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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Specialist, CFI

If you had to embark on a journey similar to that of the 65 million people who are currently forcibly displaced, what would you bring? Most likely among your provisions would be a smartphone. Phones are the contemporary map and compass, a gateway to critical information, a means for keeping in touch with loved ones, and a financial toolkit. More and more, aid workers are witnessing refugees arriving at camps with smartphones. For both the refugee journey and the post-journey settlement process, a phone can be vital. With this in mind, you might not be surprised to learn that mobile money usage among refugees, including for cash transfers from governments and NGOs, is on the rise.

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> Posted by the Smart Campaign

The Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion announced today a $4.4 million, three-year partnership with The MasterCard Foundation to tackle the challenges facing consumer finance in an increasingly digital world. As a reader of this blog, you’re almost certainly familiar with the work of the Smart Campaign. The Smart Campaign is a global campaign committed to embedding client protection practices into the institutional culture and operations of the financial inclusion sector. Since 2009, we’ve worked globally to create an environment in which financial services are delivered safely and responsibly to low-income clients. The partnership marks a shift in strategy for the Smart Campaign, as well as a deepening of its footprint in Sub-Saharan Africa.

To date, the Smart Campaign’s flagship certification program has certified over 68 financial institutions, serving 35 million clients worldwide. Recent certifications include Opportunity International Colombia, ENLACE in El Salvador, and BRAC Bangladesh, part of the world’s largest anti-poverty organization.

Under the partnership, the Smart Certification program will continue. But with support from The MasterCard Foundation, the Smart Campaign will increase its focus on convening a broader range of players in the financial services field—including regulators, industry associations and financial technology firms—to take on client protection issues emerging from new technologies, to elevate the voice of the clients they serve and to effect change at the national level.

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> Posted by Center Staff

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Screenshot from VisionFund International’s webinar (click to watch)

This post is part of Financial Inclusion Week, a week of global conversation on advancing financial inclusion. This year’s theme is keeping clients first in a digital world. Throughout the week participants will share their thoughts in events and webinars, on social media, and through blog posts. Add your voice to the conversation using #FinclusionWeek.

On day three of Financial Inclusion Week 2016 we were excited to see conversations happen around the world, including in Rwanda, Bangladesh, and Australia. We offer a rundown of these events and the vibrant online conversation below.

The week is nearing a close but there are still plenty of upcoming events and ways to get involved. Be sure to share your thoughts on Twitter with #FinclusionWeek, join tomorrow’s webinar with Innovations for Poverty Action, or submit a client quote and photo to our collection of client insights.

What’s Happening

VisionFund International hosted a webinar (two webinars, in fact, to accommodate for different timezones) focused on the future of digital financial services. The webinar centered on how VisionFund is using technology to lend to smallholder farmers at the right level, and at the right time. During the webinar, Tom Allen and Justin McAuley, Director of Change and Programs and Director of Global Digital Architecture at VisionFund, highlighted a new application they developed which uses available geographic and market data to better extend their products to smallholder farmers and manage risk. You can watch the full webinar here.
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> Posted by Mark Pickens, Senior Director, Visa

The future doesn’t come with an owner’s manual saying how to set up, operate, or troubleshoot it. When we launched mVisa in Rwanda in 2013, it was the first interoperable mobile phone-based payment ecosystem in any emerging market. We didn’t know what was possible. But we knew what we were aiming at. We wanted to make mobile money work better.

Nearly all mobile money schemes are “closed loops”. They do not permit funds to be shared with users of any other scheme. Since consumers cannot transact with everyone they want or spend everywhere they go, they see mobile accounts as less useful than cash. Fewer make the switch from cash, the net financial inclusion impact is stunted, and commercial returns are blunted. The idea of mVisa is to connect the closed loops by routing mobile money transactions via VisaNet, the global software and data centers that process transactions by more than 2 billion account holders and sustain more than 30 million points of access in the Visa network.

We chose Rwanda to pilot the mVisa concept. A smaller market makes it easier to know and be known by key stakeholders. That is an important consideration when starting a multiparty ecosystem that requires all players to move in a similar direction in a similar timeframe. Rwanda fit the bill well.

