By: Mark Feierstein, USAID Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean
One of the hallmarks of the U.S. Government’s fresh approach to development in Haiti is making better use of innovative private sector ideas to solve tough development challenges.
So when one third of Haiti’s bank branches were destroyed in the earthquake a year ago, we looked for ways to overcome one of the primary obstacles to economic growth in the country: poor access to affordable financial services. But instead of building more banks or installing ATMs, the U.S. Agency for International Development partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to set up a $10 million incentive fund to jump start the provision of banking services to Haitians through their mobile phones.
In the short term, the Haitian Mobile Money Initiative will enable Haitians, 40% of whom own a mobile phone, to communicate, send, receive and store money on their devices.
The Government of Haiti and the private sector have enthusiastically embraced the mobile money initiative. The Central Bank of Haiti has already issued new directives on mobile banking. And yesterday, USAID and the Gates Foundation awarded Digicel $2.5 million for being the first telecommunications company to develop a competitive mobile money service in Haiti.
The project has already significantly increased the number of Haitians with access to banking services, and it has the potential to provide universal access thanks to the increasing penetration of cell phones in the country. By helping Haiti leapfrog the limits of the physical infrastructure of banking, mobile banking is putting financial power literally into Haitian hands.
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