Since M-PESA was introduced in Kenya seven years ago, blogs and conference sessions have devoted more and more space to the potential of mobile money as an enabling technology for development. Suddenly, making banking services available to the unbanked no longer seems to be so urgent, if people can save and pay their bills by phone.
M-PESA, a product of the Kenyan mobile phone service Safaricom and the British multinational communications company Vodaphone, permits users to transfer money via text messages on their mobile phones. They don’t even need to have smartphones to make use of the system. M-PESA has grown so rapidly that it now accounts for 40 percent of Kenya’s $45 billion GDP.
The M-PESA system, and its lookalikes around the world, constitutes one of the biggest advances in design for the bottom of the pyramid in many years. As mobile money systems are adopted across the Global South, market-based solutions to poverty will become increasingly easy, enabling payments on time and collections for businesses serving $2-a-day customers.
In a recent post on NextBillion, “Wireless Currency, Endless Possibility: Seven promising mobile money projects to emerge from BRAC’s challenge,” Tasmia Rahman and Paroma Afsara Husain of BRAC write about the surge of innovation in mobile money technology in Bangladesh, where the organization’s pilot project, bKash, has acquired nearly 14 million users in the three years since its founding. As the authors write, “Bangladesh now boasts the fastest growing mobile money market in the world.”
Meanwhile, M-PESA has expanded from its base in Kenya to Tanzania, Afghanistan, South Africa, India, Romania, Mozambique, Lesotho, Egypt, and other countries.