The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals need mobile money. 

  • By Vince Kadar
  • Monday, December 16, 2019

“Free humanity from the tyranny of poverty and heal and secure our planet for future generations.”

That’s the pledge made by the Heads of State and Government this fall at the United Nations’ Headquarters in New York. They had gathered to review progress made towards the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to eradicate poverty, protect the planet, and improve quality of life by 2030. With just ten years left, and with troubling signs that we are not on track, many world leaders are redoubling their efforts to implement strategies that will ignite “a decade of action and delivery for sustainable development.”

The mobile industry plays a key role in driving that action and delivery. The GMSA reports that since the SDGs were adopted in 2015, an additional 1 billion people have started using mobile internet services, thanks to advances in broadband and smartphone adoption. That means better access to life-altering services—including one of the most impactful services of all, mobile money. 

About a third of mobile subscribers, or 1.6 billion people around the world, use financial services from their mobile device. For those who are otherwise excluded from the formal economy and have to rely on cash to survive, mobile money leads to more control over their livelihood. This sounds immensely promising, but it leaves me curious about exactly which SDGs are impacted by mobile money. 

This recent GSMA report provides a fascinating and in-depth perspective on how well we’re doing as a mobile industry overall. Here are two highlights that are especially relevant for us at Telepin, highlighting past successes and illuminating the way forward: 

SDG 1: NO POVERTY.

Mobile money is helping to reduce poverty through many channels, most notably remittance payments. 

In 2017, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) analyzed 71 developing countries and found that a 10% increase in per capita remittances leads to a 3.5% decline in poverty. This demonstrates how fundamental secure, convenient, and low-cost remittance payments are to any poverty reduction strategy—and nobody is more qualified for that than mobile money innovators. Remittance payments by phone are already possible in more than half of the 90 countries that have mobile money deployments, and they cost about 50% less than remitting via traditional channels

At Telepin, we’re proud to be part of some of the most ambitious remittance services in the world. Our partner SingTel, for example, uses Telepin technology to offer fast, low-cost remittance services to the 180,000 Filipino nationals working in Singapore. For those who use the service, that means spending less time—and a lot less money—trying to get money into the hands of the families they left behind, which has an enormous impact on their financial security. In 2017, for example, Filipinnos working abroad remitted a record-setting $28.1 billion to dependents back home.

Continuing to streamline mobile remittance services by introducing more cross-border pathways and driving down service costs is a critical and life-changing factor in the fight to end poverty. 

SDG 7 – Affordable and clean energy

Mobile money offers a compelling alternative to traditional utility payment options, giving people more access to energy they can depend on.

For those living in extreme poverty, mobile money offers a pay-as-you-go opportunity that makes basic utilities much more accessible. This has a trickle-down effect which touches many aspects of life for families and communities: with dependable electricity, for example, people can cook, study, and clean more easily, which improves health, economic mobility, and protection against illness. 

In addition to unlocking access to the basic necessities of modern life, mobile money also offers a pathway to clean energy via innovative financing options. In Papua New Guinea, for example, a microlending initiative powered by a partnership between Telepin and MiBank is helping local women become trained in installing solar panels. This is a country where nearly half the population does not have access to electricity; these “solar mamas,” as they’re locally known, are using their mobile device to borrow the money they need to bring solar energy to their communities

With more initiatives like this one coming online all the time, we have the potential to make a measurable, lasting impact on how people all over the world access sustainable and affordable energy. 

These are both promising advances, signalling an enormous opportunity for mobile money innovators. To help the world find sustainable and far-reaching solutions to its most pressing challenges by 2030, though, we need to do more. 

We need to experiment faster, form stronger partnerships between technology providers and mobile operators, and deliver on the promise of our scalable, secure, and low-cost platforms. As stated by Tijjani Muhammed-Bande, the U.N.’s incoming President of the General Assembly, “It is necessary to think of new ways of accelerating SDGs action for those that are still behind in meeting the goal.” Only by approaching the SDGs with an innovator’s mindset can we truly achieve success, and I believe that technology is the key. The “tyranny of poverty” may have a strong grip on many parts of the world, but the power of mobile money is stronger.