Getting Financial Inclusion Right…with Mobile

A pilot digital community of young girls in Kampala aims to empower a vulnerable population, and encouraging outcomes have surfaced.

This post originally appeared on Every1Mobile’s blog.

The theme for this year’s Financial Inclusion Week is Getting it Right. During this week, we share our insights in using a mobile-first approach to engage adolescent girls to drive small changes in savings habits in Uganda.

Mobile offers significant potential to engage people at scale, connecting them to services and solutions that can improve their everyday lives. The rise of mobile banking products, such as Safaricom’s mPesa in Kenya and other digital financial services, show that overcoming specific contextual challenges and responding to the demand of low-income people at scale, requires digitally-led solutions.

A recent Gallup survey of 10,000 people in 10 countries showed that owning a bank or mobile money account doesn’t automatically correlate with greater financial security. Simply increasing the numbers accessing financial services and accounts in isolation won’t improve the financial health of vulnerable groups: we must also be driving changes in financial knowledge, attitudes to money and savings practices, so that people can make the most of the services available to them and keep their money safe.

As young women in developing countries are more likely to be working in informal, low-income and high-risk work; and are disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation, they are the priority group for financial inclusion. It is well known that economic empowerment of women and girls is a critical factor in sustainable poverty reduction.

In launching the digital platform ‘Trust Girls’, in partnership with the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and Finance Trust Bank (FTB) in Uganda, we explored digital approaches to improving demand for digital financial services among this group.

‘Trust Girls’ is a pilot digital community of young girls in low-income families in urban Kampala, Uganda. It’s a feature phone-ready digital hub where girls come to connect, share, exchange and learn about themselves and about money management. It links to FTB’s youth-targeted financial and non-financial services, and through engaging, digital behavior change strategies, drives not only demand but also – and importantly – sustained use of FTB’s products among this particularly vulnerable group.

In the six month pilot, we registered nearly 1,600 users, about a third of whom were under 18. By the end, over 340 users (around 20 percent) were actively saving and had accumulated, on average, a few dollars each. We recognize that there’s a lot more to do to achieve sustainable, scalable change, and the successful pilot is paving the way for bigger and better partnerships and approaches.

So, from our pilot “consumer network” of adolescent girls, what have we learned about empowering young girls with better financial knowledge and savings behavior?

  • Human-centered, adaptive processes are not just valuable for successful change and adoption: they are critical. It won’t be surprising that a digital company working in low and middle-income countries advocates for flexible, user-centered design. Research data on digital financial service uptake and financial security only tells one story: without knowing how girls engage socially in the digital space, what they talk about and the kind of content they would respond to, we could not have designed a platform that was appealing, accessible and useful to our users. We didn’t get it 100 percent right in the first instance:. Feedback from girls on the role of the community moderator, for example, told us we needed to give the moderator more personality, so we created a profile and persona that the girls could relate to and trust.
  • The socio-cultural and economic factors that drive financial exclusion are complex, so the solutions must be holistic. Trust Girls content (articles, quizzes, surveys, and e-learning) centered on the complex intersection of sexual and reproductive health and financial independence. This is a tricky area to navigate, but we couldn’t ignore the critical gender dynamics that young girls in poverty face.This was well rewarded: we saw that girls instantly related to this message. This became a strong point of leverage in our content: Trust Girls users expressed fears around being financially dependent on boyfriends or family members, and by introducing mobile banking products and empowering girls with basic financial literacy, we are offering them the tools to address this.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of digital peer networks and social learning in driving change in low-income groups. We saw an active social community develop very rapidly, and message boards quickly filled up with expressions of support and encouragement; of requests for advice and responses; and of requests for new/additional/different platform features on topics within and beyond financial management, sexual health, and relationships. ‘Super users’ emerged, who would organically take on a mentoring role to help other girls. Harnessing this energy, at scale and through digital, has enormous potential.
  • As with all social and behavioral change approaches, the key to driving meaningful change is engagement over time. Mobile is no different. We saw that girls engaged with content and responded to calls to action on the platform with little prompting. However, to really drive the outcomes in the long term, we needed to build trust and maturity in the community over time. We also need time to monitor the community and build evidence of changes in behavior and demand.

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