Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Natasha Elkington, "How mobile phone banking is empowering the poor," AlertNet/Reuters, February 13, 2009.

[Is this hype? Or is it a technological elaboration of microfinance? Are the people being helped really the poor? -jlt]


Two years ago, a new phenomenon hit Kenya that allows money to be transferred between people using text messaging called M-PESA (pesa means money in Swahili).

This system, known as "branchless banking", lets people set up remote bank accounts that are accessed through their mobile phone or other technology.

It's a financial revolution that has taken Kenya by storm and will probably do the same across the rest of the continent by giving Africa's poor access to financial services for the first time. Africa has seen phenomenal growth in mobile phone subscribers - with 278 million users by the end of 2007, according to Britain's Department for International Development (DFID).

M-PESA, which was set up by Vodaphone and funded through DFID, now has 5 million users in Kenya, more than all the bank accounts. It is being expanded to support salary payments, bill payments and social benefit payments.

  "A rapid increase in access to financial services could lift millions out of poverty and help change their lives forever."
Douglas Alexander
International Development Secretary

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