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Why M-Pesa Outperforms Other Developing Country Mobile Money Schemes

24 November 2012 15 comments

Why has M-Pesa been so successful in Kenya, yet mobile money initiatives in other developing countries much less so?  Recent Centre for Development Informatics research[1] can help provide a systematic response.

M-money services have two core functionalities.  Registered customers can convert between e-cash and real cash (typically at the physical premises of an m-money agent), and can transfer e-cash from their account to that of another account holder via SMS. They might use this to send money to family members or friends, or to pay a provider – anyone from a taxi driver to a local school – for goods and services.

M-Pesa was launched in Kenya in 2007.  It has grown spectacularly: in mid-2012, there were 19.5 million m-money users in Kenya (83% of the adult population), transferring nearly US$8 billion per year (equivalent to 24% of GDP) – M-Pesa is responsible for more than 90% of these transfers.  Transfers are growing at nearly 40% per year.

It’s not that m-money initiatives in other developing countries have failed: there are an estimated 250m users of m-money services in emerging markets.  Just that they have not – yet – succeeded on anything like the scale of M-Pesa, with Kenya accounting for 30% of all emerging market m-money transactions in 2011.  For example, a recent survey in South Africa found only 16% of respondents with a mobile money account.  In Nigeria, only 3% of adults use mobile money.  And Africa is the lead continent: outside the Phillipines, m-money has been very slow to catch on in Asia. In India, for example, Nokia quit the m-money business in 2012 after two years of failing to build a critical mass.

How do we explain the differences?  University of Manchester research, based on six months of primary fieldwork conducted by Chris Foster, analysed the reasons M-Pesa has grown so fast in Kenya; reasons summarised in the model shown below:

Ongoing support from government – liberalisation of the mobile market; investment in infrastructure; light-touch regulation; facilitation of the initial pilot, etc – combined with strong consumer demand across all strata of society (itself partly fed by the instability and disruption following the disputed 2007 elections).  These drove a virtuous circle:

  • Competition between mobile sector firms pushed them to seek profits beyond the traditional middle-of-the-pyramid; answering the demand from the majority market of the country’s poor.
  • The service was delivered via atomised distribution networks that reached right down into poor urban and rural communities; a network of nearly 50,000 agents by 2012.
  • Those embedded intermediaries – essential in scaling any innovation to reach the base-of-the-pyramid – were given the flexibility to adapt business models, retailing patterns and service offerings so they met the specific and heterogeneous needs of their local customers.  Effective knowledge channels allowed these innovations to filter back up to the lead firms, which then scaled those they found most useful; fuelling yet further growth.

Armed with this model, we can analyse the m-money weaknesses in other emerging markets.  For example:

  • Much lower levels of customer demand (put down to both culturo-institutional factors and more effective functioning of and access to existing financial services) combined with a more stringent regulatory regime are behind the slow growth rates in India.
  • A much smaller number of intermediaries (agents) and a lack of innovation (e.g. to address cash float problems) is restricting growth of m-money in Uganda and Tanzania.
  • Tighter regulation and the much small number of intermediaries has held back expansion of mobile money services in South Africa.

We are not the first to try to understand the different performance of M-Pesa vs. other countries (see e.g. Wolfgang Fengler, Amaka Okechukwu who both also note the value of Safaricom’s market domination).  However, we hope that our model provides a clear and transferable framework for comparison, that can be used alongside more in-depth evidence from other countries to help understand their relative success or failure in mobile money.

If you see ways in which you think the model should be modified – based either on experiences in Kenya or elsewhere; then let us know . . .


[1] Foster, C. & Heeks, R (2012) Analysing policy for inclusive innovation: the mobile sector and base-of-the-pyramid markets in Kenya, paper presented at Globelics 2012, Hangzhou, 9-11 Nov [copy available on request: innov4dev@gmail.com]

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Steering e-Government Projects from Failure to Success

2 August 2012 2 comments

How do you turn a relatively unsuccessful e-government (or ICT4D) project into a relatively successful one?

