Through my time here I have seen many things that make me think that Mali will never change and the chances of “development” working are but a distant reality. I’ve seen girls who are barely teenagers walk around with their kids, people not wanting to shake my hand with their left because they use that hand to wipe their derrieres after dropping a twosie, and men sitting around in the middle of the day complaining about there being no work and no money while they just sit there drinking tea. The only thing that gives me hope is that there are those out there who genuinely desire change, people who don’t want to be given handouts but want to improve their lives with their own hard work.
In Mali it’s pretty amazing to see the impact of technology. Cell phones were nowhere to be found a few years ago and now everyone has one. I had a conversation with my language tutor Abass who was telling me that it is a terrible idea to become a musician nowadays because people just download the music and share it with their cell phones. Currently Orange (France Telecom) is starting to roll out “Orange Money”, a program that allows people to go to local shops and buy credit to put on their phone. They can then send this credit to other people, receive credit, and theoretically convert credit into cash at retail outlets. One of the things I’m currently working on is the reboot of my mobile bank. A mobile bank in their sense of the word is having people go around everyday and collect money from clients to encourage them to save. But here’s the kicker, people actually pay a commission on their savings so they’re getting charged to save money! That makes no sense to me and is one of the reasons I really don’t like the concept of a mobile bank.
Alternatively I am seeing if we could use this “Orange Money” to turn the new president of my mobile bank into a retail outlet here in Kita. That way people can still save money but they won’t get charged. An additional benefit is we don’t need collectors going around every day. People can save at their own pace and when they’re ready to make a withdrawal they can visit the president of my mobile bank and exchange credit for cash. Let’s see if it works in sh’Allah. Doing so would free us up to use the organization of the mobile bank as a means of financial education for all the artisans in Kita instead of worrying about the operations.
I am also negotiating to implement market information systems here in Mali. With the help of a company based in Senegal called Manobi and hopefully Peace Corps volunteers we hope to deploy a network that should capture real-time units for food and cereals all around the country while simultaneously providing reliable information to those who need it most, the producers.
I’m also trying to see if I can start up a village association with my friend and some of his friends. It’s kind of like how Yunus started Grameen where I want to see how many people he can get together, how much they need to buy materials for their respective businesses, and then figure out some sort of system for repayment so that we could help other people with other ideas. Thanks to some friends at HOPE International I have a Village Savings and Loan manual for starting it up. My expectations are very low but if successful it would be pretty sweet.
Lots of stuff going on right now, we’ll see how everything turns out. Jaemin comes to visit in less than two weeks!