Design Technology Lab | NYU Abu Dhabi
Ishita Ghosh, Joy Ming, Jay Chen, Azza Abouzied
Paper as a medium persists as the de facto standard for information collection, storage, and transfer in many low-resource developing contexts. Of these contexts, the microfinance industry continues to be fascinating in the ongoing ICTD conversation due, in part, to its elimination of paper by digitizing money transfers using mobile banking. This success invites scholars, designers, and industry practitioners to design technology solutions to eliminate the perceived inefficiencies of paper in microfinance and other industries. In this work, we take a step back to assess the role and value of paper in order to give designers pause when considering a blanket digitization of existing processes, norms, and transactions. Specifically, we study a microfinance ecosystem in the city of Tema in Ghana and find that paper passbooks are able to deliver valuable context-specific information to its owners that derive from the specific affordances of paper itself. Our findings encourage a more nuanced view of paper’s place in microfinance, and consequently, in similar low-resource settings.