M-Paisa Provides Afghan Women with Affordable Access to Financial ServicesOver the last decade, Afghanistan’s economy has grown from $2 billion in 2002 to more than $20 billion in 2015. However, it is estimated that 96% of Afghanistan’s 30 million-strong population is still not formally connected to financial institutions. Most of the young Afghan women that USAID’s Promote: Women in the Economy (WIE) program supports to advance their careers do not yet own a bank account. This is particularly true for women who work at local companies as interns to gain professional experience.

To introduce women to financial services, WIE is using mobile money to make stipend payments to interns and apprentices across the country. Training for over 800 program participants in how to use the M-Paisa mobile money system was conducted in Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Jalalabad, Kabul, and Kandahar. M-Paisa is a mobile transfer and payment solution provided by Roshan. The mobile money system allows individuals to send and receive cash and make payments through mobile phones. It is fast, cost effective, and secure.

“It’s like a bank account for me and it’s inside my own mobile phone,” said a 19-year old intern, who secured a work experience placement as a librarian. Opening a bank account requires a deposit of at least $100, which not many Afghan women can afford. As one of USAID’s Promote: WIE interns, this young woman was eligible for a small monthly stipend from WIE to cover a portion of her work experience expenses like transportation, lunch, and mobile credit top-ups. She further added that using M-Paisa enabled her to manage her money better: “When I have cash, I spend it quickly, but I can save money when it’s in my mobile. So M-Paisa is my savings account.”

Being available in all 34 provinces, mobile banking has proved to be a practical way to reach beneficiaries across Afghanistan who live in remote areas and may lack access to the formal banking system. Mobile users can securely send or receive funds through short message service (SMS). In addition, to ensure security, all users have an individual Personal Identification Number (PIN). “M-Paisa puts my money at my fingertips. I am reluctant to go to banks because of street harassment. Now I can use M-Paisa to buy phone credit, shop or pay my bills without leaving my home or office,” said another WIE-supported intern, age 27.

USAID’s four-year (2015-2019) Promote: WIE program supports educated Afghan women to participate in the mainstream economy and advance their careers. Having reliable access to financial services is one important aspect of participating in the mainstream economy. Through M-Paisa, mobile users can deposit or withdraw money from their mobile accounts using conventional bank offices, Roshan kiosks or M-Paisa’s 12,000 agents across the country. Features like the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) service which is available in Dari, Pashto and English allows the 70% of the population who cannot read or write to use this platform.

In the next few years, mobile money service is believed to provide Afghan women with expanded and affordable access to financial services. This payment system is cheap with each transaction currently costing about one fifth to a quarter of conventional banking costs. Mobile money is increasingly integrated with the conventional banking system (i.e., commercial banks, microfinance institutions), which allows mobile users to transfer money domestically and internationally through their mobile phones. By 2018, USAID’s Promote: WIE will provide training and place 9,500 interns and apprentices using the nationwide network of agents provided through M-Paisa’s implementer Roshan, and it is hoped that they will help raise awareness among other women of the financial services that can be accessed through mobile money.