The January 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti. It left in its wake a government in rubble, an economy in shambles, and a people living in makeshift camps, coping with loss, financial ruin and disease. Against this tragic backdrop, the possibility of progress lives not just in the resilient spirit of the Haitian people, but also in the simple power of their mobile phones.
In June 2010, USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation launched the Haiti Mobile Money Initiative (HMMI). This program intended to lever mobile technologies and the private sector to bring financial services to Haitians, 90 percent of whom didn’t have access to a bank account before the earthquake destroyed nearly one-third of the country’s bank branches. It endeavored, in other words, to implement and scale a banking infrastructure without banks.
If successful, this effort will result in 5 million transactions. The partnership includes three distinct components:
- Challenge Fund: The Gates Foundation provided $10M for an incentive fund to challenge mobile operators to deploy a mobile payments platform in Haiti and reward them for scaling up.
- Technical Assistance: USAID provided approximately $5M for technical and management assistance to help “prime the pump” and ensure that the many players are equipped to participate in a nationwide mobile payments platform.
- Research: The Gates Foundation invested approximately $4.7 million for ongoing impact research.
So far, the partnership has been successful. In January, one year after the earthquake, HMMI awarded Digicel and its partner bank Scotiabank, its “First to Market” Award of $2.5 million for “Tcho Tcho Mobile.” In August, HMMI awarded mobile operator Voila and their bank partner Unibank $1.5 million for “Ti-Cash.” By the end of July our partners reached 300,000 subscribers and Haitians have conducted nearly 1,00,000 transactions.
This is also not just about mobile phones. The power of mobile phones depends on coverage and connectivity. Through USAID’s Global Broadband Initiative, we have reduced the cost of internet connectivity by 60 to 80 percent. We have connected 22 cities, 6 regions, and 40 schools, totaling 7 million people.
This is not just a story of meeting unmet demand for financial services. It is a story about trust—the successful scale of mobile money in Haiti stemmed in part because Haitians trust mobile network operators (MNOs) far more (65%) than they trust banks (39%). The importance of trust cannot be overemphasized in Haiti and myriad other developing countries where citizens living in remote rural areas and urban centers alike often cannot trust that basic services will be there when they need them.
And, this is certainly not just a story about us. A number of key organizations and institutions contributed to the advance of mobile money and financial inclusion in Haiti.
- The Government of Haiti has started to pay 6,500 pensioners using mobile phones.
- Mercy Corps used mobile money to provide cash grants and food aid disbursements to 6,000 beneficiaries in Saint Marc, totaling over $ 1million in payments.
- The entrance of Digicel and Voila decreased the cost of a phone from $ 300 - $500 to below $25. Eighty-five percent of Haitians now say they own a phone and use it regularly.
You cannot rebuild a country using mobile phones. You still need trust in local institutions. You still need ambitious partners eager to make a difference. And you still need the human ingenuity and resilient spirit alive in the Haitian people. With these ingredients, we’re making real progress in Haiti, click by click.