A new institute was officially launched on Thursday, 18 September 2008, funded (US$1.7m) by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to explore how the world’s poor use technology to spend, store, and save money. The Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion will be housed in the University of California at Irvine’s School of Social Sciences.
You might be wondering why so much money should be spent on academic study of a phenomena that has largely grown out of the innovation of people themselves in developing countries. But if you look at this intitiative from the point of view of collecting evidence and conducting rigorous research about the needs of poor people and how they adopt and adapt new technologies then it will be very worthwhile. It is also encouraging to read in the official press release that some money is to be spent in developing countries to support local research.
Reflect also on the issue that in the past research about how people use mobile banking might have been focussed on the main consumer markets in the world. Here it would be axiomatic that the research was connected with driving profit in high value markets. The context of the research of the new institute is clearly the world’s poor. Often, in the past technology has been driven by the needs of high value markets. Now, perhaps there is the opportunity to enable the technology to deliver on the needs of the poor. First there needs to be systematic research into their needs.
A final thought: it would be good to see this research effort engage with the multiple stakeholders that will be needed to translate the research into practice.