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Less than a month until the anniversary of the earthquake that devastated the Haitian capital, 1.3 million still live in tents, clean water remains an issue with cholera rapidly spreading, and millions of cubic meters of debris litter the streets, hampering rebuilding efforts. But Haiti was hardly in great shape before the earthquake. Despite years of assistance, 80% of its population was living under the poverty line, 2 out of 3 Haitians did not have a formal job, and infrastructure was minimal.
I recently received a text message from my friend Karim in Niger, asking “Keski ce passe?” (What’s happening?). Those of you who know French might notice his text is an abbreviation of the much longer expression for “Qu’est-ce qui se passe”, which is formal and proper but a bit long when you only have 140 characters. Such abbreviations in French, English and other languages have caused teachers and parents alike to blame texting for corrupting our language and “degrading [the] spelling of [our] youth.” Existing studies in the UK and elsewhere have debunked these claims, and, the National Adult Literacy Database called on people to celebrate International Literacy Day by “reading or writing, tweeting or texting.” In fact, mobile phones and texting might be a new tool in the arsenal against illiteracy: our new research in Niger suggests that mobile phones could promote literacy and numeracy skills in sub-Saharan Africa.
Jenny Aker, Christopher Ksoll and Travis J. Lybbert
The results of a randomized evaluation of a mobile phone education program (Project ABC) in Niger suggest that simple and relatively cheap information and communication technology can serve as an effective and sustainable learning tool for rural populations.
This post continues my previous report on my trip to Kenya to see M-PESA, the mobile phone--based money transfer service. Here's the full set.
On our second day, last Tuesday, we flew to Kisumu, a town on Lake Victoria, that vast body of water straddling the borders between Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. There we met Frederik Eijkman, co-founder of a local company called PEP Intermedius. Like M-PESA itself, PEP began with microfinance, in 2004. But when M-PESA came along in 2007, Frederik and the other founder, Paul Otieno, seized the business opportunity. To launch M-PESA, Safaricom needed to quickly build a national network of M-PESA points analogous to Western Union outlets, where people could swap paper and e-money. Today PEP manages just over 100 M-PESA outlets; it owns eight and supports the rest as franchises. PEP outlets compete side-by-side with other M-PESA points.
I first learned about phone-to-phone e-money in 2006 at a conference in the basement of the International Finance Corporation. The impressions made upon me then naturally centered on the phones. In a photograph from the Philippines, a customer and a merchant stood facing on opposite sides of a display case in a food shop, each holding up a phone in order to do their bit of electronic business. Brian Richardson, creator of the phone-based bank WIZZIT in South Africa, pulled a phone out of his pocket and before our eyes, in seconds, transferred money to his wife back home. So in my mind before I went to Kenya, phone banking was electronic banking. Poor countries were leapfrogging the rich, leaving cash behind.
There is some of that going in Kenya, but in Kisumu, and in a paper by Frederik and the Gates Foundation's Ignacio Mas and Jake Kendall, I saw a far richer story.