“I like it better this way”
Outside the shop, an old woman named Mareh pulls a cellphone from a pouch round her neck. Most M-Birr users buy a phone for only a few dollars, but those who can’t afford even that can get a scratch card with a PIN code that they enter during their visit to the M-Birr agent to recover their social payments. Mareh gestures emphatically with her phone as she lists the improvements to her life brought by M-Birr.
Like Amadi, she used to be exhausted by long walks to distribution points for government money that often turned out not to be available. “It’s not easy for me to use a phone, but the agent helps me and I get my money through M-Birr,” she says. “I like it better this way.”
With the EIB investment, M-Birr plans to expand into other sectors of the Ethiopian economy, serving small businesses for which it can be costly or dangerous just to move daily revenues from one place to another in cash, as well as supporting the microfinance institutions delivering the M-Birr Service in setting up more agents and branches.
In a country the size of France and Spain combined, a broader network is vital. “M-Birr and its partners are opening up Ethiopia to a whole world of mobile money that will have a tremendous impact on the daily life of users,” says Benoit Denis, an economist in the EIB’s digital economy division. “The company’s really meeting a need. Their aim is to spread access to the benefits of mobile money across all sectors of the economy. That’s what we want to help them do.”