‘Phone loans’ seek to right the many wrongs of digital lending in Kenya

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Smartphones tend to be wrapped in a brand of marketing that casts them as a consumer luxury in today’s world, therefore it’s often underestimated that even low-end devices can be transformational and even literally saving lives, for what is easily large groups of people.

Take Kendon Kamau, for example, who when sharing his story with Equal times in 2017 was a struggling 36-year-old farmer in Kenya whose then one-year-old son nearly died of pneumonia aged two months the previous year.

“The hospital could not treat him without the required cash amount of 4,000 shillings (~US$40.00),” he said. A quick loan from a loan app saved the day, and it might have been a different story had he not owned a device.

“This money also paid for my bus ride to and from the hospital, but more importantly, it saved my son’s life,” he said.

For another local, Phylista Wambua, who also shared her story as a 50-year-old mother of two who makes ends meet selling fresh fruit and vegetables in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, owning a smartphone has made all the difference – it has allowed her to elevate her business, increasing her daily income fivefold for the sake of her family.

“In January of last year[2016]I used to do just 800 [Kenyan] shillings per day (~$8.00),” she said. “This year alone[2017]I received about 50,000 shillings (~$500.00) from mobile loan providers,” she revealed at the time, noting that it allowed her to buy more stock and a wider variety of products .

“I make a lot of money, especially with kale. On a good day, I now earn around 4,000 shillings (USD 40.00) if I can sell all my stock,” Wambua revealed.

Such is the constructive chain reaction that the possession of a device can produce. Thus, getting smartphones into as many hands as possible across all income levels represents an important pathway to inclusive socio-economic betterment.

But despite the widespread availability of low-cost smartphones, under $100.00, affordability remains a major barrier in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the developing world.

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