Cambridge Invents ... the M-pesa

Collusion's interview with one of the developers of the M-pesa, Tim Murdoch

Do you know that Cambridge developers created software that allows users in developing countries to use SMS (short message service) on a basic mobile phone to exchange money without a bank account, or that this technology is now handling 43% of Kenya’s GDP? 

The idea for M-pesa was originally conceived by Vodaphone following an introduction by the UK Government in 2002 to researchers in Mozambique who were looking at how people in Uganda, Botswana and Ghana were using airtime as a form of currency. Matching the £1 million put up by the UK government’s Department for International Development, Vodaphone set out to develop the concept. 

One of Cambridge’s leading technology consultancies, Sagentia, was selected to turn the concept into reality, developing the user interface, the software to manage network communications and the management system. The system had to be simple to use, robust and cost effective to make it suitable to handle very small amounts of money. Tim Murdoch was the team leader for the design and development of the systems and software. 

M-pesa was launched in Kenya in February 2007 by Safaricom, a company largely owned by Vodafone. Before too long it was picking up users and, within 12 months, one in ten Kenyans had used it because they realised that it was a service that they could reply upon.

As of March 2014, there are 19.3 million users of M-pesa, with the service now available  across Tanzania, Egypt, Fiji, South Africa, Afghanistan, India, Lesotho, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Romania. M-pesa - a genuinely disruptive technology - is playing a major role in enabling people around the world in developing countries to improve their lives and has now spawned many imitators. However, it was a consultancy in Cambridge who were the first ones to successfully address the technical and social aspects of exchanging money without ready access to banks.  

Press play above to hear more from Tim about the M-pesa.

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