Sunday, November 27, 2011

IMTFI PANEL at 54th Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association

By IMTFI researcher Vivian Dzokoto

Since 1957, the African Studies Association (ASA) has converged individuals with academic and professional interests in Africa, and served as the leading North American organization promoting the academic study of that continent. This year, IMTFI sponsored a panel at ASA’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C. In line with the conference theme “50 Years of African Liberation,” the IMTFI panel was titled “Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion in Africa: What We Know After 50 Years of Liberation.”

Out of the conference’s 214 panels, the IMTFI-sponsored panel was the only one that focused on contemporary financial services and the poor. The panel highlighted major findings from 4 of 20 research projects focusing on various countries in Africa that IMTFI has funded over the past 3 years. Presenters examined pathways and obstacles to achieving financial inclusion for the poor in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, and Ethiopia.
In her presentation “Poor Communities and the Quest for Financial and Information Service Provision: The Case of Botswana,” Alice Shemi* (University of Botswana) revealed areas for improvement in access to information and financial services for the poor in Botswana. Vivian Dzokoto* (Virginia Commonwealth University), in “Post-Redenomination Money Management Practices among Ghana’s Urban Poor,” observed that an unintended consequence of currency redenomination can be further financial exclusion of the poor. In contrast to the first two presenters, Francis Wambalaba* (United States International University, Kenya) showcased a success story of mobile money as a medium for financial inclusion and social mobility in his paper in “E-money for Enhancing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at Bottom of the Pyramid: A Case Study for m-Banking in Kenya”. Finally, in “Understanding Social Payments and Relationships Among Poor People in Ethiopia,” Mesfin Woldmariam (Addis Ababa University) highlighted the culturally-relevant design issues that have to be taken into consideration in the design of mobile money products in order to facilitate greater access to these financial tools.

Collectively, the presentations highlight financial inclusion and exclusion of the poor in various countries as part of Africa’s reality 50 years after liberation. While mobile money products may provide a means to achieve financial opportunities for underserved populations, the introduction of such products should not ignore cultural practices that may shape their uptake and perceived utility.

Working papers based on the presentations will be available at the IMFI website in January 2012.

*These projects were conducted with collaborators.

Photo courtesy of Vivian Dzokoto. Pictured left to right: Vivian Dzokoto, Francis Wambalaba, Alice Shemi, & Mesfin Fikere

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