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Mobile access can help combat poverty, Brookings panel says

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Mobile phone usage in developing countries can help combat poverty by giving the residents a way to send and transfer money as well as receive information that could grow business, said panelists at a May 16 Brookings Institute event.

For farmers in Africa, mobile capability means they can find out how much crops are selling for in other parts of the world and get a better price for their own product, Tufts University Economics Professor Jenny Aker said.

Outside of economic impact mobile access allows for better communication, Aker said.

Community members can receive SMS texts about local elections as well as community issues that might be important to them, she said. And mobile costs less than land lines so it reduces the cost of communication, Aker said.

Mobile access also allows low income residents to transfer and save money electronically.

In Latin America money could be channeled using mobile, said Inter-American Development Bank General Manager Nancy Lee. About 27 million low income women in Latin America receive global social protection, Lee said. And $60 billion in remittance is paid out to around 20 million households in the region. That money could be easily distributed, both sent and received, through mobile communication.

Access to mobile technology is increasing, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, Aker added. In 1999 10 percent of sub-Saharan Africans had mobile access and in 2012, 70 percent had access. There were 16 million mobile subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa in 2000 and as of 2012 there were 350 million, or 30 percent of the population, she said.

But there are obstacles, Aker said. Low income residents need training on mobile devices, even if the devices are readily available. Companies building out mobile infrastructure must know whether the low income residents can access the network with a simple mobile device, Aker said.

For more:
- listen to the Brookings Institute panel

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