The Mobile Path to Economic Opportunity

July 30, 2010
Peanut Seller in West Africa

About the Authors: Maria Otero serves as Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, and Alec Ross serves as Senior Advisor for Innovation in the Office of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Imagine you are a peanut farmer in northern Cameroon. There is one road from the north to the south, and the closest market is days away. Your family counts on the income fetched by market prices, and prays that a drought doesn't decimate the harvest.

Now imagine you are a peanut farmer with a cell phone. You sign up for SMS updates on market prices, and instead of walking south for days, you opt to go north for a chance at higher profits. Meanwhile, with a simple text, you can transfer part of your income to your child's school, buy crop insurance, and create a savings account at the closest bank -- 50 miles away.

The peanut farmer's story is coming closer to being a reality for hundreds of millions of people. In some parts of the world, such innovation through mobile phones is changing the lives of low-income farmers and entrepreneurs.

Just as mobile phones are becoming lower cost and more ubiquitous, over two billion adults around the world do not have access to either formal or semi-formal financial services. New developments in mobile education and banking are changing the cost equation of accessing remote and poor populations in the developing world, as mobile phones bridge income gaps and catapult over brick-and mortar-based service provision.

As part of Secretary Clinton's vision of 21st Century Statecraft, we are pleased to be holding the second iteration of the Tech@State series, this time convening leading experts on mobile money. We will discuss implications and applications of mobile money within U.S. foreign policy goals, such as food security, transparency and security, financial inclusion, and more. With participation from USAID, the Treasury Department, nonprofits, academics, and technology companies, we look forward to a productive discussion of the challenges and opportunities of mobile innovation.

As the State Department pursues its priorities of economic growth and empowerment, we are increasingly cognizant of the role that mobile technology will play for generations to come. We hope you will join us.

Tech@State: Mobile Money will be held Monday, August 2, 2010, at the George Marshall Conference Center at the Harry Truman building of the State Department from 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. To learn more about Tech@State: Mobile Money, please click here.



United States
July 31, 2010

Zharkov in U.S.A. writes:

Imagine that you are Secretary of State and your own country is bankrupt and financially in worse shape than Camaroon. How important should economic growth in Camaroon be to you then? What could possibly be in our "national interest" in Camaroon while our own country is insolvent?

Al Martin - former contributor to the Presidential Council of Economic Advisors and retired naval intelligence officer - observed in an April 2005 newsletter that the ratio of total U.S. debt to gross domestic product rose from 78 percent in 2000 to 308 percent in April 2005.

The International Monetary Fund considers a nation-state with a total debt-to-GDP ratio of 200 percent or more to be a "de-constructed Third World nation-state."

Martin explained:

'de-constructed' actually means is that a political regime in that country, or series of political regimes, have, through a long period of fraud, abuse, graft, corruption and mismanagement, effectively collapsed the economy of that country."

pamela g.
West Virginia, USA
August 2, 2010

Pamela G. in West Virginia writes:

It is amazing and necessary for such technology to be available to the whole world.

New Mexico, USA
August 2, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Mmmm well, there's a flip side to taking a single statistic by a single expert, and deconstructing US policy with it. Suddenly everyone's a foreign policy expert.

Tell that to the girl in the photo because her upward mobility growing up won't let her keep her job serving folks peanuts from atop her head forever, she'll be at eye level with the rest of the adult world soon enough if she gets the opportunity to grow up to be what she wants to be.

@ Maria Otero and Alex Ross,

Ok, so's there's this 1986 Isuzu Trooper 4x4 of the year in my driveway that runs reliably...was my "parts vehicle" for the cash-for-clunker unemployment restoration project sitting there as well of the same year, which at a measly 90hp is still getting 20+ mpg and it will haul a lot of peanuts to market.

Needs a little work before I'd let USAID come pick it up and arrange delivery with their commitment to do the work needed to it prior, but they can have the 4x4 for $1.00 cash to make title transfer legal, and in care of the farmers mentioned.

They still have to move peanuts, and that won't be by phone.

Dipnote staff has my contact info.

C P.
October 14, 2010

C.P. in China writes:

Wow, it is great how the technology and ability of cell phones are advancing even in such rural areas. Goes to hold that communication and knowlegde can lead to great success, especially for these peanut farmers.

Patrick W.
Maryland, USA
October 15, 2010

Patrick W. in Maryland writes:

Your Right some of these new Cell Phones are like little hand held computers. They even take pictures. You can almost run a company while you on the move.:)

Great Posting Maria :)


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