In July 2008 I was sitting in eBay Leadership training and was asked to tell the group what inspired me about my work. I got up and immediately began telling the story of the Masai tribe I had visited just a week before while on holiday. These people had no running water, no electricity… they dressed in traditional outfits, beautiful red and purple blankets. They carried sticks. Their shoes were made of old tires. They had little to no modern-day luxuries, but they did have one device… mobile phones.
At the time, I had been driving PayPal Mobile’s business development efforts in North America for nearly two years and realized there was no reason why these Masai shouldn’t be able to participate in the global economy any longer, selling their wares on eBay or receiving remittances from abroad using their mobile phones. The only limiting factor was our imagination, our desire, our ability to connect the dots, and our know-how to make it happen. It was at that moment that I painted a vision that I would make this happen, that I would help build mobile payments systems to move money from those who have it to those who need it, getting these people closer to long-term financial stability and connecting the global market. I would use the knowledge I had gained over the past three years in mobile payments and mobile banking to do so. After leaving PayPal soon thereafter, I started my mobile payments consulting practice, http://www.mpayconnect.com and have been working with clients to realize that vision.
During this time, a friend told me about Ken Banks and introduced us over email. After communicating for nearly 6 months in cyberspace, Ken and I met in person in San Francisco. As I learned more about FrontlineSMS, I remembered my work with open source back in 2000-2003 and knew that the disruptive power it had with servers could be used for mobile payments. I asked him how I could help build a payments vertical on top of his platform. He looked at me puzzled and said, “You don’t know Ben?”
When I heard what Ben Lyon and his team of nearly twenty committed volunteers were doing with Frontline SMS:Credit, I felt compelled to help them bring their efforts to market. Ben and I met in NYC at the Yale Club one afternoon with another African colleague. As we sat at that club discussing informal financial systems in Africa, the power of mobile payments, and the need for interoperability, I decided to make a donation to his efforts.
We need organizations like FrontlineSMS and FrontlineSMS:Credit to realize the vision of financial inclusion world-wide. Rather than citing all the reasons why mobile payments and interoperability are difficult or can’t happen, Ben and his team have been pushing it forward. Efforts like theirs cater to the needs of the people who need it most which, at the end of the day, are the most important constituents to consider. My hope is that the small donation that we made will help realize the vision of moving money from those who have it to those who are in need of it, getting these people closer to long-term financial stability.