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Can Mobile Money Facilitate Citizen Engagement?

The recent emergence of two distinct development trends – mobile technologies and citizen engagement – pose a promising synergy.  Mobile money – a tech development solution – and social accountability – a grassroots, citizen-centric approach to improving governance – may not seem naturally aligned. But what happens when these trends combine? What potential do these approaches have to complement and support one another?

Financial incentives can shape new behaviors, and mobile money provides a potential channel for rewarding citizen reporting. Just as it is more efficient than cash for paying salaries, disbursing conditional cash transfers to beneficiaries, or collecting insurance premiums, mobile money provides a  transparent and efficient method for transferring small incentives to citizens, as rewards for their engagement in monitoring services. 
Take, for example, Interactive Research for Development’s program “Zindagi Mehfooz.” Using a lottery system, they reward parents who vaccinate their children against Polio and other diseases via cash transfers to their mobile devices. With each appointment and for every vaccination completed on the appropriate schedule, the parents are entered into a lottery and their potential lottery reward increases. As a result of this effort, more than 40,000 newborns and infants have been enrolled in the program.
Small incentives, combined with instant feedback and acknowledgment, may serve as a tipping point for engaging citizens to exercise their rights. The objective is a more empowered populace who participates in holding governments accountable for ensuring needed services and commodities are available in their communities.  For example, clients willing to fill out SMS exit surveys after a visit to a clinic could be financially rewarded for completion, and receive follow up messages about changes made in response to client feedback.

Mobile enabled rewards for citizen engagement could also expose new populations to the benefits of mobile money, such as access to credit, savings, and insurance services. Research demonstrates that digital financial services increase resources available to the poor and, thus when people use their mobiles for social accountability, their use could provide collateral benefits from increased use of financial services.

Incentivizing social accountability through mobile payments is not without its challenges.  Its financial viability would depend upon its effectiveness in holding health providers accountable such that they make changes and rooting out corruption, which might be difficult to sustain over time. Other risks such as abuse of the system, such as fraud, would require effective risk management to mitigate. But mobile-money platforms could provide a test-bed for experimentation in improving citizen engagement and yield some valuable shifts in quality of care.  

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100 Million+ people use mobile money each month

The year of mobile payments

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Can Open APIs Accelerate the Digital Finance Ecosystem?

Upcoming Events

June 29, 2015
Doing Digital Finance Right: Achieving Stronger Customer Risk Mitigation in Digital Financial Services - Washington, DC

November 8-11, 2015
Global mHealth Summit - Washington, DC

December 1-3, 2015
Mobile Money & Digital Payments Global - Istanbul, Turkey

About this newsletter

The Health Finance and Governance (HFG) Project’s Mobile Money to Strengthen Health Systems Activity is driving innovative mobile phone-based payment solutions, to expand the reach of health services to poor populations and to improve the efficiency, security, and transparency of financial transactions in the health sector. Designed for public health professionals, this newsletter is intended to highlight how mobile payment services (using mobile phones to transfer or store funds) can improve healthcare delivery. 

Please contact us to share your news about mobile money applications in health or if you would like to contribute to this newsletter.  For more information about the HFG Mobile Money Activity and how it is supporting the uptake of innovative payment solutions in countries, contact Marilyn Heymann (

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