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Mobile Money’s Innovation and Impact Isn’t Targeted at Women… Yet

By Wayan Vota on March 16, 2011

According to Women & Mobile: A Global Opportunity (PDF), authored by Vital Wave Consulting and sponsored by the GSMA Development Fund and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, the 73% of women in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia who do not have a mobile phone represent $13 billion per year in incremental revenue for mobile telephony operators.

Women are the face of growth for the mobile industry in the developing world – 66% of all new mobile subscribers will be women – and there is a huge untapped potential for business interests and for social impact.

But will mobile money be the killer app to drive mobile phone adoption by women?

This is the question we put to Brooke Partridge, CEO of Vital Wave Consulting and Menekse Gencer, founder of mPay Connect in our recent Technology Salon in San Francisco. (Sign up to be invited to future Salons). With their input, we came to several interesting conclusions around mobile money and women empowerment:

Mobile Money is Many Things

Terms like mobile money, mPayments, and M-PESA, get tossed around without any real understanding of the differences in systems and outcomes. To help our understanding of these concepts, mPay Connect made great presentations on mobile money, and we’re going to steal one, key slide:

mobile money definition
Mobile money is really mobile financial services, and like traditional financial services, has several parts – mobile payments where money is moved from one account to another, mobile microfinance where money is loaned and expected to be repaid, and mobile banking where money is kept as a safe repository of wealth.

As you can read in The Mobile Money Movement, mobile money has many benefits, from greater money security to more transparent transactions, but there are two key benefits that we focused on in the Salon.

  1. Lowering transaction costs: mPay Connect research shows M-PESA saves 3 hours per day for every Kenyan subscriber in reduced shoe leather costs – the cost of walking money from place to place. If we multiply 3 hours per day, by 13.2 million subscribers, by 365 days, that’s 14.4 BILLION hours saved per year. Add in the average wage per hour in Kenya, and the time savings start to make you gasp in savings shock.
  2. Increasing business legitimacy: Each business that uses mobile money builds a history of financial activity that they can use for loans, factoring, and even inventory control. It also allows governments to license businesses as such and better estimate and collect taxes. In fact, mobile financial services usually are not creating financial services – many of these systems existed informally through local networks – mobile money is formalizing them and bringing them into the measurable economy.

While there isn’t any objective research yet on mobile money directly impacting GDP, you can start to sense the change it brings to an economy.

Mobile Money Involves Many Actors

While we often think of M-PESA as the poster child of mobile money, there are other mobile money systems. Even in East Africa there are payment systems by Bharti Airtel, Orange, and MTN. G-Cash in the Philippines is even older and larger than M-PESA, and other players besides mobile line operators smell the mobile money to be made.

In India, banks and mobile telcos are joining forces, while in Bangladesh, BRAC and Grameen Phone have joined to create B-cash, which is promising to be network neutral – that is allow any payment using any mobile operator’s system. Overall, there is real convergence – in both payment systems and in the industries that want to participate in them. Recently in Nigeria, 16 companies were given a provisional license to do mobile payments and banking: only 6 are linked to banks and only 1 to a mobile operator (MTN).

Today’s model, where mobile phone companies dominate, is just a snapshot in time.

Mobile Money Isn’t Targeted at Women… Yet

Even with all that excitement, we don’t see handsets, subscriber plans, or even special services targeted at women in Africa like we do in Asia. Mobile operators in Africa say they are growing too fast to target women – they can barely keep up with their existing new customer influx, regardless of gender. While there is truth to that, there are also cultural issues.

In many patriarchal societies, men control the use and ownership of mobile phones. Mobile technology can be seen as a threat to traditional power dynamics and social norms. There are some hints of change – it is a security line for girls to go away to school as they can be checked on at any time. Especially around health, it’s usage as a communications tool can be deemed critical for family well being..

Building on the examples in Examining the Intersections Between mHealth and Mobile Money, mPayments can be interesting way to free women for city life – imagine dowries paid in airtime vs. livestock or payroll and government benefits direct to handsets vs. husband’s hands. Conditional cash now paid at hospital visits could be used as incentives for other positive behavior change, like family planning and career advancement.

Now make your own positive behavior change for career advancement – sign up to be invited to future Technology Salons – so you can participate in discussions like this first-hand.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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