What We’ve Been Reading: April 4th, 2014

This week on What We’ve Been Reading, we’re looking at some of the major breakthroughs and effective tools for international development, with a focus on mobile technology and its importance.

              According to Devex, there are six major global development innovations that can change the scope and effectiveness of different areas of development in the future. One example is the rise of solar technology, which offers a cleaner and longer-lasting fuel and energy source than the commonly used kerosene in Africa and Asia. Once a very expensive fuel source, advancements in technology have lowered the cost of solar power and have become more accessible to low-income areas in developing countries. Other tools that are predicted to be incredibly useful in the future are drones, which can be useful in aid delivery after natural disasters and emergencies, and Google Glass, which can be used for aid workers as IDs in more danger-prone areas of the world. 3D printers also have a lot of promise in the possibility of making cheaper and more accessible medical and farming devices and tools, and remote sensors offer small-scale farmers and governments the ability to forecast agricultural yields and develop their food security plan as a result. Last but not least, mobile technology has become an incredibly useful tool for streamlining processes and improving operations and accessibility in many areas including finance, agriculture, and health, and mobile services are only predicted to increase in capabilities in the future.

                Mobile money and banking in particular have become very popular all over the world, with developed and developing countries both lauding the ease and accessibility of doing bank transactions on their mobile phone. In India, mobile money is useful for domestic money remittances, paying bills, and depositing or withdrawing money from one’s account. For a small business owner in the country, mobile banking can be invaluable in recording and tracking payments, costs, revenues, and other financial aspects of running a business. The slow growth of the rural banking sector has led to the use of mobile financial services for those in rural areas, increasing the depth and level of financial inclusion in India. And it isn’t just useful for business owners and those in rural areas either; while two-thirds of retail spending in India is still done through cash, it is possible that mobile money will replace cash transactions with micro-transactions as the use of mobile banking spreads across the country.

                Mobile banking first became widely known after many years of implementation and success in Kenya, and while the popularity and effectiveness of banking is now being noticed in countries like India, other countries in Africa are failing to repeat the same successes that Kenya had. The issue has been to bring together all the different groups interested in the venture and get to an agreement. Unsurprisingly,  the stakeholders, the government, the private sector involved, the banks, and the local community all have different ideas and goals for what they hope mobile money and banking will achieve, and reconciling all of their goals with one another have been difficult. Several African coutnries’ governments believe that having a mobile payments make up a good portion of the payments process is too risky to support, and that if the Kenyan government had not been the prototype country for mobile money and knew about all the possible downsides, the mobile banking system would not have become so effective. Others have argued against this claim, saying that banks are the ones that have become more reluctant to take on the risks, and now other groups say that the political system and disorganization of the banking and governmental sector in these countries have led to the inability for citizens to gain access to mobile banking. The only conclusion to create from these observations is that there cannot be a “one size fits all” scheme when it comes to mobile banking in countries; the strategy must be flexible to the demands and needs of its clients and its partners. Through planning and coordination with other banks and organizations, mobile banking and services can become an effective development tool in Africa and the rest of the world.