There’s not a lot of guidance on this question.  Lists of success and failure factors are generic rather than specific to any one project, and need to be analysed before the project starts.  Evaluation methodologies focus more on impact than implementation, and generally apply only after the project has ended.

What is needed is a “mid-implementation toolkit”: something that will both analyse where you’ve got to in the project, and recommend an improvement action plan for the future.  Researchers working alongside an Ethiopian e-government project have recently published the results of testing just such a toolkit.

Using the “design-reality gap” framework, the researchers gathered data from four different stakeholder groups involved with the e-government project, which had introduced a land management information system into one of Ethiopia’s city administrations.  The system was only partly operational and was not yet fully integrated into city administration procedures: it could therefore be described as a partial failure.

The design-reality gap framework helps measure any differences that exist between the project’s initial design expectations and current implementation realities.  It does this along seven dimensions (see figure below).

Where large gaps are found, these highlight the key and specific problem areas for the project.  In this particular e-government initiative, significant design-reality gaps were identified in relation to:

  • Management systems and structures (a failure to set up an ICT department and to hire permanent IT staff).
  • Staffing and skills (hiring only five of the required nine IT staff, and undershooting the necessary qualifications and experience).
  • Project objectives and values (allowing some culture of corruption to remain among lower-level administrators).
  • Information systems (absence of one core system module and of digitised documents).

These gaps demonstrated that the e-government system had not yet institutionalised within the city government.  The gap analysis was therefore used as the basis for a discussion with senior managers.  From the analysis and discussion emerged two things.

First, identification of small gaps that had lain behind the partial success of the system – the commitment of project champions, process re-design being conducted prior to introduction of new technology, and stability in the information that was digitised onto the e-government system.

Second, identification of an action plan that would close the main extant gaps between design and reality: creating the proposed new ICT deparment, hiring additional IT staff, and setting up permanent positions with clearly defined salary scales and promotional criteria. These, in turn, would provide the basis for implementing the missing module, and scanning the missing legal documentation.

Not all the gaps can readily be closed: it will take a much longer process of cultural change before the last vestiges of corruption can be eliminated.  Nonetheless, design-reality gap analysis did prove itself to be a valuable mid-implementation tool.  It is helping steer this e-government project from partial failure to greater success.  And the authors recommend its use by e-government managers as they implement their projects: it has helped to focus management attention on key e-government project issues; it digs beyond just technical issues to address underlying human and organisational factors; and it offers a systematic and credible basis for project reporting and analysis.

Feel free to comment with your own experiences of design-reality gaps, or other mid-implementation techniques for e-government project analysis and improvement.

ICT and Economic Growth: Evidence from Kenya

26 June 2011 1 comment

Do ICTs contribute to economic growth in developing countries?

In the 1980s, Robert Solow triggered the idea of a productivity paradox, saying “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”  And for many years there was a similar developing country growth paradox: that you could increasingly see ICTs in developing countries except in the economic growth data.

That is still largely true of computers and to some extent the Internet, but much less true overall as mobiles have become the dominant form of ICTs in development.  In particular key studies such as those by Waverman et al (2005), Lee et al (2009), and Qiang (2009) have demonstrated a clear connection between mobiles and economic growth and/or between telecoms more generally and economic growth.  They all address the “endogeneity” problem: that a correlation between telecoms (indeed, all ICTs) and economic growth is readily demonstrable; but that you then have to tease out the direction of causality: economic growth of course causes increased levels of ICTs in a country (we buy more tech as we get richer); you need to try to control for that, and separate out the interesting bit: the extent to which the technology causes economic growth. 

