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Shape new technology to a market’s culture

Professor Michael Barrett feels cultural differences may have hampered success of a Cambridge-designed mobile money transfer technology.

Today 12 million Kenyans employ the system but neighbouring Tanzania, predicted as a natural follower, has been slow to react.

A recognised authority on information systems has advised that cultural values and mannerisms must be considered when designing technologies for emerging markets and developing countries.

It has given over a third of the population access to bank accounts when five years ago only 10 per cent had access. Professor Michael Barrett was commenting on the progress made by the Cambridge-designed ‘M-Pesa’ mobile money transfer technology. It was introduced into Kenya not long ago and is now used by 12 million people.

Professor Barrett, Professor of Information Systems & Innovation Studies at Cambridge Judge Business School, said in an interview for the School’s website, that M-Pesa’s success in Kenya has not been repeated, as expected, in neighbouring Tanzania.

He explained that Tanzania, where 95 per cent of people do not have bank access, was regarded as ‘ripe’ for mobile payment technology. However, cultural differences were not taken into account including the country’s network of strong villages and, unlike Kenya, no national ID policy.

When we look at these new business models. We don’t look enough at the technological infrastructure that is needed to support and drive that new model.”

Another example was Afghanistan where the mobile payment technology was reconfigured taking into account the largely Muslim population and where literacy was an issue. M-Pesa reverted to its original usage of supporting micro-loans with built-in voice-recognition capabilities.

We don’t try to change the culture sometimes. We recognise and respect the culture and then we see what are the appropriate types of services that work in a line within that culture. So that flexibility and sensitivity to the cultural values and traits are crucial in figuring out what is the design solution that might be successful within a particular city or culture.”

M-Pesa (M for mobile, and Pesa, a Swahili word for money) was developed by Sagentia in Cambridge and the global giant, Vodafone, who then partnered with Kenya’s Safaricom mobile network to deploy the system.

© Photograph copyright by Realt0n12