A different form of mobility

Excerpted and Cross-posted from Future Crunch

More people got connected to the internet than ever before

Globally, there are now 3.2 billion people online, and 2 billion of them are from developing countries. In 2000 those numbers were 300 million and 100 million respectively. It means the number of people with internet access has seen an eight fold increase in just 15 years. Of course, there’s still a long way to go. In the least developed countries, only 9.5% of the population has internet access, compared with 35.3% for developing countries and 82.2% for developed countries. But those numbers are changing fast. Africa’s internet capacity, for example, has grown by 51% over the past five years. And mobile phones are leading the charge. Globally, subscriptions number more than 7 billion, and 95% of the world’s population is now within reach of a mobile network signal.

2015 showed us that the next billion people coming online will do so from cheap mobile phones. There have been no courses, no tutorials, no NGOs showing up to ‘deploy’ phones or to train people. The mobile internet is so intuitive, and so obviously useful, that it’s become the quickest technology uptake in human history. For every 10 people who gain internet access, about one person is lifted out of poverty and about one new job is created. And remember… thanks to our successes in education, all of those new users can read and write. They represent tens of trillions of dollars of new economic buying power, and an extra billion people who’ll have the networking ability of the internet at their fingertips.

Millions of people gained access to finance for the first time

In April this year a little known organisation called Global Findex released the largest ever global research project on financial inclusion. Based on interviews with 150,000 adults in over 140 countries, it showed that between 2011 and 2014 an additional 700 million people became account holders at banks, other financial institutions, or mobile money service providers, and the number of ‘unbanked’ individuals dropped by 20%. This trend was driven in particular by new mobile money accounts. Countries like Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe now have more adults using a mobile money account than an account at a financial institution.

This matters, because access to financial services is widely perceived to be a driver of development, especially in low-income countries where 54% of the population have no access to traditional banks. That’s why the mobile explosion has been so important. For the 700 million people that just gained access to finance, digital payments, through a mobile phone or a point-of-sales terminal create opportunities to provide more convenient and affordable payment options. It means they’ll be able to start businesses, save and transfer money, invest in education and deal better with financial shocks.