The versatility of mobile money: Insights from Jordan and Uganda

Mobile money is increasingly being sought to improve the delivery of humanitarian cash and voucher assistance (CVA) across the globe, in both nascent and mature mobile money markets. This is in part due to mobile money’s versatility and mass distribution channels. Nevertheless, employing mobile money-enabled CVA can come with its own challenges and adapting the service to the country context is critical, as highlighted in M4H’s case studies on Jordan and Uganda.

Read the Jordan case study Read the Uganda case study

The distinct and often contrasting characteristics of Jordan and Uganda, as well as the previously published case study on Somaliland, showcase how mobile money-enabled CVA is being leveraged in each of these unique circumstances, as well as demonstrates its potential to be a more efficient and effective tool for the disbursement of CVA.

Jordan and Uganda represent two very different contexts: the infrastructure, mobile connectivity and mobile money penetration contrast quite significantly. Still though, mobile money-enabled CVA represents an enormous opportunity in both countries to those affected by crises as well as mobile network operators (MNOs), humanitarian organisations and other public and private sector institutions.

Refugee location:

Urban (%) / rural (%)

Mobile money penetration (% 3G network coverage (% Phone type: Basic (%) / feature (%) / Smart
Jordan 83% / 17% 1% 99% 17% / 5% / 73%
Uganda 6% / 94% 51% 68% 12% / 29% / 8%

Context at the core

As seen in the table, the vast majority of refugees in Jordan live in urban settings whereas in Uganda it’s in rural settlements (Bidi Bidi, predominantly). Seventy-three per cent of urban refugees in Jordan have access to a smartphone compared with only 8 per cent in Uganda’s largest and the world’s second largest settlement in the world, Bidi Bidi Settlement. Though Jordan has stronger mobile connectivity than Uganda, mobile money penetration in Uganda is much higher, with many in Jordan, both Jordanians and refugees alike, unaware of what mobile money is and the potential benefits that come from it.

Implementing mobile money in an urban setting versus a remote setting naturally comes with different challenges. For instance, a lack of liquidity rebalancing points in a remote location such as Bidi Bidi is just as challenging to overcome as educating and training people on an unfamiliar service in urban Jordan – the specific solution is unique, yet each require time, effort and collaboration to be successful.

Enabling regulatory environments

One thing that both Jordan and Uganda have in common is an enabling regulatory environment for digital finance, in particular mobile financial services. In 2018, the Central Bank of Jordan, in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, launched the Mobile Money for Resilience (MM4R) initiative aimed at empowering refugees and low income Jordanians to become more resilient through mobile financial services. In November 2019, the Jordanian government participated in a joint GSMA M4H and UNHCR Jordan hosted event, to discuss what potential mobile money has for the refugees in Jordan.

In Uganda, legislative changes spearheaded by UNHCR and GSMA has enabled refugees in Uganda to use a valid refugee registration or refugee attestation document as identification to register for a SIM card and consequently, a mobile money account.

Strong partnerships and commitment

The successful application of mobile money-enabled CVA in each unique situation will also strongly depend on the willingness and commitment of partnerships between mobile network operators (MNOs) and the humanitarian sector, in conjunction with enabling legislation that provides the push needed to propel mobile financial services’ applicability in humanitarian contexts. One such partnership is helping refugees and host communities in Uganda get online and facilitating mobile money payments at the same time. UNHCR is working with Ugandan MNOs Airtel, Africell and MTN to provide and improve connectivity for settlements in Northern Uganda, with more than 700,000 benefitting since the agreements were made.

The journey to create robust, mutually beneficial partnerships will not be short and will require concerted effort from key players, but achieving it and subsequently successfully leveraging mobile money enabled CVA has the potential to provide benefits to all stakeholders involved including mobile network operators, humanitarian organisations, national governments and most importantly, those affected by crises.

This initiative is currently funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and supported by the GSMA and its members.
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