The Financial Inclusion Forum hosted a highly stimulating event last night, at which we learned more about what digital financial services are doing for refugees and other forcibly displaced populations. As is so often the case, the unintended consequences revealed that we don't always know what we think we know. Who could predict that terrorists might kill people simply because of a certain financial assistance app on their phone? Yet that app, provided for the most benign and philanthropic of reasons, was taken as evidence of the victim's status as a lackey of the hated west.
My co-director, Tory Batten, and I attended to make new contacts and understand better the role of safe, affordable payment channels in disadvantaged groups. both of those boxes receive multiple ticks.
It's greatly encouraging to learn that the digital expansion in emerging regions isn't dependable on smartphones. This was a growing concern for us; while access to mobile technology is growing fast in these areas, app-enabled smartphones are prohibitively expensive. In some areas, less than 10% of the population possess them. Will Derban of GSMA introduced me to Chris Czerwonka of Mosabi, who showed me the Kai phone, a rugged and cheap device that runs apps and costs only $15-$20. Most encouraging of all, Chris outlined payment facilities that can be accessed without any mobile device at all.
Incidentally, I strongly recommend you look into what Mosabi is doing. When he could get a word in edgeways (OK, I admit, I do proselytise somewhat enthusiastically!), he told me about his company's work in guiding people how to use new technologies. This goes beyond basic "press that and this happens" training. We have to remember that, for those of us in the "established" world, the digital revolution happened reasonably gradually. We've had time to adjust to the notion of digital identities, electronic payments and, conversely, threats from hacking, phishing, identity theft and other aspects of cyber crime. Mosabi is taking a gestalt approach, helping new settlers in the digital universe to reap benefit without exposure to the risks against which we've learned to armour ourselves. You'll find their website here.
It was an enjoyable and edifying meeting, and both of us came away with heads buzzing with new learning and possibilities. One thing that came through very clearly was the fact that fast, safe and affordable access to hard currencies is a pressing need. The people we spoke to have provided a mine of information that will soon be turned into the first of several defined initiatives to add an ethical payment layer to the sterling efforts of a small bunch of highly impressive organisations.
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