Mobile Phones and Economic Development

Ever since I used a text message to pay for food from a Kenyan street vendor, I've been following the growth of mobile banking in the developing world. Foreign Policy's The M-Banking Revolution is a decent overview of the latest developments around the world.

In May, Safaricom took it one step further, partnering with Equity Bank and offering M-Kesho, an interest-bearing savings account, to all M-Pesa users. Subscribers can now use their cell phones to transfer money from their M-Pesa accounts -- using Safaricom's existing network of nearly 20,000 licensed card vendors -- into their M-Kesho accounts. M-Kesho users are also able to access mobile microinsurance and microloan products. By registering SIM cards that double as individualized account numbers, Equity Bank is seeing 8,000 new customers each day, and its CEO, James Mwangi, recently predicted that, in mere months, Kenya "will be the most-banked country in Africa and the developing world."

The Toilet as Destination

Meet Ecotact, a company focused on changing the urban poor's perception of toilets. In the slums of Eastern Africa, open trenches and flying toilets are the go to methods of waste disposal. In many slums there may be one toilet for a thousand residents. That toilet is filthy. As a consequence, toilets are assumed to be disgusting. Ecotact is attempting to combat this perception and make toilets desirable destinations. Their primary draw is clean water. Ecotact's Ikotoilet malls double as community water centers. No one has to tell the urban poor how important clean water is. That's why the 27 Ikotoilet malls in Kenya serve over 30,000 customers. I've read about a variety of pay-toilet models, and paid for a few trips myself in Kenya and Tanzania. I think Ecotact's plan is smart. By tackling two major problems at once (water and sanitation) they've actually enhanced the effectiveness of their business. I wish them all the best.