Mercy Corps Mobile Money Turns Phones Into Wallets for 100,000-Plus Haitians

Mercy Corps partners with Trilogy to deliver financial services to Haiti's unbanked.

The international aid non-profit Mercy Corps does not shy away from innovation—the global development agency announced this week that they are bringing mobile financial services to Haitians without bank accounts in a new initiative and partnership with Washington-based Trilogy and Haiti's Unibank. That's on top of their earlier feat this month of deploying just five water treatment systems to Pakistan that managed to serve thousands of people.

Mercy Corps has rolled out mobile banking during other emergencies, but they've often involved long lines for payments at a set time with no flexibility. Plus, people walk away with paper money that can easily be lost or stolen. Instead, "Mercy Corps is using mobile money in our cash-based programs in the Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite regions of Haiti—running cash-for-work programs, offering cash grants and vouchers....," Mercy Corps' spokeswoman Joy Portella tells Fast Company. "Mobile money is easier—people receive the money on their phones and can withdraw/store money when they want to, and the security risks are far lower."

Local Haitians like that the program is discrete and private and just between the participating institutions. "It’s a very good way of paying people because it’s very discrete, people don't know your business—it’s between us, Mercy Corps and the bank," said Haitian program participant Sylmanie Prophete, 27. UniBank and wireless carrier partner, Voila, want to expand the network to include leading banks and their customers.

"What's innovative is the ability to use mobile phones not just as a way to receive payments, but as a way to "store value"—so people can spend some money from their phones in stores/merchants, and they can also keep money on their phones so that it serves as a "wallet." This is the foundation for using mobile phones as a vehicle to receive and manage a range of financial services in the future," says Portella. "Hopefully, people will eventually use their phones as bank accounts, and to receive and send money to loved ones. For a country where most people don't have a bank account but almost everyone has a cell phone, that's an exciting possibility."

[Photo via Agencia Brazil]

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  • pdgoodman

    No mention of the way the system works? This country is entirely devoid of mobile banking services and it would be nice to know how Mercy Corps accomplished this feat. Is money transfered as credit? Or as a redeemable token? A little reporting (not just a press release) would be nice.