Pairing information access with mobile cash services opens new doors for farmers and other low-income residents of developing countries.
That’s the argument from Elizabeth Berthe, Mercy Corps’ Director of Financial Services Innovation. At February’s Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona, Spain, Berthe spoke with Doug Sabo, Visa’s head of corporate social responsibility, about how Mercy Corps’ mobile projects are improving income generating opportunities and emergency access to funds. An edited transcript of her interview follows.
Why is financial inclusion so important, and what is Mercy Corps doing to improve financial access?
Most people in developing world have to bury their money or hide it, and any time an emergency comes up, they have to go in multiple directions to get cash.
“In an emergency response, Mercy Corps is trying to help get people income fast. It could be via cash for work, creating jobs and instantly getting a payment for that, or through other methodologies like working with farmers to establish mobile bank accounts.”
What sort of innovative and impactful work is Mercy Corps doing that involves mobile as part of the solution for financial services?
We see mobile financial services as a true game changer, and we’re looking at how we can shift a lot of the work that we do, from our emergency payments to any type of payment that we deliver, through digital channels.”
“One of the recent programs we’ve launched is called Agri-Fin. It’s operating in Indonesia, Zimbabwe and Uganda, and we’re looking to expand it to other countries. The basic principle is marrying information services with mobile financial services. Information services can help a farmer better understand how to improve crop yields and get information on crop pricing. Combining that with financial services will start to connect the whole market system. Then farmers can sell crops and get the payment, and since all of the systems are interconnected, hopefully get a better price.”
How does having access to both information and mobile financial services make a difference for farmers?
“By having access to information about actual market prices through mobile phones, farmers can negotiate better deals and skip the middleman to sell goods directly to a buyer. At the end of the day, it helps give farmers a better price for the goods they’re selling.”
Read more about Mercy Corps’ Agri-Fin program here.
Watch Berthe’s whole interview with Doug Sabo here.