Mobile money, or mobile payments/mobile banking, is a rapidly growing industry that serves as an alternative to traditional banking. What is mobile money and why is it important is a question most acutely significant to those in developing countries.

Of the 2.6 billion people in the world who live on less than $2 a day, about 80 percent of them do not have access to a bank account. This is completely understandable due to banking fees and lack of access to banks. Thus, for this population, all transactions are chiefly done through “informal financial tools.”

Payments are made in cash or through physical bartering (e.g., food, livestock, traded goods, etc). Or, for bigger expenses, people are forced to go through other informal means of acquiring money like money lenders and payment couriers although these methods are unreliable, hard to access and can carry even higher fees. Meaning that those living in poverty are further hindered in breaking away from their circumstances.

At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Financial Services for the Poor (FSP) team believes that given the right financial tools like mobile money, poor households can capture more opportunities. Mobile phones serve as virtual devices for holding money and making payments electronically, like a bank account and/or credit card. Paychecks can even be credited to mobile devices. Access to mobile phones is widespread in all regions of the world, far more than traditional banks.

In an effort to further develop these technologies, FSP has partnered with the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA) and created an industry-wide competition for finding new and innovative electronic payment methods via mobile banking.

This has “the potential to make a profound impact on the global market, particularly to un-banked or under-banked consumers in the developing world. Thus far, we have seen a large drop in costs and increased access when mobile channels are used,” says Megan Oxman, a program officer with the FSP.

It is expected that the mobile money market will grow from a $13.8 billion dollar business in 2013, to $278.9 billion by 2018. The more the industry grows, the more reliable and accessible this form of “banking” will become, allowing for more stability and development within impoverished communities.

– Mary Purcell


It was in 2010 when Emmy-award winning TV producer Kimba Langas partnered up with pastor and social entrepreneur Dave Terpstra to make a difference.

Dave had moved to Mozambique with his family to help rehabilitate women who were survivors of sex trafficking. He wanted to help the women find jobs in order to ensure themselves a sustainable income, thereby lessening their vulnerability. Trafficking is all about vulnerability, he explains; people who are desperate to work and make money are taken advantage of.

“He found his answer in the bustling used clothing markets of Mozambique,” writes CNN producer Lisa Cohen.

Selling bras seems like a unique, new and interesting idea, but it wasn’t based on a random decision. Dave noticed that these women could make a profit that was higher than the minimum wage by selling second-hand clothing, and bras are well-demanded. He went on to team up with Kimba Langas to address this idea, and they created the Free the Girls charity, which collected bra donations from all over the U.S.

Langas created a Facebook page to publicize the start-up fundraiser, and the bras started pouring in. She explains that a majority of women have a large collection of bras that don’t fit well anymore or bras that are not being used anymore. However, after a few months, Langas ran into a new issue concerning the 20,000+ bras she had been sent – the shipping alone would have cost her $6,500, well outside her budget for the project.

“That’s when the story was featured on CNN, and everything changed.”

Paul Jarzombek, Director of Operations at LR International, reached out to Langas since he has a shipping company in Chicago. A domino effect of kindness then occurred as a truck driver, Rick Youngquist, offered to deliver the bras from Denver to Chicago.

Rick had recently joined an organization called Truckers Against Trafficking where truck drivers learn about how to spot and respond to signs of human trafficking on the road. Although it took three months, the bras did eventually reach Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.

According to Lisa Cohen, the success of this bra charity led the Free the Girls organization to target other places within Africa and beyond. For now, women survivors in Mozambique express their gratitude. One survivor has said, “I just want to tell the people in America, they’ve given us the strength we needed. Thank you very much.”

And that is how bras helped human trafficking survivors; anything is possible.

– Leen Abdallah

Source: CNN Freedom Project

In a new program, the World Bank is partnering with the Development Bank of Ethiopia to fund geothermal energy exploration in the country, which is extremely rich in geothermal resources that lay through the Great Rift Valley.

