About the Author: Dr. Maura O’Neill is the Chief Innovation Officer at USAID

I just got back earlier today from Afghanistan where I co-hosted our Mobile Money Summit with USAID Deputy Mission Director Kevin Brownawell to announce our Mobile Money Innovation Grant Fund. The fund will enable public-private partnerships in Afghanistan to expand local mobile money products and services.  Also present at the announcement was Afghanistan’s Minister of Finance H.E. Omar Zakhilwal and Governor of Da Afghanistan Bank Abdul Qadeer Fitrat.

USAID Deputy Mission Director Kevin Brownawell, USAID Chief Innovation Officer Dr. Maura O'Neill and Afghanistan’s Minister of Finance H.E. Omar Zakhilwal at the Mobile Money Summit in Kabul. Photo Credit: USAID

Only 4% of Afghans have a bank account. In most regions of the country a bank branch doesn’t even exist. Hard to run a business, save money or pay loans back for needed supplies like seeds if there is no financial infrastructure. But what if Afghans could send or receive money using their mobile phone? And what if they could pay for medicines, fertilizer and other things that way?  Then more than the 12 million people in the country who today own mobile phones could have the benefits that a modern financial system provides. Mobile coverage is over 85% of the country.

Kay McGowan, USAID’s Senior Advisor on Afghanistan knew that enabling mobile money nationwide could be a foundational investment that would strengthen the country for decades to come. Administrator Shah immediately understood and threw his enthusiastic support behind this initiative. General Petraeus has placed enormous importance on mobile money since so many of the Afghan police and military that we are relying on to stabilize the country have to leave their posts for extended times to pick up their salary or deliver it to their family. Other interagency representatives saw the opportunity for mobile money transfers to take cash off the battlefield and create a transparent trail of money flows. USAID is working closely with our Treasury colleagues on making sure proper systems are in place.

Working with the mobile operators and banks, the USAID Mobile Money Innovation Fund will speed the cost-effective roll-out of mobile money because it offers the people of Afghanistan an efficient way to extend the reach of financial services to underserved populations.

We had over 120 representatives from government ministries, the international donor community, mobile network operators, banks, and microfinance institutions in attendance to discuss the opportunities and challenges in expanding mobile money and branchless banking in Afghanistan. Additionally, I was proud to attend the summit with Priya Jaisinghani, a leading expert here at USAID on mobile banking.

The Mobile Money Innovation Grant Fund will be managed by Greg Howell through USAID’s new Financial Access for Investing in the Development of Afghanistan project.

Congratulations to all USAID staff who were instrumental in making this happen. The fund will support mobile money infrastructure deployment as well as consumer awareness and protection which can serve as a catalyst for economic development.