Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

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

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Showing posts for "Technology and Development"

The Slow Shift from Cash Economies to Mobile Banking

by Isobel Coleman
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 »

An Update on Mobile Technology in Development: Part II

by Isobel Coleman
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
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 »

New Partnerships for Mobile Banking in the Developing World

by Isobel Coleman
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 »

ICT4Gov: Improving Governance Through Technology

by Isobel Coleman
Students use Aakash, a low-cost tablet computer, in New Delhi, India on October 5, 2011 (Parivartan Sharma/Courtesy Reuters). Students use Aakash, a low-cost tablet computer, in New Delhi, India on October 5, 2011 (Parivartan Sharma/Courtesy Reuters).

A few weeks ago, I hosted a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations with Boris Weber, a senior governance specialist with the World Bank Institute, on how technology can improve governance in developing countries. Weber is the team leader of the World Bank Institute’s Information and Communication Technology for Governance project (ICT4Gov), which aims to increase civic participation and improve government service delivery through technology. Read more »

Mobile Technology and Global Economic Growth

by Isobel Coleman
Left to right: Isobel Coleman with panelists Alex Counts of the Grameen Foundation, Ann Mei Chang of the State Department, and Scott C. Ratzan of Johnson & Johnson at a roundtable in the ExxonMobil Women and Development Series hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations on May 10, 2012 (Don Pollard/Council on Foreign Relations). Left to right: Isobel Coleman with panelists Alex Counts of the Grameen Foundation, Ann Mei Chang of the State Department, and Scott C. Ratzan of Johnson & Johnson at a roundtable in the ExxonMobil Women and Development Series hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations on May 10, 2012 (Don Pollard/Council on Foreign Relations).

This week on the blog, I’m covering developments in mobile technology. On Tuesday, I discussed an NGO’s efforts to use mobile technology to make direct cash transfers to poor families in Kenya; yesterday, I featured a guest post from Henriette Kolb, CEO of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, who noted how mobile innovations can help women entrepreneurs grow their businesses. Today, I’m reflecting on an interesting meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations featuring three experts on implementing mobile technology for economic growth: Ann Mei Chang, senior adviser for women and technology, Office of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State; Alex Counts, CEO of the Grameen Foundation; and Scott C. Ratzan, vice president of global health at Johnson & Johnson. The meeting was part of our Women and Technology series sponsored by the ExxonMobil Foundation. Read more »

Guest Post: Using Mobile Value Added Services to Break Down Business Barriers

by Guest Blogger for Isobel Coleman
Fadhilah Arshad, a businesswoman, talks to a supplier as she sells cloth at her bazaar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on December 1, 2009 (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters). Fadhilah Arshad, a businesswoman, talks to a supplier as she sells cloth at her bazaar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on December 1, 2009 (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters).

As I mentioned in Tuesday’s post on mobile money and cash transfers, I’m covering developments in mobile technology this week on the blog. Today, I have a guest post from Henriette Kolb, CEO of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, who will discuss how mobile value added services designed for women entrepreneurs in emerging markets can help them grow their businesses. The Cherie Blair Foundation has made women’s access to mobile technology a focus of its work. Tomorrow, I will do a recap of a meeting I’m hosting at CFR on ways to harness mobile technology for global economic growth. Read more »

Mobile Money and Direct Cash Transfers

by Isobel Coleman
A vendor hawks second-hand mobile phones at the sprawling Kibera slum, one of the largest and poorest slums in Africa, near Kenya's capital Nairobi on August 26, 2011 (Noor Khamis/Courtesy Reuters). A vendor hawks second-hand mobile phones at the sprawling Kibera slum, one of the largest and poorest slums in Africa, near Kenya's capital Nairobi on August 26, 2011 (Noor Khamis/Courtesy Reuters).

This week on the blog, I’m going to be looking at mobile money again. Today’s post examines how a new NGO–enabled by the rapid spread of mobile technology–is experimenting with cash transfers to alleviate poverty. Later in the week I will have a guest post from the Cherie Blair Foundation on new research on the potential of mobile services to benefit women entrepreneurs. I will then do a recap of a meeting I’m hosting on Thursday at CFR on ways to harness mobile technology for global economic growth with speakers Ann Mei Chang, senior adviser for women and technology, Office of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State; Alex Counts, CEO of the Grameen Foundation; and Scott C. Ratzan, vice president of global health at Johnson & Johnson. Stay tuned! Read more »

More on Genetically Modified Crops

by Isobel Coleman
Martha Mafa, a subsistence farmer, stacks her crop of maize in Chivi, about 378 km (235 miles) south-east of the capital Harare in Zimbabwe on April 1, 2012 (Philimon Bulawayo/Courtesy Reuters). Martha Mafa, a subsistence farmer, stacks her crop of maize in Chivi, about 378 km (235 miles) south-east of the capital Harare in Zimbabwe on April 1, 2012 (Philimon Bulawayo/Courtesy Reuters).

Last month I posted a blog summarizing the views of Calestous Juma, professor of the practice of international development at Harvard, on the potential of genetically modified crops to improve Africa’s agricultural productivity. Many of the comments that readers sent in complained that the post was one-sided–a valid criticism–so today I thought I would look at this topic again. Read more »

Genetically Modified Crops and Africa’s Agricultural Potential

by Isobel Coleman
Different types of plants grow in a greenhouse at a research center in Canberra, Australia, which studies the creation of climate-ready crops, May 2011 (Courtesy Reuters). Different types of plants grow in a greenhouse at a research center in Canberra, Australia, which studies the creation of climate-ready crops, May 2011 (Courtesy Reuters).

Today, I had the opportunity to speak with Calestous Juma, professor of the practice of international development at Harvard. Juma was born and raised in Kenya, and he’s now head of the Agricultural Innovation in Africa Project. He is one of the most innovative thinkers on how to harness new technologies for economic development, especially in Africa. A prolific author, Juma’s latest book is The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa, in which he discusses how Africa’s prosperity depends on the modernization of agriculture through the application of science and technology. Read more »