Kenyan sin­gle mothers, wid­ows use mo­bile money to es­cape poverty

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

NAIROBI:

Al­most 200,000 Kenyan house­holds, many headed by poor, ru­ral women, have lifted them­selves out of poverty us­ing mo­bile money ser­vices, ex­perts said on Thurs­day, call­ing for the tech­nol­ogy to be in­tro­duced in other de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

The im­pact was most dra­matic among sin­gle mothers who used M-Pesa, a text mes­sage-based mo­bile pay­ment sys­tem, af­ter switch­ing from farm­ing to business and re­tail sales, the jour­nal Sci­ence found. “What we saw over six years was im­pres­sive,” Tavneet Suri, as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of Ap­plied Eco­nomics at the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, said in a state­ment.

“When M-Pesa came to an area, women shifted their oc­cu­pa­tions and their sav­ings went up.”

The ex­pan­sion of M-Pesa, which is used in vir­tu­ally ev­ery Kenyan home, lifted 194,000 house­holds-or two per­cent of house­holds na­tion­wide-above the poverty line in six years, the study found. It pro­vides fur­ther ev­i­dence that mo­bile phone tech­nol­ogy can help to bring fi­nan­cial ser­vices to the 80 per­cent of African women who do not have a bank ac­count and bol­ster growth of the world’s poor­est con­ti­nent.

M-Pesa is a cheap way of send­ing, re­ceiv­ing and sav­ing money via more than 110,000 lo­cal agents, of­ten op­er­at­ing out of tiny kiosks in re­mote parts of Kenya.

It gives peo­ple who would other­wise be un­able to ac­cess tra­di­tional fi­nan­cial ser­vices a sim­ple, re­li­able and fast way of mov­ing and sav­ing money. Mo­bile money’s im­pact on the lives of poor women was one of the most ex­cit­ing as­pects of the study, ex­perts said, as pol­i­cy­mak­ers have strug­gled to un­der­stand what kinds of projects are most ef­fec­tive at re­duc­ing poverty.

Re­searchers found that the num­ber of fe­male-headed house­holds liv­ing in extreme poverty fell by 22 per­cent within a 1 kilo­me­tre ra­dius of an area where six new M-Pesa agents opened be­tween 2008 and 2010. —Reuters

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