Technology Makes Cash Transfers Safer in Kenya

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Note -- this news article is more than a year old.

In the slums of Kenya's capital residents and aid groups are using new technology to send and receive money.

Irene Okoth and her five children have been living on 50 cents a day in Nairobi's Korogocho settlement. That is what she earns recycling garbage from the nearby dump.

But now, her family will be getting some help from an aid group called Concern Worldwide International, through its "urban livelihoods" program. And Okoth will not have to travel to a bank or an aid center to get it.

The money will be put directly into her hands through a mobile telephone system called M-PESA, introduced in Kenya in 2007.

Okoth says it doesn't matter that she does not even own a phone.

"I will go to the M-PESA person. I will give her the SIM card to put for me in their phone. The secret PIN I will put it in myself and then I will remove the money," Okoth explained.

Through the M-PESA money transfer system, subscribers deposit cash through registered agents and notify recipients by text message to collect their money at any one of hundreds of convenient locations.

In a place like Korogocho, one of Nairobi's informal settlements known for its grinding poverty and crime, M-PESA is also the safest option.

Emily Macharia, who started up a shop in Korogocho through funding from Concern Worldwide, says people are more vulnerable to theft if an aid agency representative delivers money to them directly.

"Everybody will know that, that woman, she has gone there, she is going to give her money. You see? The environment we are living in, it is not good for us to expose ourselves. It is good for having M-PESA with us," Macharia noted.

Convenience is also a reason the program works well.

"It takes less than 15 minutes for us to move the money from our account to the beneficiary's account, less than 15 minutes. In terms of them being able to withdraw. There is a huge network of M-PESA agents, particularly in the slum. Every 10 steps you take, there is an M-PESA agent, so in terms of accessing their money, it's pretty easy," Amina Abdulla, one of Concern Worldwide's program managers, said.

Now Irene Okoth is one of M-PESA's newest customers. She received her payment, the local equivalent of about $20 (US), and has immediate plans for the money.

"As for now, I have arrears on my rent. For the first cash transfer, I will take 1,000 [shillings] and start the fish business," Okoth said. "I'll give 500 [shillings] and give it to the landlord, [and] will take the remaining 500 [shillings] and do the budget for my house."

Okoth says her first experience with M-PESA has dispelled the doubts she had about using mobile phone technology.

This article was originally published by Voice of America.

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Tags: m-pesa  Kenya 

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