"How does your solution touch the base of the pyramid?" asked Nomcebo Sherron Hadebe from the Treasury Department in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland).
"I'm talking about communities where a cell phone is only charged occasionally, in a rural community where electrification is still very low. I think our target audience is not just those who have cell phones and use them every day," she said .
Given that 770 million people around the world still live without access to electricity, this was a tough but sensitive question from the jury at this year's finale of the AFI Inclusive FinTech Showcase hosted by the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) becomes.
Leah Callon-Butler, a CoinDesk columnist, is the director of Emfarsis, a consulting firm focused on the role of technology in fueling economic development in Asia.
The question was directed to Anca Bogdan Rusu of cLabs, the startup that launched the Celo blockchain, an open source platform that makes financial instruments accessible to anyone with a mobile phone. In response, Anca stated that the solution – a mobile-first application called Toca that allows people to work on micro-tasks like artificial intelligence (AI) training and be paid in stable coin cUSD – has been adjusted and tested at a low level. End smartphones as cheap as $ 15.
Smartphone apps like Celo's one undoubtedly open up life-changing and income-earning opportunities for marginalized communities. The micro-tasking market for AI training is projected to be valued at $ 24 billion by 2023. I also work with crypto-powered gaming apps that can help unemployed Filipinos make up to $ 400 a month if they run out during COVID -19-lockdown stuck at home.
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But Anca was open about reaching the poorest of the poor. "This solution is not optimized for these conditions," she said. "Our focus was on transitioning from 'you need a laptop or computer to access this type of work' to 'you only need access to a low-end smartphone.' It takes very little data, very little power, but that need is still there. "
So Ms. Hadebe rightly pointed out that Cello's solution would be out of reach for those at the end of the pyramid, the poorest and largest segment of the world's population. Technology's supportive effects are only as good as its accessibility, and as the digital economy takes over, there are serious concerns for those on the wrong side of the digital divide. This discrepancy is of the utmost importance for AFI members, the central banks and regulatory authorities from more than 80 emerging and developing countries.
M-Pesa is the darling of this room. The Kenyan mobile money solution has lifted hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty and is being eradicated at every opportunity as an example of how fintech can create a better future. M-Pesa was introduced across Africa also because it doesn't require internet and can be used on a feature phone that only charges every few days. For people in poor countries, this is a huge draw for products that require a smartphone, data (another cost barrier for many), and a daily top-up.
We should spend more time with people like Ms. Hadebe who can remind us who it is not yet serving.
The purpose of AFI's showcase is to reveal the next M-Pesas in the world. As the judge of the competition, I was required to rate applicants on how well they performed one or more of the nine AFI Financial Inclusion topics. I also had to consider how they empower women, fight climate change and help respond to the COVID-19 crisis in 2020. I should be on the lookout for hopes that were obviously scalable, and especially those that promised to improve the dialogue between regulators and innovators that AFI was building.
This year, the challenge drew more than 60 participants, from pre-seed startups to Finserv giants like Mastercard. The solutions that made it to the finals were as diverse as they were unique, including (but not limited to) a digital ecosystem that connects micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) with affordable working capital. an edtech platform that works with financial institutions and uses data analytics to improve financial literacy; and a pension system that helps workers in the informal sector save until they retire.
Each of the finalists reviewed by AFI used technology that required a power source and most were smartphone enabled, which led me to believe that Ms. Hadebe's question in a fintech pitching contest might have been a little unfair.
Robin Newnham, director of policy analysis at AFI, reiterated the point that smartphones are less accessible than feature phones. But he was optimistic. "The spread of $ 15 worth of smartphones is happening at a tremendous pace, to the point where the cost of the handset is unlikely to be a major barrier in the near future," he said, adding that the Distribution of solar energy to the handset is improved. Sub-Saharan Africa would add to the cost and reliability of electricity in rural areas.
Even so, Anca's willingness to welcome Ms. Hadebe's exam was perhaps the most impressive finding from the experience, especially since Celo was the first and only blockchain-based project to make it to the showcase finals now in its second year.
In the echo chamber, we blockchain fans rarely have to work so hard to explain our position and our purpose. It's much, much more difficult to go outside and talk to those about our goods who are not on the train, who probably don't understand the technology for themselves (or care a lot about it), and have completely different issues and priorities on your plate.
If we truly believe that blockchain can solve some of the world's worst problems, then we should spend more time with people like Ms. Hadebe who can remind us who they are not yet serving.
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