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FREE open-license business management and e-commerce training by Caribou Digital, Mastercard and Arifu.

FREE open-license business management and e-commerce training by Caribou Digital, Mastercard and Arifu.

Would you like to help small businesses grow so they can earn more, save more, take out bigger loans, and pay back their loans on time? Ask us about our Strive Digital Business Courses for small businesses, designed by Arifu under the Strive Community initiative in collaboration with Caribou Digital and funded by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. The content is free to use with an Arifu Platform subscription, available in conversational text and rich media for delivery on any mobile channel including WhatsApp, FB Messenger, SMS, and API for your Android/iOS App.

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Articles Impact

Arifu improves knowledge and quality of life

Arifu improves knowledge and quality of life

Written By: Pete Sparreboom  |  Senior Manager, Financial Inclusion Partnerships

Refugees and host communities in Uganda have shown considerable interest in financial education and entrepreneurship training via SMS. A comparison of survey results before and after the training shows that many learners increased their knowledge and improved their practices. Besides, a majority of learners considered increased knowledge as the principal reason for recent improvements in their quality of life.

In 2021 Arifu partnered with Mercy Corps to help urban refugees and host communities that were involved in micro and small enterprises. Mercy Corps Uganda with funding from the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM) in a consortium with the International Rescue Committee (IRC, as lead agency), COHERE and UGANET and WIPC implementing a program entitled “Enhancing the Resilience of Urban Refugees and Vulnerable Host Communities in Kampala through an Integrated Protection and Livelihoods Approach” targeting refugee host communities in Makindye and Kawempe divisions. The purpose of this partnership was to strengthen their digital literacy as well as their financial management and entrepreneurial skills. To be able to measure the effect of the mobile training programme on learners’ knowledge, Arifu collected baseline and endline data before and after the training.

To collect baseline data, Arifu first sent a survey to all 720 targeted refugees and hosts. Baseline questions were also embedded at different points in the training before content was presented. 

The collection of endline data was done through a telephone survey of 100 learners who engaged with the content. Similar to the baseline survey respondents, 42% of the endline survey respondents reported Ugandan nationality and 32% DRC nationality.

Arifu’s training was successful in improving knowledge 

During the telephone interviews, learners were asked to respond to a set of questions designed to test their knowledge on strategic concepts like investment and business expansion. Whereas at the baseline survey only 12% of learners answered all questions on financial management correctly, at the endline 38% (three times as many) got full marks. Also, the percentage of learners who responded correctly to all business knowledge questions increased by 38%.  

Arifu’s training was also successful in improving practices and quality of life

Besides inquiring into their knowledge, interviewers asked learners questions on financial and business management practices, as well as on quality of life. After learning with Arifu, business owners reported financial goal setting, money management, record keeping, and marketing as the main practices they had improved.

In addition, 51% of endline survey respondents reported that their quality of life had improved through acquisition of knowledge. 28% experienced an improvement in their quality of life through increased savings, and 18% through an improvement in money and business management.

Quotes from some of our learners:

I’ve looked for alternative sources of income like making baskets. Female, 44 years, Rwanda

I can now run a business without worrying that it will collapse. Female, 28 years, DRC

I feel inspired to start my own business but I lack capital. Female, 25 years, Burundi

My income has increased a bit, and I have gained saving habits. Male, 60 years, Uganda.

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Impact Press

Arifu receives an award at the Mercy Corps Agrifin Annual Learning Event Awards (ALE) 2021

Arifu receives an award at the Mercy Corps Agrifin Annual Learning Event Awards (ALE) 2021

Andrew Thiongo  |  Business Development Associate

Arifu was awarded as the Best Farmer Capability Solutions by Mercy Corps Agrifin for the first time at this year’s ALE 2021. This award recognized Arifu’s role in educating smallholder farmers across sub-saharan Africa through its Open Marketplace digital platform on important subjects like: Agronomy, Animal husbandry, Water and Soil Management and Irrigation and Arifu’s capability to reach out to many smallholder farmers through its omni-channel (SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram and very soon interactive voice services) Platform.

The Mercy Corps Agrifin ALE Awards represent an opportunity for Mercy Corps Agrifin to recognize the achievements of the best 36 companies across 12 different award categories based on their accomplishments in a six year project funded by Mastercard as well as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). The award was presented to Arifu by the Agrifin Advisory Council Member Scott Onder, Senior Managing Director of Mercy Corps Ventures together with the program’s donors.

