Will mobile phones transform the lives of the world’s poor? In this talk, I describe how innovative sources of data can provide new insight into the social and economic impacts of Mobile Money and other phone-based services in sub-Saharan Africa. I will focus on a series of related projects in Rwanda, which exploit a terabyte-scale database of phone calls, text messages, and mobile money transfers to explore patterns of social interaction and, ultimately, provide insight into the role of mobile phones in the Rwandan economy. Taken together, the results indicate that phones have had a positive impact on the lives of some people but, absent intervention, the benefits may not reach those with the greatest need.
Joshua Blumenstock is a Ph.D. candidate at U.C. Berkeley’s School of Information. His research focuses on the economic and social impacts of information and communication technologies in developing countries. In recent work, Blumenstock has shown how terabyte-scale data collected by mobile operators can be used to provide insight into the structure of informal insurance networks (Rwanda/Uganda); the socioeconomic impacts of mobile banking (Pakistan/Mongolia); and the effectiveness of anti-corruption campaigns (Afghanistan). He has received fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the Thomas J. Watson Foundation, and the Harvard Institutes of Medicine. Blumenstock holds a Master's degree in Economics from U.C. Berkeley, and Bachelor’s degrees in Physics and Computer Science from Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT.