Ann MilesJune 16 2016

Betting on Innovation and Scale to Transform Lives

Farmers in Rwanda work together to apply fertilizer.

Joseph, Annette and their four children live in Kigoro, a remote village in the Kasese district of Uganda. Like most members of their community, this family’s income is diverse and irregular, dependent largely on commercial and subsistence agriculture. They keep chickens and a few goats, but Joseph and Annette’s main income comes from the coffee crop that they are able to harvest twice a year.

In the past, however, their income was even more precarious because they didn’t have a safe place to keep their money. Leaving cash in a box, or under the mattress didn’t give them much security knowing that their family’s livelihood could easily be stolen. Because the village is far away from bank branches, depositing or withdrawing money meant significant transportation costs.

The family needed a secure and efficient way to manage their financial lives, and that is exactly what 2015 Fund for Rural Prosperity Innovation Competition winner SmartMoney Uganda has provided. As a result of its impactful work, Joseph is now paid by the coffee cooperative through SmartMoney, a mobile-based savings and payment service that is safer, cheaper and more convenient than they could have imagined. SmartMoney is just one of the many innovative, solution-oriented companies the Fund for Rural Prosperity empowers through millions of dollars in grants.

Joseph and his family are among those in Africa who are seeing their lives transformed by being able to come in from the financial wilderness. To enable hundreds of millions more Africans, however, to enjoy the benefits of financial products and services that we tend to take for granted, much more needs to be done.

Collectively, we must lay the groundwork for a shift in financial inclusion. With a focus on innovation, scale and collaboration, we believe that The MasterCard Foundation’s Fund for Rural Prosperity is doing just that – finding and supporting smart ideas that drive financial inclusion in rural Africa.

From mobile banking and insurance to micro-loans and solar lighting, the innovative application of business ideas in this year’s competitions are expected to benefit more than eight million people across the continent by creating greater access to formal financial services and products. The $50 million fund, created by The MasterCard Foundation in 2014, supports the best ideas and the work of visionary companies that create innovative and scalable services bringing rural finance to underserved people in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Homegrown companies like SmartMoney Uganda and 2015 awardee M-Kopa Solar have proven that they know best how to invest in the people and communities they’ve spent years serving. M-Kopa provides rent-to-own solar energy products that bring affordable solar power to rural homes. To date, they have connected more than 330,000 homes across Africa with 8-watt battery-powered systems that can power three lights, a mobile phone charger and a solar powered radio.

Because of M-Kopa’s innovative approach to providing power to rural homes in Africa, children can study longer after school and mothers are no longer burdened by fetching firewood or burning kerosene long into the night. What’s more, M-Kopa’s experience is enabling it to improve peoples’ lives by moving into other areas, such as brokering small loans that build credit scores and allow people to enter the formal financial system on their own terms. As a Fund for Rural Prosperity awardee, M-Kopa now has an additional $2.5 million to continue making an impact in sustainable finance across Africa.

The work done by companies like M-Kopa, SmartMoney Uganda and other Fund for Rural Prosperity winners demonstrates how, time and time again, investing in companies that increase financial infrastructure in Africa has proven effective. Due to the collaborative nature of the Fund, results are far-reaching:

  • Crop yields increase through agricultural input loans, improving sales and livelihoods;
  • Financial resilience improves through access to insurance and savings;
  • Communities thrive with the creation of jobs and the growth of rural finance markets.

These foundational shifts are taking root in African communities as the Fund’s first winners continue to set in motion their proposed approaches to financial inclusion, now and in the years to come. Families such as Joseph’s are increasingly benefitting from investments by local companies demonstrating the impactful, sustainable philanthropy to which the Fund for Rural Prosperity is committed.

 

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Ann Miles

Ann Miles

Ann is Director, Financial Inclusion, at the Mastercard Foundation.