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> Posted by Center Staff

fi2020 issue five

Good afternoon! Freshly published is this week’s Financial Inclusion 2020 News Feed, sharing the big news in banking the unbanked. Among its stories are a new partnership between MetLife Foundation and Opportunity International to expand financing and skills training in rural China, the launch of a World Food Programme initiative that integrates climate risk reduction with financial services, and the release of the first annual Consumer Banking PACE Index, which gauges bank performance to consumer expectations. Here are a few more details:

  • MetLife Foundation and Opportunity International have embarked on a three-year partnership to support thousands of small businesses in rural China with financial services and business development training via banks, mobile vans, and rural service centers.
  • The World Food Programme launched the R4 Rural Resilience Initiative, which helps smallholder famers in Zambia navigate environmental demands using index-based agricultural insurance, improved natural resource management, credit, savings, and productive safety nets.
  • The new Consumer Banking PACE Index, drawing on input from over 9,000 consumers, examines bank performance in a handful of countries around the world to conclude that, among other findings, fair and transparent pricing falls below consumer expectations, and trust in banks remains an issue.

For more information on these and other stories, read the fifth issue of the FI2020 News Feed here, and make sure to subscribe to the weekly online magazine by entering your email address in the right-hand menu so you can be notified when the latest issue comes out.

Have you come across a story or initiative you think we should cover? Email your ideas to us at ezuehlke@accion.org.

> Posted by Andrew Fixler, Freelance Journalist

Atikus, a new financial inclusion-focused enterprise, is gearing up to launch an underwriting platform and a credit insurance product in Rwanda for micro, small, and medium enterprise (MSME) credit. The insurance product is designed and brokered by Atikus, and ultimately backed by a local insurance company. I recently sat down with Kate Woska, co-founder and CEO of Atikus, to discuss financial innovation and her company’s work.

Microfinance has long benefited from careful experimentation and innovation. Initiatives that are targeting the base of the pyramid tend to be consumer-focused (e.g. micro health insurance or mobile payments development); however, according to Woska, these initiatives may be populating an industry that also suffers from institutional and market-level inefficiencies.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Rwanda has a lot to celebrate in terms of financial inclusion these days. Last week in Kigali the National Bank of Rwanda (NBR) hosted a conference in partnership with the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) commemorating their 50-year anniversary. At the event, titled Financial Inclusion for Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development, NBR Governor John Rwangombwa highlighted the country’s recent rise in access levels, from 48 to 72 percent between 2008 and 2012 across formal and informal providers. Rwanda now has the laudable goal of increasing this figure to 90 percent by 2020. To help it get there, on Friday the World Bank launched a $2.25 million program supporting key financial inclusion areas for the country.

Along with overall exclusion rates dropping from 52 to 28 percent over 2008 to 2012, formal services access increased from 21 to 42 percent during the same period, according to the 2012 FinScope Rwanda Survey. The new government goal of 90 percent access by 2020 is an extension of the country’s Maya Declaration Commitment of 80 percent access by 2017. Rwanda’s growth in formal access can be attributed to products offered by both banks and non-bank providers, like the country’s community savings and credit cooperatives known as Umurenge SACCOs. Over the past three years, Umurenge SACCOs have attracted over 1.6 million customers. Ninety percent of Rwandans live within a 5 km radius of one of the cooperatives. Countrywide, the number of MFIs, including Umurenge SACCOs, increased from 125 to 491 between 2008 and December 2013. Elsewhere in the sector, over the last three years, the number of banks increased from 10 to 14, the number of insurance companies increased from 9 to 13, and the number of pension providers increased from 41 to 56.

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> Posted by Brigit Helms, Director, Support Program for Enterprise and Economic Development (SPEED)

It’s hard to imagine a more explosive, transformative, and empowering trend than the growth of the mobile phone sector in Africa. In 1998 there were fewer than 4 million phones on the continent; today there are around 800 million—a whopping 80 percent penetration. Compare this to the meager 24 percent of African adults with bank accounts. Experts expect there will be around 1.1 billion mobile phone subscribers by 2017.

Women likely will be at the forefront of this future growth in mobile access in Africa (and elsewhere), globally accounting for two-thirds of new subscribers. According to the Cherie Blair Foundation, the gender gap in Africa alone is a $2 billion business opportunity.

At the same time, the potential for mobile money is indeed dazzling. The Kenya example continues to dazzle us, with 21 million active users, more than 60,000 agents (many of whom are women), and mobile money deposits of KSh 226 billion, surpassing the deposit base of the country’s largest commercial bank, Kenya Commercial Bank.

With all this promise, the potential is unrealized outside of a few countries. Why? The answer is complex, but fundamentally it’s because mobile money operators systematically underinvest in two things: understanding the market and building the agent network.

As it turns out, both of these things are critical for connecting women with mobile financial services. Once we crack the problem of women’s access to financial services, their households and communities will follow shortly thereafter.

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Credit Suisse is a founding sponsor of the Center for Financial Inclusion. The Credit Suisse Group Foundation looks to its philanthropic partners to foster research, innovation and constructive dialogue in order to spread best practices and develop new solutions for financial inclusion.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.