Make Poverty History? Let's Use Technology...

Written by Liz Galpin Tuesday, 19 July 2011 23:05
Rate this item
(2 votes)

We have the technology to do SO much in developing markets, and this technology is slowly being put to good use to make a difference. Back in the days when M-PESA was being written, we were on the edge of technology (the bleeding edge we were always joking about), but no longer so. At the time, integrating into Safaricom’s SMSC and Airtime system, writing an app that could run on the SIM card so that each customer could easily access the app as soon as their mobile was switched on, processing transactions and waiting for delivery acknowledgements before the transactions could be marked as complete – these were cool things to be doing in those pioneering days.

Not so any more – tools and products are now available off the shelf, skill sets have evolved so that many capable programmers now have relevant skills under their belt, and there are more companies writing ‘mobile money software’ to even start mentioning them.

The success story of M-PESA in Kenya is so well documented and researched that I hardly need add anything about that in my blog. Mobile money success stories outside of Kenya – these continue to make good ground, but it’s becoming clear to everybody that ‘mobile money’ isn’t easy. It’s a tricky thing to get right. But, in Kenya, everyone is out to leverage mobile money. It takes little explanation to ‘sell’ the concept of using a handset to record information out in the field, to link this to a mobile payment or disbursement, and everyone can see that technically, systems to enrich peoples’ lives can be written with relative ease. Making the implementation of those systems work – now that is a different kettle of fish. I recently asked Oscar in Kenya to review a white paper I’d written about M-PESA’s success, and the points he made (incredibly well) on the critical success factors were as follows :

1.    Simplicity – user interface, availability on all phones and the process of registration/use
2.       Demand driven – the normal Kenyan just wanted to use it!!
3.       MNO led – this gave Safaricom a head start over anyone else
4.       Transaction volume – the R&D as Mpesa developed was worth it as adequate transactions were generated at each point
5.       Agency network – this was the biggest reason for their success over the rest of the MNO’s here
6.       Targeting the unbanked – financial inclusion was finally achieved…now other can leverage on getting documentary records of the users’ credit worth (that’s the headache for financial institutions)
7.       Culture – Kenyans take to a successful initiative in droves…drink the same beer, smoke the same cigarette, buy the same detergent, long as they have faith in it.

We’re trying to look further afield than Kenya when implementing our agricultural solutions, but we always come back to the way in which the Kenyans will warm to a concept, and the fact that the roll-out of the products are so much easier in Kenya, because of their well-established use of mobile money, particularly among the so-called underbanked, their entrepreneurial nature and the way in which they can envision the use of technology as a solution.
But I digress – ‘make poverty history’ – how my blood used to boil when the slogans and concerts were everywhere. People thinking that you could just throw money at a problem, and that would solve everything. But….throwing money at pragmatic solutions, using technology which is now readily available and in use, to make use of ways and means of addressing that problem – now that works. As long as the money is being spent correctly…….

At PAYG, we’re providing solutions which give farmers access to cash, rather than them having to wait for their harvest payments to be made. We’re facilitating disbursements of products, rather than loans, and encouraging savings for essential items which will help them irrigate through the dry seasons, as well as to ensure that they are not over-stocked on livestock during those dry periods. The technology to do this is pretty straightforward (now), farmers have mobile phones, mobile money is providing an alternative to ‘cash under the mattress’. All of these things will in time help to ‘make poverty history’, but it won’t be quick, it won’t be easy and it will require targeted aid, because folk out in these countries don’t have the money to pay for these systems up-front. They are happy to agree to share any revenues that may come out of incentives, but it’s the aid that will make the difference and enable these solutions to be implemented quickly.  I go back to Oscar’s point about Culture. Kenyans take to a successful initiative in droves. That’s what we need. Successful initiatives that help the farmers. This in turn helps them cope with climate variations, increase food production, and ultimately lead to ‘making poverty history’. After all, starvation has to be the ultimate form of poverty, doesn’t it? Closely followed by health and welfare, which, incidentally can also benefit enormously from mobile technology…. 

Liz is founder of PAYG Solutions and is the author of the recently published, Will There Ever Be Another MPESA?

Last modified on Wednesday, 20 July 2011 07:43

Add comment