The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


DPU PhD student defends thesis on potential of mobile money for rural poverty reduction in Nigeria

4 November 2019

Congratulations to DPU PhD student, Maryam Lawal, who has successfully defended her thesis titled 'A Capabilitarian Account of the Potential of Mobile Money for Rural Poverty Reduction in Bauchi, Northern Nigeria'

Maryam Lawal

Maryam Lawal argued that exploring how mobile-money plays a role in enhancing human capabilities demonstrates that the capability approach lends itself to making a more robust analysis that, in turn, allows for a theorisation of the link between ICTs and human development.

Her work investigates how, with the advent of mobile-money, many people living in rural Bauchi State and using cash economies can use their mobile phones to access non-traditional means of banking. The ability to use mobile phones for payment and remittance purposes has changed the ways mobile phones and banking are used, because of the opportunity offered to underbanked and unbanked populations in many developing countries.

In her thesis, she notes that although there is an increasing amount of research in this area, studies relating mobile-money to human development, and more specifically to rural poverty as ‘capability deprivation’ are limited. The capability approach has in recent decades emerged as a theoretical framework for understanding poverty, justice, inequality and human development. Although the approach has been extensively operationalised in varied contexts, there remains scarce overt interaction between the capability approach and the branch of research focused on assessing information and communications technology (ICT) for advancing human development. She therefore operationalises the capability approach to examine the transformative potential of ICTs in human development.

Research insights are thus used to produce a capabilitarian account through which mobile-money is evaluated in terms of its ability to expand or obstruct people’s valued human capabilities to achieve their ideas of ’the good’. Secondary evidence synthesised with empirical discoveries suggest that mobile-money is valuable if the range of financial services allow poor people to pursue their wellbeing goals by serving primarily as a savings platform and a facilitator of quick and dependable payments and transfers. While a proportion of rural populations are included (through capability expansion) in the mobile-money ecosystem, some will remain inevitably excluded (through capability obstruction), and therefore still deprived in terms of capabilities. She concludes that challenges relating to accessibility, affordability and awareness need to be adequately addressed in order for mobile-money to attain its transformative potential of reducing rural poverty.