’’Arifu would very much like to thank Mercy Corps AFA for recognising our efforts and contributions to developing engaging learning content as well as our commitment to drive active usage of the content across our omni-channel and smart farming advanced learning platform’’ said Craig Heintzman, Arifu’s Chief Executive Officer and co-Founder. ’’Our mission has always been to ensure learners have FREE access to content and information that will enrich their livelihoods and this award is affirmation that we are achieving our mission and being recognised.’’

Watch the video announcement of the award below:

For more information please contact:

Andrew Thiong’o – Business Development Associate at Arifu

Email: andrew@arifu.com

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Articles Impact

Designing Technology Products for Women

By  Wafa Masood Khan

The adoption of technology plays a significant role in productivity enhancement and economic growth [1]. More often than not, programs designed to achieve this goal tend to not be designed for women, limiting the potential for economic development for the country at large, and for women in particular. Technology-based programs that specifically aim to address the needs of women have been deemed essential to enhance their socio-economic status and household welfare [2]. Despite evidence on the positive effects of technology adoption by women, there exist significant barriers for them towards adoption which vary by context [3]. Therefore, to meet the desired impact of technology-focused programs for women, it is imperative to study, understand, and address these barriers or design within them,  with the goal of overall welfare improvements in mind,  to improve the adoption and utilization of technology.

Arifu’s free-to-use training content, delivered through SMS, Whatsapp, and more, aims to inform day-to-day decision-making and improve livelihoods for multiple population segments, including farmers, MSMEs, job-seekers, youth, and more. We carefully design and deliver actionable content, personalized for different audiences, to ensure ease of access and appeal and relevance for day-to-day decision-making for all our learners.

Designing Technology Products for Women A visual from Arifu’s rich media on Maize showcasing male and female farmers selling their harvests.

In order to provide relevant content for all, we comprehend and tackle the demand, access, and adoption challenges faced by different target population segments. Past studies and our experience shows that the barriers to technology adoption, which include limited access to credit, risk perceptions towards technology investment, and asymmetric information about available technologies, are often exacerbated for women, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa where access to technologies still remains low. The major reasons for this gender gap are restrictive socio-cultural values and norms, and the prevalence of male-headed households with significant control over resources and decisions [4]. 

These constraints, however, have not reduced the demand for technology among women. We have seen significant demand for digital education by women at Arifu. While overall the gender ratio of our learners is far from parity, we are in the midst of designing strategies that aim to measurably drive adoption and utilization of our service by women. Through the design iteration process, we have found women demanding more and more of our content. Four years ago, a blended training model designed for female micro-entrepreneurs in Tanzania, delivered in partnership with Technoserve, had an average of 150 messages of engagement with training content – an engagement rate at that point several times higher than our average. More recently, we have seen engagement more than double in Kenya with women engaging with 390 messages of business training content (relative to 370 messages by men) in a project deployed in partnership with the Government of Kenya and the World Bank. This is the highest average engagement level to date across our projects.

Arifu.img A young merchant engaging with Arifu.

None of this is to say we have cracked the case. Given the high demand for our content among women, we are looking to actively design more for the needs and decisions that women undertake within households.

Our current strategies include iterating upon and enhancing our content based on women’s preferences, developing partnerships with female-focused community-based organizations and self-organized groups, and organizing large-scale outreach activities for women specifically enabled by partnerships like that with Google.org.

To inform our strategy further, we are currently collaborating with AgriFin Accelerate, Busara Center for Behavioral Economics, and Dalberg in a project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This project is exploring the differential use of Arifu’s content between men and women in order to build recommendations upon our existing efforts to cater to women and unpacking further why these differences exist. Preliminary findings from this study show women engaging proportionately more with content related to planting compared to men who engage more at points of harvesting. We also see women engaging more with poultry-related content than men highlighting preferences based on underlying dynamics. The next phase of this study will provide insights on what drives these preferences and what more we can do to drive adoption and continued usage to improve upon our delivery of digital services for women.

Arifu’s aim is to provide access to useful content for all to inform day-to-day decision making. With the collaborations and efforts in place to understand the gender dynamics of technology adoption and usage, the next step for us is to upgrade our design and deployment processes and strategies to achieve increased technology adoption and content engagement for both men and women in order to drive welfare improvements, truly, for all.


