By Leonida Kombo,
As the world celebrated International Women’s Day on 8th March 2017, Kenyans also celebrated the 10th anniversary of Safaricom’s M-pesa, a successful mobile banking service that has played a vital role in advancing women’s lives in the emerging markets. According to the World Economic Forum, women in emerging markets are six to nine percentage points less likely to have a bank account than their male counterparts. This financial gender gap narrows in Kenya where M-Pesa rules both in market share (over 21 million subscriptions in 2014 alone) and provides women with access to affordable financial services for scaling their businesses and in turn their dreams. .
We spoke with 350 Kenyan women to understand just how much M-pesa has impacted their lives and businesses and here’s what we found. Nearly all women we chatted with (96%) have an active M-pesa account and 78% of them made at least 2 transactions in a week.
M-pesa has spurred competition with the formal banking sector, making their services more affordable to the general public as well as supporting mobile banking through M-pesa. As such 71% of women now have access to a bank account, 39% of those who didn’t have an account stated that they didn’t have enough money to own a bank account yet. An indication that women are using M-pesa to complement the traditional banking methods.
More than a third (37%) of these women have their own business and 80% of them use M-pesa to do their business transactions. Almost all (96%) acknowledged that their businesses had scaled because of M-pesa. One woman told us that M-pesa makes work easier for her clients - if they don’t have enough cash to buy her products, no problem, they can pay with M-pesa! Another told us that M-pesa has helped her monitor her financial records and reduce customers’ debts by giving them an alternative means of payment. Twenty percent of female business owners shared that they use M-pesa to save their profits using M-shwari, a service linked to M-pesa that gives account holders access to small loans and savings accounts.
To expand the capacities of such businesses even further, we partnered with Safaricom to develop a new product called the Consumer Wallet that will enable businesses to track African consumer shopping habits, giving businesses insights on market trends. Such crucial data can be used by business owners to determine areas that they can invest in. A combination of M-pesa and the Consumer Wallet would exponentially increase the rate at which these businesses scale and women can grow in the market.
Beyond business, Kenyan women heavily rely on these services for the sustenance of their families. One of the initial selling points of M-pesa was enabling people to send money home. 95% of the women we spoke to told us that they use M-pesa to send money to their relatives. 62% of this money was used by their relatives to buy food, 14% to pay for bills while 3% was spent on getting medication. These transactions help cushion their families against various shocks, a safety net that didn’t exist before the days of M-pesa.
M-pesa overall has helped women contribute to Kenya’s economic growth and reduce poverty in their communities. Bringing Kenya a step closer to achieving the UN’s eighth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG ) of promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all, especially the ladies.