Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

The Slow Shift from Cash Economies to Mobile Banking

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, July 31, 2012
A man leaves an M-Pesa booth after a transaction in Nairobi, Kenya on May 12, 2009 (Noor Khamis/Courtesy Reuters). A man leaves an M-Pesa booth after a transaction in Nairobi, Kenya on May 12, 2009 (Noor Khamis/Courtesy Reuters).

As I have written previously on the blog, mobile banking has the potential to make daily life for the world’s poorest not only more convenient, but also more financially secure. In fact, given the significant drawbacks of cash economies, mobile banking is now recognized as an effective antipoverty tool. After all, when someone stores her money in her home or on her person instead of in a formal bank account, she runs the risk that robbery or disaster will wipe out her assets. Studies show that when people save informally, they stand to lose between 15 percent and 25 percent of their savings each year—a huge loss for anyone but especially for those living on the edge. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Kim’s Vision, Zimbabwe’s Farmers, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, July 27, 2012
Jim Yong Kim, the new President of the World Bank Group, speaks to the press as he arrives for his first day on the job at the World Bank Headquarters in Washington, DC, July 2, 2012 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters). Jim Yong Kim, the new President of the World Bank Group, speaks to the press as he arrives for his first day on the job at the World Bank Headquarters in Washington, DC, July 2, 2012 (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).
In this edition of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow covers topics ranging from global health to emerging market growth, with stops in Zimbabwe and Latin America. Enjoy!
  • Kim’s Vision: In a speech and interview this week, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim made clear that he sees deep connections between poverty and health. First, in remarks at the International AIDS Conference, Kim called for using the lessons of the AIDS movement to combat poverty, including through partnerships, openness and transparency, and “applying AIDS knowledge and resources” to broader challenges like health insurance and human capital. In an interview with the Guardian, Kim said that his past work with Partners for Health “was really always about poverty.” As he put it, “we’ve always believed that investing in health means investing in the wellbeing and development of that entire community.” CFR’s Laurie Garrett offers a sobering take on the fight against AIDS in a CFR.org interview. Read more »

Election Results and Libya’s National Assembly

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, July 26, 2012
Mahmoud Jibril, head of the National Forces Alliance, talks during a news conference at his headquarters in Tripoli on July 8, 2012 (Zohra Bensemra/Courtesy Reuters). Mahmoud Jibril, head of the National Forces Alliance, talks during a news conference at his headquarters in Tripoli on July 8, 2012 (Zohra Bensemra/Courtesy Reuters).

As the results of Libya’s historic National Assembly election are becoming finalized, we are beginning to get a clearer picture of what the Assembly will look like. The 200-member National Assembly has 80 seats reserved for political parties and 120 seats reserved for individual candidates. Out of the 80 party seats, former interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril’s National Forces Alliance—a relatively liberal, secular-oriented group—seems to have won 39 out of 80 seats. The Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction party appears to have 17 seats, making it the next largest group. Read more »

Women at the Olympics

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Qatar's national swimmer Nada Arkaji swims during an interview in Doha on March 29, 2012 (Mohamad Dabbouss/Courtesy Reuters). Qatar's national swimmer Nada Arkaji swims during an interview in Doha on March 29, 2012 (Mohamad Dabbouss/Courtesy Reuters).

This is the summer of the female Olympian. For the first time, every nation competing will have a woman on its team. In an important milestone, the United States is sending more women than men to compete in London. Even the conservative Islamic state of Saudi Arabia is allowing women to participate. Let’s appreciate that it’s taken women more than a century of struggle to reach this point. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Sudan’s Conflicts, Children in Development, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, July 20, 2012
A SPLA-N fighter walks in Jebel Kwo village in the rebel-held territory of the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan, Sudan, May 2, 2012 (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters). A SPLA-N fighter walks in Jebel Kwo village in the rebel-held territory of the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan, Sudan, May 2, 2012 (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters).
Charles Landow ranges from Sudan to palm oil in this edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy the selection as always.
  • Sudan’s Conflicts: I have written on the blog about South Sudan’s economic crisis and other post-independence woes. Now comes a New Yorker piece on the violence that continues to plague South Sudan and Sudan, the country from which it split last year. Some contingents of the southern Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) remain in regions that went to the north; they now fight on against Khartoum. Meanwhile, South Sudan, where the SPLA governs, faces tribal conflict. “While those in power enrich themselves and their cronies,” the article says, “the tribes carry out raids and wars against one another.” Prospects all around are grim. As one scholar concludes in the piece, “The best-case scenario will see the territory on both sides of the border unstable for years to come.” Read more »

An Update on Mobile Technology in Development: Part II

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, July 19, 2012
A Safaricom sales representative arranges solar-charged mobile phone handsets for display at a retail center in Nairobi, Kenya on September 22, 2009 (Thomas Mukoya/Courtesy Reuters). A Safaricom sales representative arranges solar-charged mobile phone handsets for display at a retail center in Nairobi, Kenya on September 22, 2009 (Thomas Mukoya/Courtesy Reuters).

