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Why Zuckerberg, Gates And Omidyar Are Investing In Fintech For The Poor

According to a report published in early September, Facebook is currently considering acquiring mobile money giant M-Pesa that launched in Kenya in 2007. While the news is not yet confirmed, it could be a sound deal for Facebook in terms of their presence in the sphere of online-remittances (what Facebook Messenger and other messengers are trying to develop right now) and projects like to provide people from unbanked and emerging markets with access to digital services, which Zuckerberg has promoted a lot in the past.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (C) and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (L) pose as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (2nd R) takes a picture with them. SUNDAY AGHAEZE/AFP/Getty Images.

This is on the heels of Zuckerberg’s recent visit to Nigeria and Kenya. The future will be built in Africa, Zuckerberg said before visiting Kenya, the “world leader” in mobile money on his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa, a surprise trip that has propelled Africa’s entrepreneurial spirit. The mobile payment system is now a part of the culture of the region. Also Kenya has 5.3 million Facebook users, many of whom access the social network via mobile. It echoes similar compliments made by U.S. President Barack Obama, who praised Kenya’s tech entrepreneurs during a trip last July: “This continent needs to be a future hub of global growth, not just African growth”.

Africa’s experience going to Asia now

This optimism for the future of emerging markets isn’t confined to Africa, though. BKash, launched in 2011 as a subsidiary of BRAC Bank, has about 18 million accounts, second in the world only to M-Pesa in Kenya. Even so, the value of mobile money transactions in Bangladesh was 5.6% of GDP, far lower than Kenya’s 55%.

And Mark Zuckerberg is not the only one inspired by the success of such companies as M-Pesa and BKash – World Bank and IFC (International Finance Corporation), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Omidyar Network are doing a lot to learn from their own experiences in the field and replicate it in other countries, especially in Asia. India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and many other countries in this region have to jump from the past (cash) to the future (fintech), because they have already skipped the competition for the present (traditional banks with branches, ATMs and banking cards).

Omidyar Network is a self-styled “philanthropic investment firm,” established in 2004 by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam. Omidyar Network reports it has committed several billion dollars to nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies across multiple investment areas, including financial inclusion. In addition, they advocate that when people take the initiative to make life better for themselves, they can share the benefits with their families, become more active in their communities, and be a more positive force in society.

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