Up until recently, no geothermal energy projects have been pursued in Ethiopia due to high costs and lack of funding, but the new project will fund an initial $20 million to ignite such projects, with an additional $20 million to be given down the road. The agreement states that the World Bank will pledge $200 million towards developing Ethiopia’s energy infrastructure.

This is not the first energy investment the World Bank has made in Ethiopia; they gave $40 million to the country’s private sector for renewable energy pursuits last year. Initial funds will be put towards exploratory drilling to determine the potential of geothermal projects, and once more information is available, the World Bank will start accepting proposals from organizations and investors interested in developing geothermal projects and power plants within Ethiopia.

Other such geothermal projects have already been in the works by the African Development Bank, with geothermal programs slated for Kenya, Tanzania, and Djibouti. Professor Paul Younger of Glasgow University asserts that the promise for geothermal development in these areas of East Africa is great, with Kenya as the latest “success story.” Although projects in other areas are merely in the preliminary stages, Dr. Younger maintains that the energy industry in the region is developing quickly, and energy development in Eritrea and Uganda may even be possible in the future.

Along with rich geothermal resources, Ethiopia also has considerable hydropower potential of up to 45,000 MW, taking into consideration the great water and rainfall resources in the country. Hydropower already accounts for 86 percent of energy produced there, so officials recognize the need to diversify current energy sources and are aiming to harness the potential 5,000 MW of energy that geothermal technologies can offer. The country’s dependence on water resources for power are especially alarming in light of climate change issues, which include increasingly sporadic rainfall and drought conditions.

Although the country has come very far in energy development within the last few years, 85 percent of the population still lacks access to an affordable source of energy. The country is hoping to provide for the population and decrease dependency on hydropower through aggressive pursuits of renewable energy. As part of the five-year plan, Ethiopia is aiming to increase its energy portfolio fourfold by 2015.

Christina Mattos Kindlon

Source: The Guardian


February 13 was World Radio Day. Started in 2011 by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Radio Day is meant to commemorate the establishment of United Nations Radio in 1946. Since then, there have been unbelievable strides in mass-media and communication. According to UNESCO however, the radio still manages to reach 95 percent of the world, a feat neither television or the internet can claim to have achieved.

But what is it about the radio that has enabled it to be such a helpful tool for developing countries in times of war and general disconnect? Wave frequencies can be produced with the simplest transmitters. The actual radio itself, being portable and in many cases, battery-operated, makes it much more available than television and computers in villages and other rural areas where electrical outlets are hard to come by, let alone a stable flow of electricity.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended the use of radio “as a channel for life-saving information”. Discussing his life growing up in a Korean village, Ban Ki-moon stresses the importance of the radio for emergency instructions in times of war as well as the main source of information and knowledge for many. Whether it delivers breaking news or issues warnings to those living far from civilization, radios save lives.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova gave a speech on World Radio Day that focused on the wide-spread use of radios not just on a global scale but in smaller communities. Even though the areas the waves reach may not be extensive, it gives the younger generation an opportunity to learn and experiment with technology. Community radio, Bokova says, helps address poverty and social exclusion as well as empowers marginalized rural groups, young people, and women.

As UENSCO optimistically revives the meaning and purpose of the radio, evidence of its pricelessness can be found everywhere. In November of last year, the non-profit THNKR, which is a Youtube channel that showcases people doing amazing things around the world that have the potential to change the way we think and view each others’ and our own potential, posted a video of Kelvin Doe. Kelvin, better known from his radio name as DJ Focus, comes from Sierra Leone. He has become quite famous over the past year for his talent and gift of being a self-taught engineer. By scraping together whatever metals he could, he built his own FM transmitter and generator. With his own radio station, DJ Focus broadcasts music, has an open forum and enjoys entertaining over the radio like any other 16-year-old would, taking full advantage of everything his small radio has to offer.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source:UN News Centre

Whether it’s the annoying news reporter or that obnoxious know-it-all in your Air Pollution class, people everywhere seem to be making up facts and statistics about our energy consumption. Does charging your phone from a laptop save more energy than if you were to charge it from a wall plug? Would using solar energy to power factories actually reduce air pollution?

