“Paying for a taxi ride using your mobile phone is easier in Nairobi than it is in New York,” The Economist announced in 2013, and it was right – in most part thanks to the revolutionary mobile money transfer system called M-Pesa.
Launched in 2007 by Safaricom, the system allows users to easily send money to businesses or to each other using a text message from a low-tech mobile phone. The service now has 12.2 million active customers, which is more than half of Kenya’s adult population. The social change brought about by this technology is phenomenal – since 2007, the percentage of adults in the country with access to financial services has grown from 41% to 67%. M-Pesa was the brainchild of Susie Lonie and Nick Hughes, who conceived of it as a microfinance loan repayment system, funded in part by the UK government. But the idea took on a life of its own after a pilot run, and is now one of the most successful mobile money transfer methods in the world. Since its success, Safaricom has launched M-Shwari, a mobile-based savings and loan service, and has partnered with M-Kopa, which provides pay-as-you-go solar energy for customers who are off the grid. M-Pesa itself has expanded to Tanzania, South Africa, Afghanistan, India, and Romania.