"The phrase “the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid” was coined by the late C.K. Prahalad, building on the work of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. In his groundbreaking 1999 work, Development as Freedom, Sen pointed out that one of the most important aspects of development is freedom of opportunity, a vital part of which is access to capital and credit. Capital and credit, however, appear nowhere in the draft UN goals."
In many countries, people could possess access to capital by virtue of the real estate they already occupy, but they are unable to prove ownership of the land due to inadequate land-titling systems or because of traditional forms of property ownership where everything belongs to the village chief. As Hernando de Soto explained in his book, The Mystery of Capital, land-titling reforms significantly benefit the poor, enabling
such opportunities as access to credit, the establishment of systems of identification, the creation of systems for credit and insurance information, the provision for housing and infrastructure, the issue of shares, the mortgage of property and a host of other economic activities that drive a modern market economy.De Soto estimates that up to $10 trillion of capital worldwide is locked away unused because of inadequate titling systems. A recent study by the Peru-based Institute for Liberal Democracy (ILD), which De Soto heads, estimated Egyptian workers’ real estate holdings to be worth around $360 billion, “eight times more than all the foreign direct investment in Egypt since Napoleon’s invasion.”
Similarly, many local assets around the world remain in common ownership — in reality, owned by no one. Initiatives such as India’s privatization of forest resources seek to address this problem by enabling the titling of assets by indigenous peoples, who can then tap into those resources for access to credit to open up new opportunities. Estimates suggest that similar initiatives could be extended to 900 million plots of land across the developing world.
There are also exciting opportunities that could arise for the public recording and utilization of such capital through the distributed public-ledger system known as the blockchain, best known for its role in the development of bitcoin. Development of the blockchain for property recording and titling would significantly reduce both the transaction costs and the widespread corruption associated with government-controlled titling systems. Significantly, De Soto’s ILD is promoting these initiatives."
"Kenya: Mobile Phones and Payments
Despite corruption and bureaucracy, strong markets have grown up in developing countries. Kenya is a case in point. It leapfrogged the Western world’s development process for mobile communications technology. Kenyans went from having few telephones to virtually everyone having a mobile phone without needing the stage of landline infrastructure in between. A similar process is now taking place in personal finance.
Vodafone, along with its Kenyan subsidiary, Safaricom, developed m-pesa, a mobile payment and value storage system to be used on its phones. Transactions are capped at about $500, but crucially can be person-to-person, acting as digitized cash. Introduced in 2007, it had 9 million users — 40 percent of Kenya’s population — just two years later. By 2013, 17 million Kenyans were using it, with transactions valued at over $24 billion — over half of Kenya’s GDP.
M-pesa has in turn improved access to capital even more, and technology businesses are thriving all over Kenya as a result.
Kenya is not alone. The phenomenon is spreading to other African countries and to some South American countries such as Paraguay."