile phone operators are now tripping over each other to roll out similar services in other developing countries, from Afghanistan to Zambia. Intuitively, we would expect these to match, if not better, M-Pesa’s record of success by learning from M-Pesa’s experiences. So far that hasn’t happened. While a number of offerings in different countries are now taking root, none have so far matched the speed and scale of M-Pesa in Kenya. Others have failed miserably.

The video above chronicles M-Pesa’s pioneering story in Kenya and delves into the question of why its success has not been easily replicated elsewhere. We discussed this and other technological innovations for development last year at the Brookings Blum Roundtable—a high-level conference held each summer to discuss solutions to global poverty.

To read more about the challenges of replicating M-Pesa, and the propagation of other innovations in the developing world, please read the 2012 Conference Report.

green revolutionThe last century has witnessed dramatic global improvements in the quality of life. Many of these improvements can be attributed to the discovery and spread of new technologies and ideas, ranging from vaccines and antibiotics, to improved hygiene, to the agricultural reforms of the Green Revolution. Today there is growing excitement about a new set of technologies that could further improve the lives of poor people around the world.

Mobile technology is giving poor people the capacity to use their cell phones to send, receive and store money. Connection technologies such as open source software have allowed people in Haiti and Pakistan to collect and analyze information about, and then respond to, violence, corruption and natural disasters. “Green growth” innovations are expanding access to electricity and increasing agricultural yields around the globe while also reducing harmful emissions.

Thanks to Laurence Chandy, The Brookings Institutio​n (global@brookings.edu)

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