Not too long ago, in 2007, Vodafone and Safaricom (Kenya’s largest mobile network operator) launched mPesa – a money transaction service for the unbanked. mPesa, allowed for easy transferring of money from one part of Kenya to another by just using a mobile phone. Mobile phones, devices used for sending text messages and calls, were now facilitating complex financial transactions, saving users an incredible amount of time and effort. A study suggested that incomes increased by 5-30 percent for all Kenyan households that adopted mPesa. To date, 17 million Kenyans use mPesa, which results in the transfer of funds equivalent to about 25 percent of Kenya’s GDP. This mobile banking solution created a new wave in the way the world approached the financial inclusion challenge.

Mobile technology is not just connecting the world, it is changing it.

Mobile broadband is the fastest growing tool in Information, Communication and Technology (ICT), creating impact quicker than any other previous technology. According to the United Nation’s International Telecommunication Union, mobile penetration rates are almost equal to the world’s population with an 89 percent penetration rate in developing countries. Today over six billion people have access to mobile phones – more than the number of people who have access to toilets. Affordable mobile phones are easily available and have become a primary mode of communication. Leveraging this wide outreach of mobile technology, a growing number of social innovations are creating change by providing services in critical need sectors to impoverished communities across the developing world.

mPesa is one such innovation creating social and economic change by banking the unbanked. Over the years, mobile money for the unbanked has emerged as a tool to solve the challenge of financial inclusion for low-income populations. For example, bKash, a joint venture between BRAC Bank Limited, Bangladesh and Money in Motion LLC, USA, is offering an affordable and convenient banking solution to the poor, by utilizing mobile phones as a means of sorting and transferring money. bKash enables a customer to send, receive and pay money from their mobile phones. Backed by the International Finance Corporation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, bKash is supporting over 16.5 million customers and 70 million monthly transactions in Bangladesh.

Along with financial inclusion, in an attempt to serve the underserved, social innovators have developed other promising solutions using mobile phones especially in sectors like health, education and agriculture. For example, Awaaz.De, which literally means ‘give your voice’, is an Indian Social Enterprise that helps remote and disconnected communities communicate in local languages through ‘Streams’ – a group voice messaging application that delivers messages through regular phone calls. Awaaz.De products have reached farmers with agricultural advice; deepened financial services by improving borrower literacy, retention and collections; improved the health of rural patients by connecting doctors; and bettered the quality of education and training programs in remote areas. Further, the data gathered by Awaaz.De has been very useful for other stakeholders including small and medium enterprises, government agencies and research groups, to create behavioral change in communities. To date, 400,000 unique callers in 13 Indian states and five countries have benefitted from using Awaaz.De services.

mPesa, bKash and Awaaz.De are among the many other inspiring solutions that are harnessing the potential of mobile technology to create social impact. Mobile-based solutions today are not only enabling the poor with access to information and services but also providing a platform for responsible citizenship. While there is a long way to go for connecting and serving the underdeveloped, marrying mobile technology with social causes has been a transformative step in tackling one of the biggest contributing factors to poverty – Isolation.

Slum dwellers are alerted about water supply,
Farmers are able to plan their produce better,
Quality healthcare is provided in the remotest of areas,
Urban poor migrants are able to send money back home,
Disaster prone areas are better informed about weather conditions,
Women are able to raise an immediate alert for protection against domestic violence or rape
All at a click of a button.


By Noopur Desai
Research and Programs, Shujog