How women are using mobile money in Ghana

Last week, I was in Ghana meeting with people who receive money from abroad, typically from a friend or family member. I was there because we wanted to learn more about these people’s lives and to understand their experience of receiving money. Most importantly, we wanted to learn if we could make it better.

As today is International Women’s Day, I thought I’d share the stories of some of the amazing women we met and how technology — particularly mobile money — is changing their lives.

What is mobile money? The ability to send, receive and store money, as well as pay for goods and services, directly from your mobile phone, without needing a bank account. In essence your mobile phone number acts like a bank account number, and you only need a basic feature phone to set up an account. Although there are no widespread mobile money services in the Western world, this technology is already mainstream in Africa and parts of Asia: there are half a billion registered mobile money users across 92 countries.

It’s a game-changer for people who don’t have a bank account, but it’s also very popular for small transactions, even when people do have bank accounts. A bank account isn’t as useful as you might think if you live in a country where most shops can’t accept card payments and there are few ATMs. But mobile money allows you to make purchases or even pay bills directly from your phone.

Adelaide (left) and friend (photo: Josh Djuric)

Meet Adelaide. She started a fashion business 4 years ago, and now has several seamstresses working for her, bringing her designs to life. We visited her at her workshop to learn a bit more about her business and how she receives money.

Although she does have a bank account, it’s clear that the business really runs through mobile money. She uses her MTN mobile money wallet to pay her suppliers, and in turn her customers pay her through mobile money. It’s easy and simple for them to transfer the money in what’s otherwise a cash society. She even uses mobile money to pay her electricity bill, rather than having to go and pay it in person. Until I met her, I hadn’t fully appreciated the benefits mobile money has brought to small business owners, who’d otherwise have to operate fully in cash.

Joyce with her class (Photo: Josh Djuric)

Here’s Joyce. We went to visit her at a public school in Accra where she teaches a class of 8 and 9 year olds. She uses mobile money to pay for goods and withdraw money, but mostly she uses it to buy airtime to talk to her husband. She explained that she gets through a lot of airtime, because her husband lives in Germany and, of course, she likes to talk to him often.

He moved there 7 years ago to work and send money home to her and their two children. At the moment, she collects the money he sends back via WorldRemit as cash, but she was excited to learn that she could also receive directly to her mobile money wallet because it’s much more convenient. After all, she’s a full-time teacher and mother. Her drive to work can take well over an hour because of the traffic in Accra. So the last thing she wants to do at the end of the day is stand in a bank queue to pick up money.

Jessica (Photo: Josh Djuric)

This is Jessica. She also likes mobile money because it’s instant, but the main benefit for her is security. Her dad in the UK sends her money every month and, like many people I met, she’s concerned about the risk that someone might impersonate her to try and collect her cash. Receiving money with mobile money makes her feel confident that it’s coming directly to her account, without her ever needing to go and collect it.

The growth of mobile money as a service in Africa and Asia has been incredible, and Ghana is no exception. In the last 12 months, WorldRemit has seen the number of mobile money transactions to Ghana rise by 300%.

Looking back on my trip, I’m so pleased to have witnessed the positive impact mobile money is having in Ghana. It’s a great example of ‘LeapTech’ — technology developed in emerging markets that leapfrogs Western models of service delivery. Last week I saw first-hand how it can enhance the lives of so many people — particularly women.