A Glimpse into Future of Mobile Money Societies in the Global South

Author: Emma Schwartz | March 23, 2015

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When tracking the evolution of mobile money, Kenya is a prime example of a market coming to scale given its position at the forefront of the mobile money wave in the Global South.

Last month, the NetHope Payment Innovations team facilitated a webinar around the impacts of mobile money in the country over the last decade and the business opportunities emerging as a result – with specific focus on a new crowdsourcing fundraising platform, M-Changa.

The NetHope team first welcomed professor Sibel Kusimba, Ph.D., anthropologist at American University in Washington DC, to share some of her exciting new research on M-PESA and its societal effects in Kenya.

Professor Kusimba found that the use of mobile money in western Kenya is evenly split among three categories: urgent needs, everyday expenses, and social payments. She was surprised to discover that some of the most profound emotions people have were closely connected to sending mobile money.

“What really struck me was just how important mobile money is not just as an economic support network or practice, but as an important cultural and social practices as well. People use these remittances of mobile money to express their close relationships – especially to people who are geographically dispersed,” she said.

Kusimba’s anthropological research revealed that those living apart from their families and relatives feel a very acute obligation to maintain social connections to the community where they were born.

“M-PESA is a way to meet those social obligations, it’s a way to maintain those connections that are still so important to people. People can use their phone to connect and send a remittance when they can’t be there,” said Kusimba. “It has become a really important way to maintain the traditional culture in the rapidly changing circumstances of modern life.”

Another key realization was the fact that people are not just transferring money, but amassing and collecting it for various purposes – whether that be to pay for a family member’s prostate operation, or to pool shillings for group weekend entertainment. Regardless, the service is more than just a money transfer service between a sender and a receiver and a way of supporting community members through harambee (Swahili for fundraising); these two people are embedded in a larger network where remittances and funds circulate around through relatively frequent transfers. Even the urban migrant who sends to a rural recipient knows the money will move onward an extended group.

Professor Kusimba offered an illuminating metaphor for the fusion of traditional culture with mobile money. She observed a coming of age celebration in which the boy used his phone to receive donations from friends and family in addition to traditional gifts (e.g. livestock, prepared meal prepared) – an interesting mix of the traditional practices combined with new mobile money practices used to bring the family together.

“What this says to me is that people don’t necessarily want to stop doing what they’re doing and do something new, rather, they want to keep doing what they’re doing, but they want new capabilities and new, better, more efficient ways of doing what they’re already doing and value,” she said.

Professor Kusimba began to see common threads in these social networks of mobile money in regards to their reciprocity and density. Senders are usually also receivers and the average person relies on six people when they need assistance. These networks are typically based on sibling relationships, who are often most connected to their mothers. There are also central individuals who tend to play an active role in transferring resources to a larger set of connections. This role often played by women, and often grandmothers. This is interesting given that these are patrilineal societies in which women are often marginalized from other sources of wealth or value. 

“Women are becoming very important in these social networks of mobile money… it’s still an open question as to exactly how these sources of empowerment are going to benefit women but I think it’s a crucially important to understand more about the role of women and gender and these remittances.”

MOBILE MONEY GIVING VIA M-CHANGA

This research and insight builds the impetus for financial inclusion tools like those provided by M-Changa, an end-to-end mobile fundraising management platform that takes M-PESA to the next level and allows users to create and manage fundraisers using mobile phones and SMS. .

Like Sibel, co-founders Kyai Mullei (CEO) and David Mark (CTO) noticed that a lot of mobile money transactions are philanthropic in nature. Extended family networks are giving to each other in times of need, and traditional giving systems (venue-based) are breaking down because of geographic disbursement, the rising cost of transport, and insufficient transparency.

Using the power of mobile money technology, the Nairobi-born M-Changa platform recreates the cultural behavior of supporting community members in the virtual world.

“M-Changa allows you start a fundraiser and invite people directly from your phone book as you would in a peer-to-peer situation when you send a direct SMS to a friend,” said Mullei. “Users can fully benefit from the support of the entire family network – those in Kenya and abroad.”

M-Changa solves the problem of limited transparency by giving participants full visibility into the fundraiser’s progress – the idea being that increased transparency will ultimately motivate participation and increase performance as a result of the trust cultivated and social prestige gained.

“Transparency into who is giving, how much they’re giving and how frequently they’re giving could prove to be a great motivating factor for participating in these networks,” said Mullei.

This prediction is also backed by Dr. Kusimba, who noted that a lot of people highly value the social prestige gained from participating in these networks; people feel empowered by participating and like to know that others will see their contributions.

Since 2012, M-Changa;has helped over 20,000 people crowdfund for medical, educational and personal business needs. As of March 2015, individuals have collected over USD 200,000+ through the platform for +3,600 causes close to them.

Developed to meet local needs, M-Changa is a more relevant product compared to more established providers in that it allows for the diffused custody of funds so people can give to multiple family members, and it works on feature phones – crucial considering 50% of all phones are still feature phones and work only over SMS.

“We’re happy to see the platform is being used for the exact same things that research shows people typically gift each other,” said Mullei. “What’s probably most exciting about the M-Changa platform, though, is that everyone from the ultra-rich to the ultra-poor use the platform.”

Not only individuals, but also organizations both large and small are leveraging the solution for operations or for specific causes.

M-Changa will continue to expand as the markets change and technology evolves. The team is keen to partner with other organizations interested in building crowdfunding and sustainable development programs on the ground.

Rajan Trivedi, Director of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships, shared several partnerships that highlight the system’s use for multiple different purposes. One of these promising new partnerships is with Equity Bank around a new dual SIM card technology. M-Changa will be integrated into this product so users can manage end-to-end fundraisers using their bank accounts.  

In the next two months M-Changa will enter into Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania markets through a partnership with Skrill as well, one of the world’s leading digital payments companies. 

Ongoing research around giving patterns and mobile money also feeds into M-Changa’s strategy for sustainable growth. Over the next few years, the team will work with the Gates Foundation, FSD Kenya and Bankable Frontier Associates to study and better understand behaviors and trends in mobile philanthropy market.

With thanks to studies like these and anthropological research done by professor Kusimba and colleagues, mobile solution providers will continue to tap into motivations and develop features to incentivize financial inclusion tools and expand financial access in East Africa. Mobile money is only beginning to revolutionize modern day giving.

For more information on M-Changa, visit http://www.changa.co.ke/.

Listen to the recording and view webinar collateral >>

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