Sunday, June 28, 2009

Empowering BoP, in India and elsewhere

At best of times, convenience and efficiency is the value we add [thru' our product and services]. It is heartening to see when a person or organization's efforts result in empowering and liberating their client base. Microfinancing is one such initiative.

On my recent visit to India, I visited a few women's Self Help Groups (SHGs) to see the impact of micro-finance to their lives, and the role mobile commerce can play in rural settings. It was heart-warming to see these women, who come from very conservative backgrounds and who barely know to read and write, thru' financial empowerment, are sending their daughters and sons to college and hoping to break the wretched cycle of poverty for ever. The hope and aspirations in the eyes of these individuals, are also those that exist in eyes of folks in Latin America, Africa, China and elsewhere.

It is amazing to notice the flood of money heading to the bottom of the pyramid (BoP). Some of the Micro-Finacial Institutions (MFIs) I spoke with were planning for 5x to 10x growth over the next 2-3 years.

Guess what, folks at the BoP I spoke with have mobile phones. They are starting to get connected with the internet. In the coming years, as MFIs optimize their service delivery in their attempts to scale, mobile commerce will truly take off. I sincerely hope that the regulators in India facilitate this transition.

Please feel to contact me if you would like more details about this case study, or related opportunities.

Note about the pictures: The first group is a starter group which is striving to get its first loan. The second group is a veteran group, been together for 4 years and currently working thru their 5th loan. You can see the difference empowerment makes in the eyes and demeanor of these two groups.

Contactless in Rome

I was impressed with ATAC, the organization operating mass transit in Rome and a couple other cities in Italy. What impressed me about ATAC is the coordination between the different modes of transport. In Rome, you can ride the train and bus (of course). You could also rent a scooter/motor cycle or even a bicyle.

One of the standard rebuttals I hear from my US friends about why mass transit would/does not work is because of the odd times that they have to run an errand to a place which does not have mass transit connectivity. With other modes of transport that you can rent, such an excuse is only that.

Why do I care about well coordinated mass transit operators? A perfect place for mobile / contactless commerce. To the hammer, the whole world is a nail!

In Rome, like elsewhere in Italy, there a lot of young folks. With mass transit opening the doors to contactless transactions, I expected to see a lot more of contactless payments in the retail world. I was very disappointed when even QSRs and newspaper stands at Termini did not accept contactless payments (transit or bank wallet). The silver lining was the availability of dual interface Metrecard that works for both transit and EMV Visa Electron card.

There seems to be a critical mass of converted audience. Initial inquiries to the cause of this gap seem to indicate that the contactless wave was come, heading south and west from London. Why do you think that there is no commercial deployment of contactless payments outside of tranist in Rome?