Disaster Recovery Gets a Mobile Makeover in Haiti

February 10, 2011  |  

(Fast Company) — Jokebed Auguste, a 31-year-old single mother from Mirebalais, in Haiti’s Central Plateau, has come to see her cell phone in a whole new light. A team leader in one of the cash-for-work programs run by the international relief agency Mercy Corps — she oversaw 15 colleagues in an initiative to clean up roads and canals — Auguste was among the first Haitians to begin receiving payments for the project directly through her phone. The convenience of the T-Cash system means she doesn’t have to stand in line for hours at the bank, but even more important is the security. “There’s no cash for people to steal,” she says, “and nobody knows how much money you have, or how much you’re taking out.” The “mobile wallets” are one example of a handful of new technologies that emerged in the aftermath of the earthquake that rocked the Caribbean nation one year ago — and that will likely impact disaster-relief and development efforts for years to come.  More than a third of Haiti’s banks, ATMs, and money-transfer stations were destroyed in the earthquake (and even before the disaster, fewer than one in 10 Haitians had ever used a traditional bank). So last June, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development created a $10 million competition to jump-start financial services by mobile phone.

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