We frequently speculate about the “killer app” that will drive wider adoption of Bitcoin, but rarely do we look beyond Europe and North America. Meanwhile, in developing countries, digital money is already taking root. From Bitcoin on Latin American social media to mobile money wallets in South Africa, digital currency is spreading to communities all over the world. Let’s explore a few intriguing projects:
- Taringa! is a popular social media site in Latin America. They’re similar to Reddit: Users share and discuss links to their favorite websites. Targina! recently gave $76,000 in bitcoin to their users. Social media offers a low-barrier opportunity for people to experience using digital financial services, and rewarding content creation with bitcoin could both strengthen this site’s user base and expose new people to digital currencies.
- The World Food Programme’s electronic cash transfer system enables refugees in Kenya to buy food with their phones. For a refugee in a foreign country with few belongings or resources, funds may be locked away in an inaccessible account back home. The World Food Programme sends refugees money directly for basics like food and shelter. Since direct cash transfer is proven to be one of the most effective means of lifting people out of poverty, the WFP system shows digital money’s potential to improve the lives of marginalized communities like refugees.
- Nigerian digital money wallet Bitsoko will use funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support digital financial literacy. Bitsoko’s Android app uses blockchain technology to lower transaction costs. The company is encouraging Bitcoin adoption in Kenya by setting up local businesses to accept bitcoin payments.
- Vumi’s upcoming open-source app will enable young women in South Africa to save money on their phones. The nonprofit Praekelt Foundation is using the Stellar network as infrastructure, which means that the wallet can hold multicurrency (including fiat) balances. The end goal of Praekelt’s project is not just digital savings—their research shows that girls with savings accounts tend to stay in school longer, have better health outcomes, and participate in the formal economy.
- Women in rural India who were previously banned from owning mobile phones are now using phones to manage money. Women use the technology to access credit and save funds, and a few have even launched their own innovative pilot projects.
These projects represent a small fraction of digital money endeavors and apps in low-income countries. Crypto might need a killer app to take hold in the U.S. or the U.K, but in much of the world it’s already enabling affordable access to financial services that make it possible for people to independently improve their lives.
Jed McCaleb believes in consciously leveraging technology to reduce inefficiency and improve the human condition. He created eDonkey, one of the largest file-sharing networks of its time, as well as Mt. Gox, the first Bitcoin exchange. Recognizing that the world’s financial infrastructure is broken and that too many people are left without resources, he cofounded Stellar in 2014. Jed is also an advisor to MIRI, which researches artificial intelligence for positive impact. Find him online on Twitter, GitHub, and his blog.