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In this podcast, Coffey Principal, Jonathon Ridley, reveals how mobile technology is affecting economic development projects around the world.
Ridley’s first experience with using mobile for development came about through Coffey’s management of the Financial Deepening Challenge Fund, which was involved in encouraging financial institutions and other organisations in Africa and Asia to “develop more accessible and affordable financial services for the poor.”
The most successful of these funded projects occurred in Kenya, with what became known as M-PESA ("pesa" being the Swahili word for money). This service enabled millions of subscribers to easily transfer money between mobile phone accounts.
According to Ridley, despite the original plan of developing a mobile service to link people with microfinance institutions, M-PESA’s creators quickly realised that “the real need wasn’t this linkage to microfinance institutions… the real need was to take cash out of people’s pockets, and transfer it onto an electronic platform on people’s mobiles phones.”
“If I have my mother living upcountry and I live in Nairobi, with M-PESA I can send money home. Really simple and really meeting the need…”
Since M-PESA, programs centred on the use of mobile technology have not only focused on personal banking, but also its broader use in business development.
“We all know the story of the fisherman in Tanzania who uses mobile to find the best price for his fish. [Merchants] generally have limited access to information… they are the end of a long chain and mobile in simple terms can reduce that,” Ridley says.
As infrastructure and accessibility continue to rise in the developing world, Ridley suggests the integration of mobile technology within development projects could become more commonplace.
“Maybe each development program will have a mobile or a technology element to it… It’s exciting to look for those innovative solutions, that if pursued well, can make a real difference in people’s lives.”