Revolution In Our Hands: Mobile Phones and Microfinance

For a lot of people, electricity and the Internet are still not for granted. Yet mobile phones and small solar panels are transforming the lives of millions of people—many of them in sub-Saharan Africa—who until a few years ago could not work beyond sunset. This was not for religious reasons: they simply could not afford the electricity, like thousands of small farmers who sell their produce outside their shacks in the periphery of Nairobi, Kinshasa, and other large cities. Yet their cell phones, even of the cheap and dumb types with a few basic apps preloaded on the SIM cards, have allowed them to make transfers and payments on the other technological device that is changing their lives: solar panels the size of a tea tray that have finally brought electricity to their homes, hence also allowing them to enjoy finally a refrigerator and, most importantly, charge their phones. And that brings us to the third component of the technological-financial revolution that is lifting people out of poverty: microfinances. It is banking at its basic, and best, paving the way for progress and material improvements in life. A mobile phone, a solar panel, and payments of even $1, are helping people eat and live better, and all the benefits that come with having light at night, for example allowing them to work after dusk. That extra money goes for the things they work very hard to earn. They cannot afford debt for stuff you don’t need and don’t have the money for, unlike those of us elsewhere who often forget how little it may take to have a good life.

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