 Footnotes

[1] Evidence has shown a reduction in poverty, and improvement in income and rural welfare through the adoption of new agricultural technologies, and modern seeds and practices in Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania (Adekambe et al., 2006; Muricho et al., 2011; Lipper et al., 2012).

[2] Evidence has shown that improvement in women’s direct income and livelihood has higher positive effects on household welfare through better child health and education, food security, and improved nutrition (Alkire et al. 2012; CGIAR 2013).

[3] The mobile ownership gender gap is modeled to be as high as 24% in African countries, with 41% of women less likely to use mobile internet (GSMA’s Mobile Gender Gap Report, 2019; GSMA’s State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report, 2019).

[4] Gender affects technology adoption since the head of the household is the primary decision-maker and men have more access to and control over vital production resources than women due to socio-cultural values and norms (Tesfaye et al., 2001; Mesfin, 2005; Omonona et al., 2006; Mignouna et al., 2011).

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Articles Impact Press

Platform links individuals to organisations for new skills

By  Lewis Njoka – People Daily Online

Marisa Conway the Chief Learning Officer and co-founder of Arifu.

Marisa Conway the Chief Learning Officer and co-founder of Arifu.

The pandemic has disrupted normal life across the globe, affecting businesses and forcing learners to find alternative ways to access knowledge.  Marisa Conway, Chief Learning Officer and co-founder of Arifu, an online learning platform, talks about how their technology is helping solve the problem.

What is Arifu?

Arifu is a Kenyan-based tech company that launched its smart personal learning assistant and content marketplace in 2015 to help people learn new skills from the organisations they trust over any mobile phone.

Our purpose is to place opportunity and information within reach of everyone. Our chatbot is free to our learners and available via any mobile chat application including SMS, Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp. 

Whom does it target and what does it do for them?

Arifu has two main audience; individuals and organisations. Individuals engage with us to learn new skills or get advice on how to use products and services available to them to grow their income or increase productivity. Topics range from crop and livestock trainings, financial literacy, entrepreneurship education, and informative trainings on a variety of digital products.

For organisations, Arifu provides an end to end solution to help them craft skills or product information into contextualised digital trainings, deliver them over the Arifu platform through SMS, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, or Telegram, and monitor performance with their personal analytics platform that provides details on learner preferences and progress.

We also work with organisations on different research activities to try and understand the impact of digital information on learner capacity development, behaviour, and outcomes.  

What motivated you into starting this initiative?

I teamed up with our Co-Founder, Craig Heintzman in 2014 with a shared vision to make information accessible to people, so they could use it to better their own lives.

Our approach was to start first with SMS, and create a free digital advisor, or chatbot, which could teach people new skills, offer solutions to challenges, and help them connect to products and services in an informed and safe way.

Over the last six years, we’ve expanded to make content available over Whatsapp, Facebook and Telegram where learning is enhanced with rich media.

How does Arifu differ from other traditional learning resources available to learners in Kenya?

We are topic and sector agnostic. Arifu’s partners work in health, agriculture, financial services, consumer goods, and more and our learners access content and products that meet multiple information needs.

It’s free, which means it’s more affordable than many other training options. It works on basic and smartphones, so it doesn’t require data and is consumable in a format that’s familiar to mobile phone users making it more accessible than internet and in-person training.

Unlike MOOCs and classrooms, Arifu is a digital teacher people can chat with to learn at any time.

How helpful would you say your initiative has been during the Covid-19 pandemic?  

To support partners and learners during Covid-19, we’ve created a starter pack of digital trainings that we are providing for free.

The content includes information to help individuals cope with challenges related to health, business, finance, children’s education, and community. 

We are currently building out more content to help business owners and job seekers navigate and recover from financial challenges resulting from the pandemic. 

Now that schools are re-opening after several months of Covid-19 related closure, how does Arifu fit in?

Arifu’s primary audience is adults 18 and older. However, during Covid-19 we have created content to support parents and their children to do educational activities at home in partnership with Metis, an organisation which develops educational leaders.

That content is part of the Keep Kenya Learning campaign and will be made available to 400,000 Kenyan families. 

On average, how many people do you serve in a month and how many have you served since inception?