Energy 101, a free online class offered by the Georgia Institute of Technology, sheds light on “the driving forces of energy used in transportation”, the production of energy-efficient products, and the process of converting renewable resources into a more desired form.

Dr. Sam Shelton, a veteran in energy systems, teaches the course. Aside from his multi-million dollar funded research and development, he is the founder of two companies that produce and market energy-efficient products. He was also a leading developer in the 1980s of the first commercial solar energy systems and investigated the efficiency of offshore wind farms.

The format of the Energy 101 is as simple as they come: over the span of nine weeks, lectures are taught in 5-12 minute videos. Quizzes are also given and upon finishing the program, students will receive a Certificate of Completion.

But what use is studying the complexities of thermodynamics to the average curious cat? For one thing, Dr. Shelton stresses the ‘no experience necessary’ aspect of the class. You don’t need to be able to understand physics or be able to use mathematical formulas to do well in the class. The information from this class can be put to use in a variety of settings from an elementary school classroom in Arkansas to sustainable farming training in Cambodia.

Understanding the truth about how we use energy and where it comes from will help dictate our policies on diverting our focus to the right alternatives.

Before even listening to one lecture, Dr. Shelton lets his potential students in on an unexpected secret, “Building nuclear, wind and solar energy systems does not save any oil in the U.S..” This only goes to illustrate the new and exciting information students of Energy 101 can look forward to learning that will enlighten them on the truth about energy consumption in the world.

– Deena Dulgerian


Indian Healthcare
Private healthcare has grown in prominence in India, constituting 93 percent of all hospitals and 85 percentof doctors today. The government clinics are sparse, leaving Indians no choice but to seek private healthcare. With no real government regulations, many private practices are taking advantage of the poor, uneducated or illiterate patients, and especially women. By providing expensive treatments that are not necessary, many are left in atrocious debts and physical pain.

Oxfam personnel in India have obtained substantial evidence on these abuses committed against Indian women at these private clinics and hospitals. Doctors have coerced thousands of women to get unnecessary hysterectomies when they come in for treatment for stomachaches or abdominal problems. Akhil Bhartiya Grhak Panchayat, a local NGO in Dausa, has found that almost 70 percent of the women who have gone to the clinics, which the NGO obtained information from, have had hysterectomies performed on them. The investigation also revealed that many of these women were less than 29 years old.

Besides hysterectomies, many women were also tricked into having cesarean surgeries instead of a natural delivery. A cesarean operation can cost about four times as much as a normal delivery.  In addition to the cost of the operation, the doctors would then charge for consultation and hospital beds. These unwarranted procedures leave the women deeply in debt, and sometimes in worse physical shape and unable to work.

These unnecessary treatments for financial gains are unethical and a violation of human rights. Oxfam urges the Indian government to regulate the private healthcare sector and work towards developing an affordable healthcare system for everyone in India. Oxfam is working to end this exploitation of women in need of health services.

– Pimrapee Thungkasemvathana

Source: Guardian

Photo: Time


The State of the Union Speech is made interactive on President Obama’s site. An extensive use of charts and data run simultaneously alongside the video of his speech.

At about 45 minutes into the speech he speaks of impoverished areas of the world, and addresses why it is important to eradicate extreme poverty, “Not only because it creates new markets, more stable order in certain regions of the world, but also because it’s the right thing to do.” He pledges to reduce and eliminate some of the fundamental health concerns that affect developing nations.

As he presses that the need to save children all over the world from preventable death, a statistic displays that, “since the 1960s child mortality rates around the world have declined by 70 percent. Compared to 20 years ago, we’re saving 4.4 million more children every year.”

Then he reiterates a “promise of an AIDS-free generation,” and insists that it is possible. Another message then shows, “The U.S. directly supported life-saving HIV antiretroviral treatment for nearly 5.1 million men, women and children worldwide.”

