Speaking Your Clients’ 'Sheng'

> Posted by Leah Wardle
A kid named Boyie is a popular radio disk jockey in Kenya. At 19 years old, he has a nationally syndicated radio show playing daily on 21 stations and half of Kenya’s mostly low-income youth say they’ve listened to him. He’s so popular that he also stars in his own monthly comic book series, Shujaaz (“Heroes”), read by about 10 million people in the past 20 months. The ladies love him and the guys copy his dreadlocks. But someone else answers his calls, texts, and Facebook messages (which flood in by the thousands), because Boyie is a cartoon character.
A cartoon character can be more powerful than a real person when it comes to influencing the thoughts and behavior of Kenyan youth, argues Rob Burnet, director of Well Told Story, the Kenyan communications company behind Boyie and Shujaaz.  He and his team are using virtual characters to reach Kenyan teenagers through comic books, radio shows, and virtual media with messages of social change. Their methods may hold creative new ideas for microfinance practitioners looking to connect with clients.
It’s something else to witness the compelling struggle of a teenage head-of-household, living in a slum, facing multiple challenges and pleading siblings, yet still setting aside a little bit each week. Now tell the story with colorful images and dramatic plots that resonate with the experience of the audience, and deliver through easily available media, and they readily absorb the messages as they follow the lives of the quirky characters.
Microfinance practitioners might take a page from Shujaaz to increase the transparency of financial information for clients. Transparency means providing full information (like detailed product terms and prices) in a way that is meaningful to the client. That means clients can absorb the information because it’s presented in their own language, and they feel comfortable with the medium. To reach this goal, Well Told Story’s model would suggest practitioners ask themselves three important questions:

  • Who am I communicating with? Often, clients are unaccustomed to reading forms and filling out paperwork as a way to understand complicated products. How can we draw microfinance clients into the story of how microfinance products affect their lives?  What else can we use besides words typed on paper? How can we talk with clients rather than talking to them?
  • Where do my clients like to get their information? Like anyone else, clients value convenience and they don’t want to feel intimidated. Few Kenyan youth would read Shujaaz if they had to walk into a bank lobby and fill out an application to get it. The comics are available free at M-PESA (mobile money service) kiosks on the streets everywhere and as an insert in the Nation newspapers each month, and the radio program is syndicated to even remote areas of the country. Where can we provide financial information so that clients feel comfortable and can get to it easily?
  • How do I make it clear? Shujaaz is written in “Sheng,” an English-Kiswahili hybrid invented primarily by young people. Even though publishing comics is Sheng is more complicated for Well Told Story (in each comic book they include a glossary of newly created words), the company knows it’s the best way to connect with their target market. Microfinance clients too, need to hear and use their own language when they put their life savings into a bank account or discuss personal repayment problems. Would the information be clearer if presented in a local dialect? What if clients are deaf or blind? And even when communication is clear, do we give clients enough time to process the information?

The answers to these questions may inspire us to communicate with clients on their terms, helping them to write their own success stories.
Back in May, Beth Rhyne shared several examples of entertainment education in her post “Vampires: Can They Make Financial Education More Fun?” Please share your examples of creative techniques for communication with, and financial education for clients.
Image credit: Bridgetdeacon
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