Historical Social Research

Serena Natile: Digital Finance Inclusion and the Mobile Money “Social” Enterprise: A Socio-Legal Critique of M-Pesa in Kenya. [Abstract]

Financial technology or fintech initiatives are gaining increasing global attention as instruments for financial inclusion and economic and social development. Among such initiatives, mobile-phone-enabled money transfer systems, or “mobile money,” have been particularly acclaimed for facilitating access to financial services and creating opportunities for the so-called “unbanked poor.” One of the first and most-discussed mobile money projects to date is M-Pesa in Kenya, a digital payment system which is now used by over 70 per cent of the Kenyan population across a variety of sectors including finance, commerce, education, health, and social welfare. M-Pesa is premised on a narrative of social entrepreneurship and has increasingly embraced the idea of philanthrocapitalism, promoting the logic that digital financial inclusion can simultaneously address social problems and produce profit. This paper brings together socio-legal enquiry and international political economy analysis to illustrate the institutional arrangements underpinning the development of M-Pesa and examine some of the projects built on its infrastructure. It argues that social entrepreneurship promotes a logic of opportunity rather than a politics of redistribution, favouring mobile money providers and the institutions involved in the mobile money social business over improving the lives of the intended beneficiaries, namely the unbanked poor.

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