Project Year



East Africa



Project Description

Money transfer systems have been extremely popular in Kenya. In Western Kenya, digital money is circulated in social networks based on money sharing that foster emotional closeness and relationships of closeness and allow women some form of social empowerment. However, social empowerment may not translate into economic empowerment -- the ability to store, build, and make decisions about value. Discourses of financial inclusion often privilege money storage over money transfer, even as empirical study of how individual and group strategies are produced in women’s financial lives is largely absent. This project will examine how 20 unbanked women of diverse backgrounds use group (reciprocal money sharing) and independent (payment, earmarking, or value storage) strategies with digital financial tools over the course of one year. We want to explore if independent strategies give women more economic and social empowerment than using group strategies alone. We will use Social Network Analysis (SNA) to map each participant's network and record her monthly financial activities in order to create a dynamic social network that demonstrates change over time. Ethnographic data will provide context for the SNA patterns and elucidate women’s definitions and experiences of economic security, decision-making, and social empowerment. Combined SNA and ethnographic data will document the effects of group and independent digital financial tools on value storage and transfer patterns. This study, in modeling women at the center of changing social networks of mobile money relationships, will understand how women negotiate the trade-offs between economic and social dimensions of empowerment, and contribute to defining more holistic visions of financial inclusion.


Sibel Kusimba and Yang Yang

About the Researcher(s)

kusimba_2015Dr Sibel Kusimba is presently the Anthropologist in Residence, American University. She has more than 20 years of experience conducting anthropological research in Kenya and has garnered numerous grants, including three National Science Foundation Grants, one of which was an REU grant in 2007-2008 to support an NSF undergraduate research site in Kenya; three grants through The Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion (IMTFI) to study mobile money in Kenya in 2012, 2014, and 2015; and two year-long Fulbright appointments through the US Department of State to Kenya in 1993-1994 and 2009-2010, along with numerous faculty research grants from Northern Illinois University and American University. She has published numerous book chapters and articles. Her 2003 book, African Foragers, was named an outstanding academic book by the American Library Association. Her research conducted with funding from IMTFI is being published in the peer-reviewed journals Information Technology in International Development and Economic Anthropology. Dr. Kusimba’s work is featured in an IMTFI video and webinar she co-presented with founders of the m-PESA crowdfunding platform M-Changa. She also presented a webinar on the use of Social Network Analysis in mobile money research through the American Anthropological Association. She is currently working on a book tentatively entitled Mobile Economies: A New Kind of Currency in Kenya

yang_2015Yang Yang received his B.Sc. degree in Software Engineering from the Nanjing University, China, and his Ph.D from the Department of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. He is presently a Postdoctoral Scholar at Northwestern University. he has been a member of iCeNSA lab and Data Inference Analysis and Learning (DIAL) Research Laboratory since 2010. His current research interests include developing scalable algorithms and methods for link prediction problems, social network evolution analysis, social influence analysis and human mobility network analysis. His work has focussed on extending time series studies to modeling temporal information in the link prediction problem and using influence analysis in estimating link likelihood in multi-relational and heterogeneous networks.

Link to related blogpost by IMTFI Researcher Sibel Kusimba−American University, Gabriel Kunyu−Independent Researcher, and Dave Mark−CTO, M-Changa: Women, Social Capital, and Financial Inclusion: Linking Customer Data with Ethnographic Perspectives

 Link to final report (Sept 2017) "Dynamic Networks of Mobile Money among Unbanked Women in Western Kenya"

View featured Praxides Presentation, see above final for discussion.


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