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Risk and Reciprocity Over the Mobile Phone Network: Evidence from Rwanda

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  • Marcel Fafchamps
  • Joshua Blumenstock and Nathan Eagle

Abstract

A large literature describes how local risk sharing networks can help individuals smooth consumption in the face of idiosyncratic economic shocks.� However, when an entire community faces a large covariate shock, and when the transaction costs of transfers are high, these risk sharing networks are likely to be less effective.� In this paper, we document how a new technology - mobile phones - reduces transaction costs and enables Rwandans to share risk quickly over long distances.� We examine a comprehensive database of person-to-person transfers of mobile airtime and find that individuals send this rudimentary form of "mobile money" to friends and family affected by natural disasters.� Using the Lake Kivu earthquake of 2008 to identify the effect of a large covariate shock on interpersonal transfers, we estimate that a current-day earthquake would result in the transfer of between $22,000 and $30,000 to individuals living near the epicenter.� We further show that the pattern of transfers is most consistent with a model of reciprocal risk sharing, where transfers are determined by past reciprocity and geographical proximity, rather than one of pure charity or altruism, in which transfers would be expected to be increasing in the wealth of the sender and decreasing in the wealth of the recipient.

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File URL: http://www.csae.ox.ac.uk/workingpapers/pdfs/csae-wps-2011-19.pdf
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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Oxford, Department of Economics in its series Economics Series Working Papers with number WPS/2011-19.

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Date of creation: 01 Sep 2011
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Handle: RePEc:oxf:wpaper:wps/2011-19

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Keywords: Risk sharing; Mobile phones; Mobile money; Information and communications technologies; Development; Earthquakes; Rwanda; Africa;

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References

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  3. Mobius, Markus & Do, Quoc-Anh & Leider, Stephen & Rosenblat, Tanya, 2009. "Directed Altruism and Enforced Reciprocity in Social Networks," Scholarly Articles 3054685, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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Cited by:
  1. Jennifer Helgeson & Simon Dietz & Stefan Hochrainer-Stigler, 2012. "Vulnerability to weather disasters: the choice of coping strategies in rural Uganda," Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment Working Papers, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment 91, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

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