Rural Women Banking by Mobile Phone

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

PLUMTREE, Zimbabwe, Nov 14, 2011 (IPS) – Collecting the monthly subscriptions for her co-operative has always been a headache for Thelma Nare, 41. This is because Nare lives in Tshitshi, Plumtree in rural Zimbabwe, about 60 kilometres away from the humdrum of the nearest town centre where banks are located.

“We meet after a long time as here in the rural areas our homesteads can be very far from each other. So members of our club do not meet or contribute regularly,” Nare said.

In fact, the women in the co-operative do not have a bank account. Until recently, Nare and the other co-operative members had to physically be present to make their monthly contributions.

But now, these “unsophisticated” rural women find themselves at the centre of efforts by mobile phone service providers to introduce mobile phone money transfers in Zimbabwe.

Those without bank accounts, like Nare and her co-operative, can now send and receive cash via their mobile phones.

The system is fairly simple. A user registers for mobile phone banking with their service provider and is given a mobile “e-wallet” – an application on their sim card that is linked to their phone number.

When the user wants to pay for services or transfer money to someone they simply have to go to an agent and pay the desired amount, which is loaded onto the “e-wallet”. The payment is made and the recipient can withdraw the money from an agent. There are various agents affiliated with the mobile service providers across the country, making the service easily accessible to those in rural areas.

It is a convenient system that no longer limits the women’s movements. Nare and the women in her co-operative make regular trips to Bulawayo to sell produce, like Mopani worms. This means that they miss paying their monthly subscriptions.

And as with many co-operatives, or money clubs as they are called here, defaulters are not particularly valued. But these women would have not been able to cope with the country’s failing economy if it had not been for the money club.

Source: IPS (link opens in a new window)