A subsistence farmer in South Africa gets regular text messages on his cell phone reminding him to take his antiretroviral medication, so his HIV keeps from blossoming into full-blown AIDS. In exchange, he gets life insurance, for the equivalent of about $35 a month. With his $35,000 life insurance policy in his pocket, the farmer can finally qualify for a mortgage or business loan. Slowly, the financial world that was closed off to him starts to unfurl a ribbon of possibility.

He’s getting...

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