The Co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, has expressed an interest to invest in the electronic payment and store value system in Ethiopia after seeing the increasing number of users in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
The philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft referred to the electronic payment and store value system as the ‘digital currency’, which is accessible from ordinary mobile phones known as M-PESA.
A M-PESA account is a way to transfer funds to both M-PESA users and non-users, pay bills, and purchase mobile airtime credit for a small, flat, per-transaction fee. The affordability of the service has been a key in opening the door to formal financial services for the poor.
Gates said that the foundation has not done much in financial services in Ethiopia, but that the government has an ambitious plan about the idea of being able to transfer money or even paying in shops directly with a local currency which is seen as being very efficient and having local transactions using mobile phones.
“Our financial team will make a trip to Ethiopia and talk about what the government’s strategy is and we might be able to help with that in addition to the two major areas we are involved in,” he told local and international journalists in Addis Abeba at a media round table.
“By far the biggest areas of work of the foundation are health, agriculture and this is expected to be the third big area.”
The Foundation, which is the world’s largest private philanthropic organisation, has also pledged to enhance support to Ethiopia’s endeavors to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Gates discussed cooperation with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegne, in areas of climate change, rural development, agricultural commercialization, manufacturing and pharmaceuticals which would be implemented in the coming 10 years.
He also discussed issues related to Ethiopia’s growth strategy and the role of the Foundation in embodying commercialization of agriculture, enhancing private sector development, and Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy Strategy among others.
Gates, whose visit to Ethiopia came after participating in the 21st World AIDS Summit held in South Africa, also stressed that as much as there has been a great progress in Ethiopia, there is still a lot to be done.
“Until the child mortality rate is more like the US and health deficit going down to low figures there is an incredible amount of work to do”, he said.
“Likewise in agriculture and livestock since the government made that an increased priority we would be more collaborative on livestock in the next five years.”
The Foundation is currently engaged in implementing 150 development projects which are worth over $500 million.