Weekly Review May 2 – 6


This week’s Weekly Review contains articles on mobile technology in emerging markets. Articles include mobile money success stories, challenges, and ways to develop the industry by offering more services, addressing key issues, and expanding access to Internet.  
Before the articles, we’d like to acknowledge the Sankalp Forum in Mumbai, India that ended today. Working to enable the flow of capital between impact investors and social entrepreneurs, Sankalp Forum focuses on five high impact sectors. We’re especially interested in the Technology for Development sector, where they touch on our focus areas of mobile technology and alternative energy. Beyond Profit, whose articles regularly make the Weekly Review, is live tweeting from the conference. Two of our favorite tweets from @beyondprofit are: “’The rural economy will be run by renewable energy.’ #SankalpForum and “Fact: There are over 5 billion phones in the world. #SankalpForum.” Check out the hashtag for more tweets straight from Mumbai.
From walkie-talkies to mobile banking by Annalise Briggs
In addition to M-Pesa’s mobile money success in Kenya, we see successful mobile money applications in Latin America and throughout Africa from our portfolio companies Frogtek and SlimTrader, respectively. Now, there are mobile money success stories in Haiti, too, a place that so desperately needs investment in development. Mercy Corps has partnered with mobile operator Viola and the Haitian bank Unibank to offer mobile wallets to Haitians. Mercy Corps provided 20,000 Haitian families with stipends and delivered the cash via mobile phones. Like a debit card, the money is deposited securely via SMS to their account number. This technology revolutionizes the way Haitians do business. Now entrepreneurs like Morse Alexis can take payments in their local shops via mobile phone. This means that Haitians can save and transfer money securely.
Happy Days at G-Ghana by Ben Cole, Google Africa
The Google Africa team held their second annual G-Ghana event in Accra, the capital of Ghana. Google hosts the event, allowing local attendants to “learn, innovate and meet others to create applications and businesses that help build a vibrant relevant Internet ecosystem in Africa.” The potential for adoption is there, and will be realized with help from the exponentially fast adoption of mobile phones and the increasing efforts to electrify rural Africa. Google answers questions about its products, like the App Engine, to help local technology enthusiasts provide products and services in the area. Another impressive move from Google is their new platform, Google Trader, that can provide “Africa-centric classifieds” on mobile web and, more importantly, over SMS.
100% Broadband for Africa” by Alan Knott-Craig
Africans have embraced mobile technology; just consider the record high adoption rates. The adoption of mobile phones has made life more efficient and productive in Africa, especially through the use of mobile money for both individuals and small businesses. To go one step further and “make the Internet universally accessible” by way of wireless, mobile access, or even private servers, will stimulate further economic growth creating more jobs and more opportunity for citizens. Internet will allow entrepreneurs to access resources like Google’s App Engine to create more goods and services for the BoP. Furthermore, universal Internet will also increase the accessibility of basic services and political governance. Interestingly, the Knott-Craig points out:  “It is no coincidence that four of the top five African countries ranked according to broadband penetration have recently experienced political revolution:  Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco.” 
Despite the mobile money success stories, there are challenges and complexities for mobile payment systems. A report from PlaNet Finance and Oliver Wyman studied two pilot mobile money programs, and presented what business models worked for the projects. However, to ensure the continued success and growth of the mobile money industry, Next Billion proposes three issues that must be addressed:  regulation, competition, and interoperability. First, banks and consumers alike will be seeking regulatory oversight to guarantee deposits. Second, we know that there is growing competition in the industry:  an example is SlimTrader, the newest addition to our portfolio. Finally, interoperability means that mobile payment systems must be compatible and transferable. Just like you want to be able to call your friends on different mobile phone networks, you need to be able to pay people on different mobile payment networks as well.  If we can address these three issues, then mobile payment systems will continue to grow in their success.