Around 45,000 learners engage with Arifu on a monthly basis and 1.4 million individuals have engaged with Arifu since our first content went live in 2015.

How do you finance your activities?

We operate currently on a combination of revenue and investment funding. Our sales model is Business to business and we offer our customers a platform subscription model giving them access to the Arifu Platform.

They can also buy annual licenses to content offered by Arifu and our content partners.

To date, we have raised $2.6million of investment from venture funds and angel investors.  In 2021, we will launch our Series A round to fund expansion across and beyond Africa.

Of all Arifu’s achievements so far, which one are you most proud of?

Through past research initiatives, we have observed and learned that engaging with Arifu content provides first time access to important skills information and has led to adoption of GAP. 

In another independent study, farmers engaging with Arifu contributed four times more to their savings, borrow more, and repay their loans faster by 5.5 days compared to those who do not engage with Arifu. 

What’s next for Arifu?

Arifu will continue to grow the partnerships and content available to learners in our existing 6 countries and expand across Africa and into Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

We will enhance our learner experience with advanced AI capabilities, making the chatbot more conversational and helping learners get to the most relevant content faster based on their needs and existing knowledge.

 

 

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Articles Impact

Arifu’s use case for logistic companies

By Stephanie Pownall

Logistics in East AfricaWith the growing pains of COVID-19, different economic sectors have been greatly affected globally. The East Africa Business Council report (April, 2020) supports that the transport and logistics sector has been among the most affected due to the restrictions in movement and is affecting trade flows due to transport and logistics disruptions. In Kenya, there are approximately 18 ride hailing app service providers with popular brands such as: Uber, Bolt/Taxify, Little Cab, inDriver, Swvl, Easy Taxi and Wasili, operating in areas such as Mombasa, Nairobi and Nakuru (GIZ report, 2020). Additionally, cargo delivery service providers such as: Lori, Senga, Sendy, PickIT, Ami Truck and Tai+, all aim at increasing their efficiency through logistics optimization. (GIZ report, 2020).

A Logistics management (2017) article identifies that some of the key challenges that the companies face in this industry vertical include: High fuel costs, unaffordable technology strategy and implementation, lower business process improvement, less improved customer service, increasing driver shortage and deteriorating retention, strict government regulations, environmental issues as well as economic fluctuations. On the other hand, some of the challenges faced by the drivers and riders include the lack of: time management and efficient communication skills, professional driving and fatigue management skills, effective fleet/vessel management practices (tracking of delicate cargo such as compressed gases and machinery) as well as access to continued assistance on road health and safety measures. In East Africa, Transaid is a primary example of the impact that in-person training has had on promoting the professionalism of transport and logistics drivers in Uganda, as well as protecting their health and safety. With this in mind, a digital training solution would therefore be an even better and more useful tool to enable such organizations to tackle some of their pressing challenges and simultaneously upskill their drivers or riders especially during these unprecedented times where social distancing is key to safeguarding each individual’s health.

Furthermore, in an article by Aptantech (April, 2020), Uber has taken the necessary steps through digital learning to ensure that it’s drivers and riders take the rightful precautions towards preventing the spread of COVID-19 in Kenya. Arifu in this scenario, is greatly able to support companies like Uber to communicate with their drivers on COVID-19 prevention and resilience. With a click of a button, hundreds of thousands of drivers can start their learning journey and come out of the training with a better understanding on how to secure their livelihoods  and  ensure safety as well as the safety of their passengers or goods.

Arifu is the training solution for you!

Arifu is a simple and easy-to-use chat interface that learners can access either on SMS or mobile apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook messenger and Telegram on basic or smartphones. It is an interactive platform that allows a variety of target audiences the ability to gain new useful information that will aid in upskill through incentivized training. Through Arifu, your organization will have the ability to capture data through real-time analytics and feedback as well as support you in driving usage of essential skills and monitoring the uptake and impact that your products and services are making to specific target groups.

