The Mobile World Congress has ended, but the excitement generated by discussions of helping the poor through mobile phones remains high. For those of us working in international development, it was heartening to see this issue no longer relegated to “corner discussions” or side conversations in the hallways between sessions. As noted by Heather Thorne, Grameen Foundation’s Vice President for Information Solutions, this time the valuable role of mobile phones in global development was front and center. Telecom operators and others are now seeing the opportunities for developing products and services for the poor.
One highlight for Grameen Foundation was the announcement of our collaboration with MTN Uganda and CGAP to research and develop mobile financial products for the poor. The need is clear: 2.7 billion people – most of whom live in developing countries – still do not have a bank account. This is largely because many low-income communities are underserved by financial institutions, which typically offer products that are more suitable for higher-income clientele.
Though the growing number of mobile money services is helping to address the access issue, we still need products that are appropriate for low-income consumers. Our goal with this new initiative is to drive innovation that can yield a full array of services that are affordable and accessible for poor clients, while being commercially viable for the financial service providers involved.