Research for Global Development

Tent Cities and Storms: Why Haiti would benefit from more widespread use of mobile money


My colleague and I were in Haiti last week conducting fieldwork for a research initiative on mobile money.  Through a series of focus groups, we heard the heart-wrenching tales of life in Haiti.  From a group of young men who can’t afford food for their families, to groups of women who fear for their safety every time they leave their house.  Yet at the end of each group there was a sliver of hope that at least one aspect of their lives could be improved: mobile money has the potential to make the small amounts of money they manage to earn safer to hold, and it lessens the risks of carrying and withdrawing cash.

To use mobile money, a person takes cash to a mobile money agent who electronically deposits it onto the user’s phone through a text message.  Once received, the money sits in the user’s “mWallet,” the mobile money version of a bank account, until he or she is ready to use it.  The user can then send the m-money to someone or use it to make purchases through simple text messages, eliminating cash from transactions and transfers, or they can withdraw it as cash when they need it.  One of the best parts is that the mWallet is tied to an account, not the phone itself, so if the phone is lost or stolen the money can be retrieved.

As we talked to groups of Haitians about money issues, insecurity, poverty, and uncertainty emerged as major themes.  People fear going to banks because the bank tellers, security guards, other customers and robbers are often in cahoots, communicate with each other, and rob people who withdraw cash as soon as they have exited the bank.  Others talked about having their phones stolen; some were even grabbed right out of the hand of an owner who was talking on it.  Men with shotguns guard gas stations, restaurants, malls, hotels, and any place where there are things of value.

While mobile money will not solve Haiti’s many problems, it can improve the security of people’s money, which is particularly important when so many people have so little of it.

Tropical Storm Isaac brought to light the immediate importance of a service like this in so many Haitians’ lives. As the storm blew through Port au Prince’s tent cities, which still house more than 400,000 people made homeless by the 2010 earthquake, many lost all their belongings.  If they had managed to save any money, and store it in their tent-home, it could easily have been washed away.  An mWallet would have kept the money protected, and could have been accessed after the storm.

Most Haitians we heard from were interested in mobile money, and had ideas for using it in their daily lives.  Those who already use it had good things to say about the service.  While there are surely some kinks to work out, I hope our research helps mobile money expand in the country, enabling more Haitians to access basic banking services that they sorely lack.

Want to learn more about InterMedia’s work on mobile money?  Check out our work in Tanzania.

InterMedia

Tent Cities and Storms: Why Haiti would benefit from more widespread use of mobile money


My colleague and I were in Haiti last week conducting fieldwork for a research initiative on mobile money.  Through a series of focus groups, we heard the heart-wrenching tales of life in Haiti.  From a group of young men who can’t afford food for their families, to groups of women who fear for their safety every time they leave their house.  Yet at the end of each group there was a sliver of hope that at least one aspect of their lives could be improved: mobile money has the potential to make the small amounts of money they manage to earn safer to hold, and it lessens the risks of carrying and withdrawing cash.

To use mobile money, a person takes cash to a mobile money agent who electronically deposits it onto the user’s phone through a text message.  Once received, the money sits in the user’s “mWallet,” the mobile money version of a bank account, until he or she is ready to use it.  The user can then send the m-money to someone or use it to make purchases through simple text messages, eliminating cash from transactions and transfers, or they can withdraw it as cash when they need it.  One of the best parts is that the mWallet is tied to an account, not the phone itself, so if the phone is lost or stolen the money can be retrieved.

As we talked to groups of Haitians about money issues, insecurity, poverty, and uncertainty emerged as major themes.  People fear going to banks because the bank tellers, security guards, other customers and robbers are often in cahoots, communicate with each other, and rob people who withdraw cash as soon as they have exited the bank.  Others talked about having their phones stolen; some were even grabbed right out of the hand of an owner who was talking on it.  Men with shotguns guard gas stations, restaurants, malls, hotels, and any place where there are things of value.

While mobile money will not solve Haiti’s many problems, it can improve the security of people’s money, which is particularly important when so many people have so little of it.

Tropical Storm Isaac brought to light the immediate importance of a service like this in so many Haitians’ lives. As the storm blew through Port au Prince’s tent cities, which still house more than 400,000 people made homeless by the 2010 earthquake, many lost all their belongings.  If they had managed to save any money, and store it in their tent-home, it could easily have been washed away.  An mWallet would have kept the money protected, and could have been accessed after the storm.

Most Haitians we heard from were interested in mobile money, and had ideas for using it in their daily lives.  Those who already use it had good things to say about the service.  While there are surely some kinks to work out, I hope our research helps mobile money expand in the country, enabling more Haitians to access basic banking services that they sorely lack.

Want to learn more about InterMedia’s work on mobile money?  Check out our work in Tanzania.

Marketing Materials

Contact Us:

InterMedia Headquarters

1825 K Street, NW
Suite 650
Washington, D.C. 20006
+1.202.434.9310
FAX: +1 202 434 9560
Contact | View Map

InterMedia Africa

UN Avenue, Gigiri Nairobi
Box 10224
City Square 00200
Nairobi, Kenya
+254.720.109183
Contact | View Map