For learners, the platform is free of cost and is therefore accessible to anyone with a mobile phone. The information made available to your specific target audience is customizable and personalized to their current educational needs. Drivers and riders from your organization can use Arifu to meet their training needs, which may include:

  • Need for in-depth guidance during recruitment, language fluency, basic financial literacy and geographical map training
  • Customer engagement and time management skills
  • Safe driving or riding skills
  • Health and safety

The opportunities for drivers and riders to learn and upskill using Arifu:

  • Access to simplified and easy-to-grasp customer relationship management training
  • Health and Safety information on how to keep customers and the individuals safe, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Better awareness on safer driving systems and rapid responses to unforeseen events such as car or motorcycle breakdowns and accidents
  • Better knowledge on safer methods for long distance and night time driving
  • Safer handling techniques and better tracking of delicate cargo
  • Incentivized training services through tokens such as certificates of performance among other incentives

With Arifu, your organization will be able to meet your training needs by providing your workforce the ability to learn and understand how to manage their business by simply using their mobile phones. Some of the training needs include:

  • Need for drivers and riders to have better customer engagement
  • Need for improved drivers’ and riders’ confidence
  • Recurrent need for training and skills improvement

Through digital training and helping you meet your training needs, Arifu potentially provides your organization the following opportunities:

  • A low cost and highly scalable training alternative for your drivers and riders
  • A personalized and chat-based tool that allows large scale outreach
  • A human centred approach for customized content design
  • A free data analytics dashboard will be provided to your organization to get feedback from your learners and a chance to monitor their behavior change and uptake of training information as well as adopt new methods that could improve content design

Get one step closer to improving your organization’s learning and development initiatives by reaching out to us at: pownall@arifu.com or sood@arifu.com. We are here for you!

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How Arifu can enable youth employability in Sub – Saharan Africa

By Andrew Thiong’o

Youth Unemployment Kenya

Graduating from university is one of the most memorable experiences that I have ever had. However, the hustle and bustle involved in looking for a good opportunity upon graduation was not as memorable. It was during this “school – to – work” transition period that I enrolled into a program called Yusudi. This program helped me develop the necessary soft skills, employability skills and marketable skills required for the job market. It’s been 3 years since I graduated from the program and the skills I learnt have served me well in the different employment opportunities I have had since. However, many young people across East Africa do not have access to these resources which is quite evident in the ever increasing rate of youth unemployment across the region while businesses still struggle to find suitable human talent to advance their businesses. 

According to a report by Summit Recruitment, Kenya reports a youth unemployment rate of 39.1 %, Tanzania 24%, Uganda 18%, Rwanda 2.1%, and Ethiopia’s is at 2.78%. The Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) CEO Jacqueline Mugo, cited that this current situation threatens Kenya’s social structure because there is a high level of frustration and discontentment among the unemployed Kenyan youth. From the employer perspective, an FKE survey conducted in 2018 dubbed Skills Mismatch Report showed that 16% of job opportunities took more than 6 months to fill due to job applicants not possessing the required skills. Potential employers also bemoaned having to incur the cost of training recent graduates who lack the necessary employability and technical skills required to fill available job vacancies. A study conducted by CAP Youth Empowerment Institute titled ‘’what employers think of soft skills’’ showed that 42.8% of employers sighted a lack of  soft skills as a key factor influencing their decision not to  hire  young people looking for employment opportunities in Kenya. Digital solutions such as Arifu are working to address the soft skills and employability skills gaps among the youth and boost their chances of securing employment.

Arifu can help – And how!

Arifu has sought to address this problem by developing content that helps youth, our learners improve their chances of securing both formal and informal job and livelihood opportunities. This content is disseminated through Arifu’s chatbot on SMS as well as chat platforms like WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook Messenger which is accessible for FREE to the learners. The SMS platform is uniquely beneficial to the learners overcoming the smartphone divide in the communities. Some of the insightful topics covered by Arifu  include support on resume and cover letters, interview skills, job search and application techniques, microentrepreneurship training as well as workplace etiquette. Young people from rural, marginalized communities, youth affected by conflict as well as young women face more hurdles in securing job opportunities compared to their respective counterparts. Arifu’s job seeking resources content is tailored towards addressing the specific needs of a specific demographic by providing learners with marketable skills required for the job market.

Aside from helping learners meet the desired employee requirements, Arifu’s solution is also geared towards helping hiring organizations. HR firms with online courses on soft skills, technical skills, marketable skills and employability skills are able to utilize Arifu’s platform to upskill job seekers. Arifu’s platform comes with surveys and quizzes that act as a measuring and evaluating tool that will enable HR firms to assess the impact of their content on users. Social enterprises and NGOs looking to empower the youth through job creation initiatives can also utilize Arifu’s platform to create awareness about their programs and have more unemployed youths apply and benefit from their initiatives.