The State of the Union speech is made interactive even more by asking viewers to “get involved” and tell Obama what passage of the speech is most meaningful to them. A full transcript of the speech is laid out, any area can be highlighted with a click and then a comments window pops up to send him feedback.

Give your citizen’s response.

– Mary Purcell





North of Lake Kivu in the city of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, civil strife has caused thousands of refugees to flee to the Bulengo Camp. Home to about 45,000, Bulengo has been given the remodeling of a lifetime thanks to the hard work of Oxfam volunteers. Over a six week period, a basic yet high-functioning water filtration system has been set up that provides enough clean water for the entire camp.

The entire system is comprised of hundreds of meters of piping. Water is pumped directly from Lake Kivu and sent to large tanks. Within these tanks, the water is filtered and chlorinated to prevent diseases such as cholera. The tanks can hold up to 70,000 liters (approximately 18,492 gallons) each and are filled twice a day.

An amazing aspect of this system, aside from the fact that it provides the most basic need to thousands, is that the system is managed by the refugees. They maintain the pipes and check the chlorination process to ensure everything runs smoothly from the lake to the lips of thirsty refugees. The best job, however, is that of the young children who run to the taps in the camp to freely fill up their buckets and bottles.

Oxfam shows that through providing basic building materials, it is possible to greatly impact more than 45,000 people. It is proven through successful aid work that developing countries do not need the most modern technology; they do not only require a constant stream of millions of dollars but also the time and creativity of those willing to go out to these countries and help. In a matter of just six weeks, thousands of lives have instantly changed. There was no need for excessive donors, elongated presentations or even extensive research on how to solve the problem. Six weeks, plastic pipes and plastic bottles was all it took to get clean water from lake to lips.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source:Oxfam International

Brain Drain
The encouraging news is that, overall, African students who study abroad are returning to Africa for many reasons. The “Brain Drain”, when students go elsewhere to study and never return, has been a serious problem all over the continent with students attending universities in the United States and Europe and staying there to work.

As of late, more and more students are returning to their home countries because of the growing number of opportunities for young businessmen and women to make a profit and a difference. The changing trend is not to be strictly attributed to a sense of duty. Instead, business sense and entrepreneurship fuel the change. A greater retention of the best-educated scholars could lead to new businesses, job creation, social change and a higher level of government efficiency- all changes that would be welcomed throughout many sub-Saharan countries.

As seen in many international aid programs, the most successful projects are those in which the local community is invested and involved. The growing return rate of students aids the “local” aspect and also leads to business growth as well.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source:Voice of America
Photo: CAFWD

Shyamola Begum And Her Two Daughters
A story of poverty reduction in Bangladesh has come in second place in an annual U.N. Development Programme Competition. The purpose of the competition was to capture the result of transformative development in a story. “These stories highlight UNDP’s critical work on poverty reduction, democratic governance, crisis prevention and recovery and the environment and sustainable development,” said UNDP chief Helen Clark.

The story involves Shyamola Begum of Dhaka and how she managed to support herself and her two children after her husband left her. Shyamola’s situation is not uncommon in Dhaka. Every year, tens of thousands of women are left by their husbands who have given up hope in the face of poverty and lack of employment opportunities. However, after receiving an entrepreneur grant of roughly $30 from the UK’s Urban Partnerships for Poverty Reduction fund, Shyamola was able to open a tea stall. In just a few months, she had more than doubled her investment.

“Until I became destitute, I had never imagined I could run a business, that I could do accounts, that I could be successful,” said Shyamola.

Her success is also not uncommon. Over the past five years, 55,000 families like Shyamola’s all across Bangladesh have received similar assistance from UPPR, the largest urban poverty reduction initiative in Bangladesh. Over the past decade, Bangladesh’s poverty has decreased by half, 90 percent of young girls are enrolled in schools and child mortality has gone down by 60 percent.

Regarding the UNDP stories, Clark said, “They remind us that people are and always will be the center of UNDP’s work.”

– Rafael Panlilio

Source: The Daily StarUNDP