Pipeline Publishing, Volume 7, Issue 5
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Wireless for Developing Markets
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Mobile Phones to Grease the Gears of Economic Development
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By Ed Finegold

I recently experienced the tragic passing of a close friend. He was an inspiring person; a man who left small town southern Illinois to pursue his education on the east coast. After phenomenal achievements in chaos math, including working with famous mathematicians such as Benoit Mandelbrot, he chose to return home to his family in Illinois to make a difference in the community there, building low income housing and helping families whose lives the great recession had shattered.

At his memorial service, his remarkable parents spoke eloquently. It was their passion for charitable causes that fueled my friend’s desire to help others. I remember him traveling to rural Africa with his parents’ foundation when we were teenagers to help build schools, medical facilities, and fresh water wells. Their foundation, the Marion Medical Mission, is remarkable in that the family funds its operations so that all donations go to benefit people in need. Relatively small sums of money can make a huge difference in the lives of real people. Oddly, mobile phones can be conduits for this kind of direct and positive change.

Relatively small sums of money can make a huge difference in the lives of real people. Oddly, mobile phones can be conduits for this kind of direct and positive change.

In Europe and the U.S., when we need cash in a hurry we are disappointed if an ATM from our own bank isn’t the one that’s on the corner of the block we happen to be walking down. We now expect merchants to accept debit cards as a matter of course. We also take it for granted that even in our largest cities, so long as we don’t do anything foolish, we aren’t all that likely to have our wallets stolen out of our pockets or handbags. Even in

Four Hours to Nairobi

Another close friend – this one found through the Internet and with whom I share an interest in writing – lives in Nakuru, Kenya. He makes his living over the Internet as a freelance journalist, working from what is by Kenyan standards a relatively large town, but is remote from the U.S. or European perspective. Though he can receive funds in Nakuru via Western Union, to conduct any real business with his bank he must travel by bus (he can’t afford a car) for several hours to Nairobi. Cash can be difficult to come by as a result, and the buses aren’t safe from bandits or pick pockets.

Chicago, which is known for violent crime, I don’t expect to be mugged at gunpoint on the streets where I spend most of my time.

My friend in Nakuru doesn’t have these luxuries. Crime against his person is a daily threat. There are no ATMs, largely because there would be no way to secure them. He can’t cash checks at the grocery store, or receive cash back from an automated check-out station with the swipe of a card. Again, where there’s cash, there are armed bandits. So there’s no easy way to get cash without walking into a bank, as was the case perhaps 40 years ago in the United States due to a lack of technology, not of security.

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