To expedite the process of getting cash moving through Haiti, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development will announce a $10 million fund to encourage mobile phone payments throughout the devestated country.
The networked phones would work by connecting any series of small stores, post offices or lottery outlets by mobile phone into a network that allows them to send money back and forth from one place to another, says Bob Christen of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. According to Christen, after the devestation, mobile phone companies were up and running pretty quickly. The real work would involve developing the network of stores into a community tied together and communicated. “That’s the real challenge. The technology’s actually not so difficult,” he says.
Before January’s catastrophic earthquake, fewer than 1 in 10 Haitians had ever used a commercial bank. The quake also wiped over one-third of the country’s ATMs. Going forward, Christen notes that the country wouldn’t even need to rely on traditional bank branches. “So many countries in the world don’t have much banking infrasturture,” he says, “particularly in the communities where most people live and work. We think that what’s going to happen is you’re much more likely to get, in places like Congo and Southern Sudan, banking outside of branches.”
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