Major mobile money projects in Africa and Asia being run by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will go live as early as the middle of this year, giving some of the world’s poorest people access to financial services.

The foundation, set up by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, helps these projects in various ways. It provides philanthropic capital and technical assistance, as well as open source software in some cases.

Kosta Peric, deputy director of financial services for the poor at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said projects in Pakistan, Tanzania and eight West African countries could go live as early as the middle of this year. “These projects will this year move from deployment and development to actually serving the poor populations,” he said. 

For poor communities, access to financial services is vital to enable them to become economically active. For example, it can help farmers get paid for their produce, buy fertiliser and receive subsidies. Or a woman in Africa with a mobile phone could receive a salary payment, send money to other wallets, buy things, pay bills and receive social security.

“These projects will generate an impact on hundreds of millions of people that will be able to connect to and use payments to improve their lives and integrate with the economy,” said Peric.

The foundation has already completed the go-live for the M-Pesa mobile money platform in Kenya and mCash in Bangladesh. Mobile phones are a vital enabler, and Peric said that of the 1.7 billion unbanked people in the world, more than 90% have a simple mobile phone.

In mid-2020, a project to help create a national real-time payments platform in Pakistan is expected to go live, as is a platform in Tanzania. Later this year, a mobile project covering eight West African countries is expected to be rolled out.

Some of the projects use the Mojaloop open source software developed by Ripple, Dwolla, ModusBox, Software Group and Crosslake Technologies for the Gates Foundation. “This is great because it allows projects to kick-start development with something that already exists,” said Peric. Other projects develop their own software.

Capital from the Gates Foundation de-risks projects and entices commercial players to get involved, with the aim for the projects to be self-sustaining.

The services that are already live are being run commercially, which means they can be sustained without external contributions. “These have proved that it is possible to serve even the poorest people at a profit,” said Peric.

Huge progress has already been made, he pointed out. In Africa alone, the mobile money projects that the Gates Foundation has supported will enable 200 million people to connect to financial services. “The foundation wants to play its part in connecting all of the 400 million adults in Africa,” said Peric.

Peric is a computer scientist by profession, and spent more than 23 years working for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (Swift).

His last role at Swift was head of innovation in its Innotribe organisation, which innovates on behalf of the hundreds of banks that own it. He was the architect of the current Swift network, and first became interested in financial inclusion during his time at Innotribe.



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