Monday, December 20, 2004

I had a rewarding time at the WRI Bottom of the Pyramid Conference last week. The basic concept was that business can help the 5 billion people at the bottom of the economic pyramid. My takeaway is something that many people has pointed out: that the cell phone has become an incredible engine of change for the poor. Earlier this year, I remember buying roasted cashews from a woman on the street in Maputo, Mozambique, who had her wares balanced on her head. Her ability to balance things continued to amaze when she answered her cell phone.

The presentation by Smart Communications of the Philippines was especially cool: they are turning the cell phone into a wallet for the poor. You can make cash withdrawals from your phone at McDonald's and thousands of other businesses. Almost all of their business is prepaid, and SMS is a huge part of the business because text messages are much cheaper than calls.

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