Safaricom’s M-PESA: Kenyan Innovation Ahead of the Rest

While you’re hearing about Apple and other massive tech-companies launching smartphone money wiring services, remember that this is not a new phenomenon. For as you might know, Kenyan cell phone provider Safaricom launched personal money wiring service M-PESA years ago.

With eight out of 10 Kenyans now having access to cellphones, Safaricom offers M-PESA at some 85,000 locations. Users fill up their accounts with virtual currency by paying a phone provider agent. Once the payment has been received, you can transfer that money between cellphones as you please.

“You are effectively texting money,” Safaricom’s CEO Bob Collymore told CBS recently. “It is often referred to as Kenya’s alternative currency. But safer and more secure.”

“It’s like having a bank in your pocket,” a Kenyan souvenir vendor said.

Acclaimed CBS reporter Lesley Stahl reported on the virtual money service earlier this year. Now, after it has been found that M-PESA has helped some of the poorest communities in Kenya to install innovative infrastructure solutions, CBS is featuring Stahl’s report on 60 minutes on Nov. 22 at 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

In rural villages and communities throughout Kenya one can find solar panels and clean water wells powered by M-PESA payments. At the same time, Safaricom generates huge revenues from M-PESA by taking out a tiny service charge from each transaction.

“You don’t have to be greedy to be successful,” Collymore said, pointing out that his company nets a quarter of a billion dollars annually.

Check out the trailer for Stahl’s 60 Minutes report:

Originally from Sweden, Chris is a journalist with an extensive interest for African culture and the arts.