Consumption, Technology, and Development: The “Poor” as “Consumer”

Renee Kuriyan, Dawn Nafus, Scott Mainwaring


This article focuses on the case of M-PESA mobile payments service in Kenya. It critically analyzes the assumptions and cultural contradictions that underpin notions of the low-income consumer and their implications in practice for business strategy. The poor-as-consumer model assumes that, in order to target low-income groups, one needs to design products, services, and marketing specifically for the poor. We find a unifying notion of the consumer that is not based on income. Being an M-PESA consumer can enable low-income Kenyans to seemingly cross class boundaries and assume identities not linked to their traditional class status. Although the poor are price sensitive, our research shows the importance of not making them “feel” like they are, as a class, “the poor.” By examining and building on these assumptions and contradictions, Safaricom successfully tapped into market messages that met individual consumers’ desires and aspirations.


M-PESA, Safaricom, low-income Kenya

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