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In Haiti, cell phones serve as debit cards

Haiti, January 30, 2011

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Jason Beaubien

NPR
January, 2011

The past year in Haiti has been marked by the slow pace of the earthquake recovery. But the poorest nation in the hemisphere is moving quickly on something else — setting up "mobile money" networks to allow cell phones to serve as debit cards.

The systems have the potential to allow Haitians to receive remittances from abroad, send cash to relatives across town or across the country, buy groceries and even pay for a bus ride all with a few taps on their cell phones.

...Lucas says Mercy Corps used to hand out printed food vouchers. But now they're giving each family a cheap cell phone loaded with $40 worth of T-cash.

"For us, actually, the vouchers are difficult. It takes a lot of time to distribute them. We have to print them somewhere, distribute them each month, collect them," Lucas says.

But with T-cash, they can send out food aid to 300 families with the click of a keystroke. The system can also be used to pay employees, which, in Haiti, can involve huge stacks of currency or checks that employees then need to stand in long lines to cash....