This is part two of a two-part series taking a look at important trends in finance-related mobile technology in the developing world.

On Tuesday, I discussed how mobile phones are improving access to banking and life insurance in the developing world, main points from a July 2012 World Politics Review article that I wrote with CFR research associate Ashley Harden called “Picking up the Slack: Mobile Technologies as Alternative Development Financing” (subscription required). Today, I’ll highlight how mobile technology enables NGOs to distribute aid and make loans in innovative ways—and to evaluate the effectiveness of their projects. Read more »

An Update on Mobile Technology in Development: Part I

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, July 17, 2012
A vendor sits in her store, which sells mobile phones and phone numbers, at a shopping mall in Bangkok, Thailand on September 17, 2010 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters). A vendor sits in her store, which sells mobile phones and phone numbers, at a shopping mall in Bangkok, Thailand on September 17, 2010 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters).

This is part one of a two-part series taking a look at important trends in finance-related mobile technology in the developing world.

Previously on this blog, I’ve written about mobile technology as a means through which citizens in the developing world can access basic financial services, play a more active role in governance, share crucial information about natural disasters, receive better healthcare, and more. This month, I wrote a feature World Politics Review article with CFR research associate Ashley Harden called “Picking up the Slack: Mobile Technologies as Alternative Development Financing” (subscription required). We provide an overview of some of the advances in mobile technology that are revolutionizing the ways people in the developing world access financial services, obtain loans, receive government benefits, and become insured. We also discuss how organizations are using mobile technology to track the effectiveness of the services they provide to the poor. In this blog post and another one this week, I’ll highlight some of the main points from the article. Read more »

Missing Pieces: China’s Growth, Booming Cities, and More

by Isobel Coleman Monday, July 16, 2012
A man covers himself with a coat as he cycles past a residential complex under construction, which is reflected in a puddle, in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, China, July 10, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters). A man covers himself with a coat as he cycles past a residential complex under construction, which is reflected in a puddle, in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, China, July 10, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters).
In this installment of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow highlights news from China and Rwanda as well as reports on the world’s cities and the Olympic games. Enjoy!
  • China’s Growth: As China’s second-quarter GDP growth hit a three-year low, recent days have brought a fresh round of worry about the country’s economic performance—a “China OMG moment,” as a Financial Times blog post puts it. First came a Barron’s article by Jonathan R. Laing chronicling a pile of woes: bloated state firms cozy with government officials, lackluster consumption, low productivity, “mountain ranges” of empty apartment towers, an aging population, debt and bad loans, and unhappiness over inequality and repression. “It looks like the Great China Growth Story may be falling apart,” the article says. A Newsweek piece by Minxin Pei sings a similar tune,  saying that “the era of rapid economic growth driven by investments and exports is over for China.” For true long-term prosperity, Pei argues, the country must “reject state capitalism and return to pro-market reforms,” an uncomfortable prospect for the Communist Party. Steven Rattner counters all this in a New York Times op-ed, contending that China’s “economic picture remains rosy.” Read more »

New Partnerships for Mobile Banking in the Developing World

by Isobel Coleman Friday, July 13, 2012
Staff from South Africa's Standard Bank show a newly signed client how to use mobile phone banking as part of a drive to take banking to poorer areas in Cape Town's Khayelitsha township on June 28, 2011 (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters). Staff from South Africa's Standard Bank show a newly signed client how to use mobile phone banking as part of a drive to take banking to poorer areas in Cape Town's Khayelitsha township on June 28, 2011 (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters).

It’s hard to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the world of mobile banking. In Africa in particular, mobile payments have really taken off. In a blog post last year, I discussed Kenya’s mobile money system, M-Pesa, which has extended banking services to roughly 40 percent of Kenya’s adult population. By some estimates, a third of Kenya’s GDP now flows through M-Pesa. Read more »

The London Family Planning Summit

by Isobel Coleman Wednesday, July 11, 2012
An Afghan woman holds her newborn baby at Cure International's hospital in Kabul on May 8, 2012 (Mohammad Ismail/Courtesy Reuters). An Afghan woman holds her newborn baby at Cure International's hospital in Kabul on May 8, 2012 (Mohammad Ismail/Courtesy Reuters).

I’m often asked, what is the single most important intervention to improve the lives of women and girls in developing countries? I usually answer by urging investment in girls’ education. But a close second—and in some cases I would put first—is birth control. Access to family planning is a matter of survival for many of the world’s women, and their children too. Save the Children reports that pregnancy causes more deaths (50,000) of teenaged women aged 15-19 than any other cause. A recent Gates Foundation-funded study in The Lancet suggests that in 2008, contraceptive use prevented 272,040 maternal deaths—and that if every woman who wanted access to contraceptives had them, then an additional 104,000 mothers would live each year. Moreover, birth spacing is also critical for reducing child mortality.  Save the Children notes that if mothers waited 36 months to conceive again after the birth of a child, the deaths of 1.8 million children (or one-quarter of the deaths of children under 5) could be avoided. Yet some 220 million women around the world “have an unmet need for family planning.” Read more »