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Malawi takes payments digital

Malawi has taken a significant step towards creating a digital payment ecosystem in order to address poverty and drive inclusive growth. 

An event organised by the Government of Malawi, with the United Nations Capital Development Fund’s (UNCDF) Better Than Cash Alliance (http://www.betterthancash.org) and Mobile Money for the Poor initiatives, brought together digital payments players to accelerate the progress of digital finance in Malawi. The convening also marks the release of an in-depth analysis of the country’s readiness to transition from a nearly cash-only economy to one where digital payments are widely available through an ecosystem approach.

Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe said that the transition to digital payments is part of the Government’s commitment to achieving social and economic goals within the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy. 

“This is part of our mandate to realise balanced and sustainable economic growth and to reduce poverty,” said Gondwe. “We believe creating an economy where digital payments are widely available is the right path for us to embark on and we are doing so based on sound economic and fiscal policies.”

The research was conducted through a partnership between the Malawian Ministry of Finance, the Reserve Bank of Malawi, and the Better Than Cash Alliance, and is entitled The Opportunities for Malawi’s Transition Away from Cash (http://betterthancash.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/BTCA-Long-Version-Malawi-Diagnostic.pdf). The report detailed the current state of Malawian digital payments, providing an important baseline to track progress. The study also identified four potential opportunities for Malawi, including the Government advancing on digitizing its centralized payment system with support from banks, and merchants accelerating digital payment acceptance via mobile money and debit card at the point of sale. 

“Malawi is moving forward to build a strong digital ecosystem that will respond to the needs of the people in the country,” said Tillman Bruett, Advisor and Programme Manager, Mobile Money for the Poor (MM4P), a UNCDF initiative, undertaken in Malawi with the support of the US Agency for International Development. “We expect that as a result, Malawi will progress from 3.5 percent of total active adult population using digital financial services at the start of this year to 15 percent by 2019.” 

As part of the programme, UNCDF plans to provide technical and financial assistance to build capacity in public and private sector organizations to support the switch from cash to digital for the most promising payments streams identified in the research.

Making payments in cash can be expensive and inefficient for governments, companies and international organizations. Cash is also difficult to trace, and extremely vulnerable to theft and loss. Many people living in poverty only use cash, and this is a key barrier to broader financial inclusion because cash makes it costly to provide financial services.  According to UNCDF, in least developed countries such as Malawi mobile penetration is at 30 percent while access to a bank account is at 14 percent.  Mobile payments can therefore be one way to accelerate this shift.

Malawi’s approach can set an example for other countries in the early stages of transitioning to digital payments. 

“Digitisation is an important development tool for many countries looking to reduce the cost of delivering payments, increase transparency and increase access to financial services for citizens,” said Dr. Ruth Goodwin-Groen, Managing Director, Better Than Cash Alliance. “By undertaking this research and by using it to plan its shift, Malawi has taken a bold step in increasing transparency and moving towards an economy where the Government, businesses and people can pay and get paid electronically.”

Transitioning from cash to digital payments is a complex process, however, and requires collaboration between the government and businesses, as well as building trust and increasing familiarity among citizens. That reality is why leading figures came together today to discuss the diagnostic data and develop a blueprint for the country’s digital payments future. Participants noted that by working collaboratively to address the barriers to transitioning payments from cash to digital, they would be able to accelerate the shift and ensure that it brings real benefits to citizens in the form of greater financial inclusion.

USAID/Malawi Mission Director Doug Arbuckle noted in his remarks: “The U.S. Government is glad to join many other governments and international organizations in encouraging a transition away from cash to digital payments in Malawi.  This can be a long road, but the benefits are clear and overwhelming.”  

Mia Seppo, United Nations Resident Coordinator and United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative, added: “The introduction of digitisation is timely as Malawi is currently going through public service reforms that will ensure equitable access to financial and payment services in a manner that is transparent and efficient.” 

Malawi is a focus country of MM4P and member of the Better Than Cash Alliance.

Africa News

Africa gets broadband boost

ITU and Nexpedience, a supplier of proprietary point-to-multipoint broadband infrastructure, are partnering to bring broadband access to Africa.

