mMoney at the Global Health Mini-University

Jarret Cassaniti

JHU∙CCP | Program Officer

Last week I attended the Global Health Mini-University at George Washington University and had a great time. Dozens of speakers highlighted evidence-based best practices and state-of-the-art information to over 1,000 attendees.  In my last blog post, I wrote about the learning, unlearning, and relearning opportunities offered at the Mini-U, and now I want to share my learning experience and invite you to share yours. 

In the session, Follow the mMoney: How Mobile Money can Improve Public Health, I learned about the work of Mobile Solutions team at USAID from Charley Johnson, Presidential Management Fellow. Mr. Johnson talked about the potential mMoney holds for transforming markets and fostering innovation. The idea that mobile applications help to improve the health of people around the world wasn’t new to me. What was new to me came from an essay he co-authored with the Senior Advisor to the Administrator Director of Mobile Solutions at USAID, Priya Jaisinghani.

In The “Ultimate Day” the authors compare roads, railways, and the internet with the mobile phone and mMoney at its center. With this new tool, they discuss the possibility that the day John F. Kennedy envisioned when founding USAID is now in sight: a day “when all nations can be self-reliant and when foreign aid will no longer be needed”:

USAID’s role will diminish as mMoney opens new markets, empowers responsive and accountable governance, and enables direct philanthropy. This vision is no doubt going to take time. There will be false starts. But we wholeheartedly believe that the mobile phone brings into view that “ultimate day,” when the fortune of each individual rests in his or her hands and USAID’s role is altogether transformed.

This has brought me to something that I am in the process of unlearning: the idea that development aid will be needed for the foreseeable future. I understand that the development expert’s ultimate measure of success is the transfer of capacity leading to the elimination of assistance but I never thought that the possibility of the “ultimate day” could be close at hand. While Mr. Johnson and Ms. Jaisinghani acknowledge the need for healthy skepticism, and cite the prediction of TV in 1964 as a panacea for the information needs of resource limited countries, I am inclined to give their ideas a fair shake. They have a pretty good reason for making such an audacious claim: mMoney:

By 2016, there will be an estimated 1 billion mobile phones in Africa. The mobile phone boom is, quite simply, without parallel in its scale. Mobile phones can fundamentally change our approach to service delivery and transform USAID’s role in the world. It shifts the question from “How can we effectively deliver services?” to “How can we enable others to run us out of the service delivery business?” And it all begins with mMoney.

An article on CNN.com yesterday echoed the idea that mobile phones are transformative.  In Seven ways mobile phones have changed lives in Africa, authors Tolu Ogunlesi and Stephanie Busari highlight how banking, activism, education, entertainment, disaster management, agriculture and health are benefiting from what the CNN series Our Mobile Society, calls “an essential part of our everyday life”.

Whether you agree with the prediction that mMoney will make our work obsolete or not, I hope that in the coming days you visit the Mini-U Presentations page and take a moment to learn, unlearn or relearn.