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Mobile Wallets Bring Financial Trust to Haiti

Deyan October 7, 2010

A new pilot from Mercy Corps uses virtual wallets to bring financial stability to Haiti’s citizens.

It’s all about mobile at this year’s SOCAP conference. There’s a complete track devoted to mobile technology and how it’s radically changing the way aid organizations and non-profits connect with those living at the “base of the pyramid” to improve their access to healthcare, banking, and even the job hunt.

But mobile has implications beyond mobile phones. The sessions all seemed to reach a similar conclusion: this technology is really providing mobility in terms of crucial “human factors.” This means that through the use of cell phones people are able to improve their sense of identity, restore their dignity, and achieve autonomy through the creation of secondary currencies. Regardless of language or literacy barriers, people are well versed in the use of mobile.

An example of providing such economic mobility is the latest initiative from Mercy Corps. Mercy Corps teamed up with Haitian wireless operator Voila and Haitian financial institution Unibank to implement the ‘m-wallet.’ The m-wallet will benefit Mercy Corps’ cash-for-work grant and voucher recipients, giving them the ability to securely ‘store value’ on their mobile phones, withdraw all or part of their money, transfer funds to family members in need directly from their phones, and use phones to pay for goods directly with affiliated merchants.

I had a chance to chat with Karen Doyle-Grossman, Mercy Corps’ VP of Social Innovation, to discuss how their latest pilot to increase financial accessibility in Haiti is catching on quickly and playing a vital role in rebuilding Haiti in the aftermath of its earthquakes. Karen also explains what Mercy Corps is learning from successful mobile banking programs in other countries. For more information on mobile banking from around the world, check out the work of our Executive Creative Director Jan Chipchase’s research on mobile banking in Afghanistan.

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