Under the terms of the deal, Nexpedience will provide 180 new Expedience base stations worth USD 1 million, to be deployed in six nations across the continent. The first nation to benefit from the new infrastructure is Burundi, with deployments also planned for Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Mali, Rwanda and Swaziland.

Designed to withstand extreme meteorological conditions and capable of providing up to 32 kilometres of sector coverage, Nexpedience’s base stations have been specifically designed for rural deployment.

ITU’s Wireless Broadband Network in Africa project aims to develop and implement wireless broadband connectivity and applications that will provide free or low-cost digital access for schools, hospitals, and under-served populations in rural and remote areas Africa-wide.

At the signing of the agreement in Geneva, Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) emphasized the need to make developing countries part of the global broadband revolution: ‚”This partnership represents another important element in ITU’s efforts to bring broadband technology to the world even in the poorest nations. I am confident that this new partnership will accelerate broadband uptake right across the African continent, bringing the power of high-speed connectivity to users everywhere, from big cities to small villages.‚”

Kiriako Vergos, CEO of Nexpedience said: ‚”Giving access to broadband technology to underserved populations in Africa is of great importance to us. There are enormous benefits to be derived from a ‚’broadband-seed’ deployment strategy, and we decided to partner with ITU because we know that the organization has the team in place to get it done.‚”

ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Tour√© said the new agreement is a ‚”major step forward in getting Africa connected‚”. Dr Tour√© led the establishment of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010, which has the aim of putting broadband at the heart of the global development agenda.

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Nokia backs tech hubs for developing world

Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev are collaborating with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America to act as scouts for local talent.

Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev, a global innovation program of the World Bank, have announced a collaboration with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America – a move that will empower these hubs to act as scouts and agents for local talent, fast-tracking their access to AppCampus funding.

AppCampus was established in 2012 as a mobile application accelerator program managed by Aalto University in Finland. With an 18 million euro joint investment between Microsoft and Nokia, the aim is to foster mobile application development on Windows Phone and any other Nokia platform.

The announcement earmarks part of that investment fund for twenty six awards per annum for the best mobile innovation ideas to be made via the mobile innovation hub network, starting with infoDev’s mobile application labs in South Africa, Kenya, Armenia and Vietnam, as well as mobile application laboratories in Egypt (TIEC), Nigeria (CC Hub) and Mexico. The value of each award ranges from 20,000 Euro (US$ 26,000) to 70,000 Euro (US$ 90,000) depending on the complexity of the solution or business model behind the idea.

‚”By working jointly with the mobile innovation hubs, we are able to connect more effectively with local developers in emerging markets and provide support in terms of funding, especially for locally relevant innovations,‚” says Pekka Sivonen, Head of AppCampus. ‚”Although the criteria to access the AppCampus funding remains the same, with ideas needing to be original, competitive and scalable, the advantage is faster processing and the mentorship provided by these innovation hubs.‚”

The hubs and mLabs will be responsible for scouting talent and vetting ideas to be submitted to the global pool. infoDev’s mLabs foster regional entrepreneurship, employment and competitiveness by providing open spaces where developers can find training, mentoring, technical expertise and access to financing. In a short time, mLab-supported startups have brought over 120 commercial apps to market The best new entries from this network will compete against each other each quarter for the available awards.

‚”Nokia, working closely with infoDev, has supported the establishment and operation of a number of mLabs across emerging markets in support of local developers,‚” says Jussi Hinkkanen, vice president corporate relations for Nokia Middle East and Africa. ‚”The AppCampus collaboration showcases our commitment to strengthening the growing mLab network around the world and infoDev’s vision of supporting emerging market entrepreneurs in conquering local, regional and global markets‚”.

The official launch of the program took place during the mobile stream at the Global Forum on Innovation & Technology Entrepreneurship in East London, South Africa, organized by infoDev and the South African Department of Science & Technology. A key theme of the Forum is how innovation can lead to high-growth entrepreneurship which creates sustainable jobs. Valerie D’Costa, infoDev’s Program Manager says, ‚”The AppCampus initiative fits with the philosophy of infoDev of supporting innovative entrepreneurs from developing countries. We want to support those who can excel with some level of mentorship, skills training and seed financing. We provide potential job-creators better access to markets, which is what we are all about.‚”

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