The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $500 million (Sh40 billion) over five years to help the poor have easy access to financial services.
Mrs Melinda Gates, wife of Mr Bill Gates who is the founder and chief executive of Microsoft Corporation, unveiled the initiative during the Global Savings Forum held in Seattle, Washington.
Mrs Gates praised Safaricom’s M-Pesa and cited the service as an example of how such services can help poor people.
“In Kenya, M-Pesa is showing what storing and transferring money on mobile phones can do for poor people — not only in theory and pilot projects, but at an enormous scale,” Mrs Gates told the gathering.
As part of the pledge, $40 million (Sh3.2 billion) in grants will go to six new projects.
Among the package of grants announced, $4.8 million (Sh384 million) will be used to expand M-Pesa into Tanzania through one of the project’s partners, Vodafon Tanzania.
The two-day forum was attended by among others Central Bank of Kenya governor Njuguna Ndung’u, the bank’s assisatnt director Matu Mugo, Equity Bank MD James Mwangi, retired Safaricon CEO Michael Joseph, M-Pesa business operations head Pauline Vaughan and Equity Bank director of shared services John Staley.
Explaining the impact of M-Pesa, Mrs Gates noted that the mobile money transfer service had helped Kenyans cope with disasters better.
“New evidence shows that households that use M-Pesa are able to get through these crises without cutting back on food. To me, you can’t make a stronger case for savings,” she said.
ShoreBank International working with BRAC Bank Ltd in Bangladesh will receive $10 million (Sh800 million), which will go into introducing bKash — a mobile money system to be launched in the Asian country in March 2011.
Mr Gates visited Kenya in December 2009 and toured several East Africa Dairies Development projects, which the Gates Foundation funds.
The four year pilot program is being implemented across the Rift Valley and in Central province.