Financial help for those that need it – there’s an app for that!

by Guest on February 18, 2010

baby_cellphone The other day I wrote a post that probably showed how sheltered I am on my tiny island in the Pacific.  I’m still amazed that there are going to be 5 billion cell phone contracts at some point this year.  The number baffles me, since the current population of earth is just under 7 billion.  Here’s a good site if you want to celebrate when we hit the next milestone.

I won’t go on about it, but without anything to put it into perspective, the sheer magnitude of the number is unimaginable.  But when I read this article today, it started to make a bit more sense.  In Pakistan, over 50% of the residents have a cell phone, but only 5% have a bank account. There are over 180 million people in Pakistan – so this means 90 million have a mobile phone, while only 9 million have a bank account.

OK – enough with the math – sorry.

What’s this really got to do with telecommunications?  Well, Ben Lyons thought of a way to provide the folks in economically depressed countries with a tool to transport money from one place to another.  You and I know this device as a SIM card, but for many of the folks in Pakistan and other regions, it’s the closest thing they have to a bank.

I don’t think that I can do the economic theory justice, but the gist of it is the folks in these nations have limited options.  Keep your money on or with you at all times, hide your money in the safest place you can find, or have your employer withhold part of your payment until you needed it.  None of these options were particularly secure.  Lyons learned of a growing practice that would convert pay-as-you-go airtime minutes into  cash, enabling the users to perform wire transfers to their respective families, with a small commission going back to the company.  Lyons thought that this was a good idea, and with a bit of help it could be used to enable the “bottom of the economic pyramid” get some much needed financial options.  And the good news – it’s working. You should read this entire article if you are interested in  his work.  You can find Lyon’s website here.

I guess I need to stop thinking that cell phones are only good for communications, and start thinking of them as the productive tools that they have evolved in to.  The more people that have access to better tools, the better the world will be.  I might be a geek, but I think it’s kinda cool. Maybe you do, too.

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