The studies try to do this and show ICT investments cause economic growth, but they are all multi-country and provide no specific insights into the experiences of a particular developing nation.  If you know of such data, do please contribute.  Meanwhile, a recent edition of “Kenya Economic Update” provides an example.  Some overall points:

  • The ICT sector grew at an average of nearly 20% per year from 1999-2009 (by contrast, Kenya’s largest economic sector – agriculture – shrank by an annual average of nearly 2% per year).
  • The number of phone subscriptions has grown from the equivalent of one per 1,000 adults in 1999 to the equivalent of nearly one per adult in 2010; Internet usage rates for 2010 were around four per ten adults.
  • Person-to-person mobile money transactions at the end of 2010 were equivalent to around 20% of GDP with two of every three Kenyan adults being users.

But the report’s strongest claim is this: “ICT has been the main driver of Kenya’s economic growth over the last decade. … Since 2000, Kenya’s economy grew at an average of 3.7 percent. Without ICT, growth would have been a lackluster 2.8 percent—similar to the populaton growth rate—and income per capita would have stagnated”.  So ICTs were responsible for 0.9 of the 3.7% annual GDP growth, and for all of Kenya’s GDP per capita growth.  Put another way, ICTs were responsible for roughly one-quarter of Kenya’s GDP growth during the first decade of the 21st century.

Other nuggets from the report and from original World Bank data underlying the report:

  • The “ICT sector” is actually the “posts and telecommunications” sector.  Comparing figures from Research ICT Africa for mobile + fixed line + Internet/data services with those for the overall sector suggests that ICTs form by far the majority (likely greater than 90%) of that sector.  For the ICT part of the sector, latest figures for 08/09 show mobile takes a 54.8% share, fixed line takes 39.5%, with 1.8% for Internet services and 3.8% for data services (not 100% due to rounding).
  • The ICT sector in 2009 still represented only 5% of total Kenyan GDP (compared to 21% for agriculture/forestry), and growth has been volatile, at least as based on the recorded figures, ranging from 3.5% per year up to 66% per year during the first part of the decade, and from 7.9% to over 30% during the second part of the decade.  Only tourism (hotels/restaurants) was more volatile.  In six of the ten years of the 2000-2009 decade, though, ICT was Kenya’s fastest growing sector.
  • In the first half of the decade, annual investments in mobile were higher than annual revenues; but the ratio has subsequently slipped to investment averaging around half of revenue.  Investments in mobile during 2001/02 to 2009/10 are estimated at US$3.2bn (c.KSh250bn) and US$3bn in fixed phone services, with broadband, Internet and BPO investments adding perhaps another US$1bn.
  • The ICT sector provided a more than six-times-greater contribution to Kenyan GDP in 2009 compared to 1999.  Directly, the ICT sector contributed to 14% of the country’s GDP growth between 2000 and 2009 (at constant (i.e. not actual/current but accounting for inflation) prices, it grew from KSh13.7bn in 2000 to KSh71.8bn in 2009; GDP overall grew from KSh976bn to KSh1.382tn).  So the World Bank’s calculation that ICTs contributed a quarter of GDP growth during the decade also include a specific, quantified assumption about ICTs triggering growth in other sectors, in particular the financial sector.
  • Employment in the ICT sector is estimated to be around 100,000 in 2011 (c. 0.7% of the estimated 14m overall labour force).  But ICT punches above its weight in other ways: changes in mobile prices at the start of 2011 were credited with both causing the Kenyan inflation rate to drop and with potentially derailing government constitutional talks due to the substantial knock-on effects in causing tax revenues to drop since phone companies now contribute such a significant proportion of government income.

So, overall, what do we have here?  Some fairly solid evidence that ICT sector growth (predominantly due to mobiles) is making an important direct contribution to economic growth in this developing country.  And some less clear evidence that the indirect GDP growth effect of ICTs may nearly double this.  Thanks to mobile money, Kenya has seen a particularly strong take-up and economic role for ICTs, but it is fairly typical in terms of mobile investment, revenues, subscriber base, employment, etc.  In that case, it’s not too much of an extrapolation to expect that ICTs will have contributed something like one quarter of GDP growth in many developing countries during the first decade of the 21st century.  Evidence of ICT impact that development strategists and practitioners should be more aware of.

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