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WOCCU proceeds with Haiti mobile banking
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (5/26/11)--A World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) initiative may one day provide nearly all people living in Haiti with the ability to conduct financial transactions on their cell phones.
Click to view larger image Haiti’s 2010 earthquake left more than one million survivors homeless, and many still live in tent camps, where robbery and assault is a constant danger, said the World Council of Credit Unions. It is working with the Haiti Mobile Money Initiative to provide access to affordable, secure transactions through their cell phones, keeping their money safe in an unsafe environment. (Photo provided by World Council of Credit Unions)
The Haiti Mobile Money Initiative (HMMI), a partnership between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is managed by WOCCU's Haiti Integrated Financing for Value Chains and Enterprises (HIFIVE) program. HMMI is working with local mobile network operators and their partner financial institutions to provide Haitians with improved access to financial services nationwide. The initiative believes that access to safe, affordable financial services is an effective way to provide disaster and poverty relief and stimulate economic development. Mobile money allows the poor in rural or underserved areas to safely and cheaply receive, send and save money, which directly contributes to improved economic well-being, said WOCCU. “This is a program the scope of which has never before been tried,” said Greta Greathouse, HIFIVE chief of party. “We have created a competition to provide the private sector with incentives to launch payment platforms that will contribute to our goal of increased financial inclusion.” HIFIVE has been involved in the initiative since its launch in June 2010. WOCCU oversees the program and has administrative authority over a grant from the Gates foundation to award prizes to organizations providing mobile money services via cell phones to as many of Haiti’s estimated 9.5 million people as possible. The Gates foundation funding provides up to $10 million in prize money for HMMI program participants. Up to $5 million of technical assistance grants from USAID are available to help address obstacles to implementation and to assure that more Haitians have access to mobile banking. (All amounts are in U.S. dollars.) “We have seen remote banking services work effectively in Mexico and Kenya and are encouraged by the support of our initiative in Haiti,” said Brian Branch, WOCCU executive vice president and chief operating officer. “Given the challenges the Haitian people face, we believe mobile banking may be the best and, in some cases, only option for financial services as their country continues to rebuild.” Haiti’s devastating earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, left 316,000 dead and more than a million homeless, half of whom still live in tent camps. Lack of a secure place to keep their money puts many Haitians at risk for robbery and assault, problems that are reduced through a widespread cell phone banking program, said WOCCU. Such payment platforms can help address the limited points of financial service available in Haiti, where the population in many zones may face more than a seven-hour walk to conduct the simplest financial transactions. Service provider Digicel, based in Bermuda and serving countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, in January won the $2.5 million “First to Market Award” for providing mobile money services within the program’s parameters. The company’s Tcho Tcho Mobile--tcho tcho is Creole slang for “money”--is the first service to offer Haitians an electronic alternative to carrying cash. The remaining $7.5 million in award money will be presented to companies that help expand and grow mobile banking services. “Haiti has a very high rate of cell phone penetration and a massive pre-existing cell phone platform,” Greathouse said, noting that nearly half of the country’s population owns cell phones. “Haitians have shown themselves to be highly adaptive to new technology, and we see a very bright future for this program.”
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