Cell phone use in developing countries is really growing. Three-quarters of the world’s population have access to cell phones, according to a Worldbank study released in July. Cell phone subscriptions increased from one billion in 2000 to over six billion currently. Over 30 billion cell phone apps were downloaded last year. The report predicts that ownership of multiple subscriptions is becoming more common, and the amount of cell phone subscriptions soon will exceed the amount of people on the planet. Cell phone use is very popular in Indonesia where 80 percent of the population is cell phone users, and 96 percent of cell phone users say they send text messages. However, almost 75 percent of Indonesians live on less than $2.50 a day.
Perhaps a partnership between Grameen Foundation, which provides microloans, and eBay Foundation can tap into the potential of the cell phone marketplace in Indonesia. This summer Grameen and eBay started working together “to build solutions that address market challenges facing microentrepreneuers in Indonesia,” according to an opinion piece by Grameen president, Alex Counts and eBay Foundation president, Lauren Moore. The joint effort will support the Mobile Microfranchise initiative, which works with over 10,000 women microentrepreneuers. Grameen expects that the initiative will increase the network of microentrepreneurs from 10,500 to 60,000 in the next three years.
People residing in rural Indonesia are using cell phones “as a strategic business tool,” according to Counts and Moore. Farmers use cell phones to find about weather conditions, and people without jobs use them to find out about employment opportunities. “In this way, mobile phones are empowering users to gain control of often volatile financial conditions, particularly in informal markets,” the opinion piece declares.
Counts and Moore point out that transactions with cell phones are a “core area of focus for eBay.” Last year, eBay transacted $5 billion through cell phones, and 60 percent of purchases on cell phones came from countries other than the U.S. “We quickly realized this remarkable shared strategy and alignment of need and expertise between our two organizations,” Counts and Moore stated. eBay and Grameen hope that the joint effort will transform the rural poor in Indonesia, and be used an economic development model in other developing countries.