Some things you just say yes to. I have been struggling the last year and 3 months to get my life back to normal after a serious bicycle accident. It was a tougher recovery – it took more of a physical and mental toll on me than I had expected.
Recently I have started to think about what I will do next, and while I was going through that process I get a request from USAID to go to Afghanistan. At first I was taken back – thinking I had no intention of going to a war zone. But the opportunity grew on me. All the key players would be at the meeting – government, mobile operators, banks, regulators. And the topic was compelling – how to make mobile money work in Afghanistan including move the government payments to electronic.
Afghanistan is one of the most unbanked places in the world – according to the conference attendees, it is 4% of the population that has bank accounts. Many people live to far from a bank branch, others don’t trust the bank or have habits around cash.
So, despite the advice of many, I said yes. The Mobile Money Executive Seminar was great and resulted in increased momentum for the effort. Many key players were there and the cross section of top level attendees enabled important dialogue about collaboration and execution issues.
I also lead a women’s workshop the next day. Top women business leaders, ~20, attended. It was heartening to see their strength and experience their energy for building their businesses and improving Afghanistan. Their resources are limited and they are doing all this despite an anti-women culture.
There were times before and during my trip I was worried about the danger. The fact is it was dangerous. Now that I have safely arrived at my next destination I have a few observations.
– Mobile money has huge potential but there is much work to be done. The Mobile Operators need much broader agent networks to support their aspirations. Today their top-up agent networks is pretty limited.
– Government can leverage mobile money infrastructure to increase efficiency, safety and transparency. It will be a big win for the country, the government, and the people of Afghanistan.
– With all the work that needs to be done in Afghanistan it is tragic that women are so held back. The country needs the energy, drive, and productivity of the women. Unfortunately their culture and some of their laws make women’s contribution a small fraction of what it could and should be.
– Many differences exist, but I also felt the commonality with the people I met. The experience and connections I made will stay with me as I move into my next phase.
I am so glad I went.