Universities and other vocational training institutions can utilize Arifu’s platform to provide a crash course on employability skills for their graduates to assist them find job opportunities once they finish school. Arifu’s WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook Messenger chat platforms provide an appealing crash course to this target audience because of the platform’s ability to share rich media content which makes the learning process fun and more engaging for the learners. 

With the diverse economic impacts of Covid-19 leading to an increase in the number of unemployed youth across East Africa, Arifu’s efforts in promoting youth employability training including entrepreneurship through its platform will go a long way in helping the youth secure and create opportunities which will contribute towards reducing the high rate of unemployment  across the region.

 To find out more about Arifu’s youth employability training initiative, email us at andrew@arifu.com or sood@arifu.com

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Last-Mile Delivery or Deadlock: Addressing Financial Inclusion in the Face of COVID-19

An Action Summary based on an interactive webinar held April 28, 2020

By Christabell Makokha (Director of Patnerships at IDEO.org), Osman Siddiqi (Director of Research and Impact, Arifu), and Wendy Chamberlain (Global Program Director at The BOMA Project)

 

Context

Formal financial inclusion in Kenya has more than doubled in the last decade, from 29% (2006) to 83% (2019)[1], however, rural communities still remain underserved by financial institutions. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying move to promote use of Digital Financial Services (DFS), the most vulnerable people in these communities, especially in rural areas where infrastructure may not be robust, will increasingly become more excluded unless innovations for cost-effective, secure digital financial services that respond to real service limitations and user capacities are quickly developed and rolled out. These concerns also are widespread in “last mile” communities worldwide.

In light of these challenges, Arifu, The BOMA Project, Busara, IDEO.org, My Oral Village, and The David Weekley Family Foundation hosted a webinar on April 28, 2020 to explore the barriers to adoption of DFS, especially among women in underserved rural communities in Kenya. The objective of the webinar was three-fold: 

  1. To explore the changes and opportunities resulting from this steady push to DFS.
  2. Identify barriers to the adoption of existing DFS.
  3. In the context of COVID-19, discuss how we can adapt existing financial products and services to help rural communities stabilize their livelihoods and protect the health of their families, as well as build resilience for the future.

The insights captured below and in the online summary documents are sourced from a broad range of actors who attended the webinar.

DFS during Covid-19

Adoption and Use of Digital Financial Services in the Face of the COVID-19 Pandemic

In these unprecedented times, DFS have become crucial, driven by social distancing norms and the need to reduce risk of spreading the virus through handling of physical cash. Financial institutions, government, and development actors are taking different measures to facilitate this digital economy[2,3]. Governments are pushing digital payments by encouraging financial service providers to explore ways of deepening mobile money usage, and reducing its cost. Central Banks have supported this initiative by approving the increase of daily mobile money transaction limits. In response, mobile money providers have reduced and/or eliminated transaction fees for smaller transactions. For example, in Kenya, Safaricom has waived fees for all transactions below KES 1,000; Airtel waived fees for all transactions for 90 days, starting on March 17. Targeted consumer messaging accompanied these directives with messages such as: 

Curb the spread of Coronavirus! Use M-PESA to avoid cash & enjoy Free Bank to M-PESA Transactions. #ForYou

Barriers to Adoption and Use of DFS for Women in Underserved Rural Communities

While government, private sector, and development actors are pushing for a cash-lite ecosystem and reducing the need for physical transfers, women in underserved rural communities face systemic barriers that prohibit them from participating in this digital economy. In Northern Kenya, we see the following key barriers to adoption and use of DFS among women in rural areas:

Barrier #1: DFS is not as convenient as existing informal mechanisms 

While service providers and development actors have grappled with this challenge over the last decade, there is urgency to solve this challenge now if rural communities are to participate in what is an increasingly digital economy in the wake of COVID-19. DFS infrastructure is wanting; physical cash is still the more attractive option as there are limited cash-in cash-out points (CICO), coupled with few use cases for digital money. Additionally, the physical nature of cash provides a high degree of trust and utility in communities underserved by DFS. For financial service providers, because the use case for digital money is limited beyond CICO, there is low incentive to invest in digital infrastructure or an agent network. 

The urgency is further heightened given the increased need and reliance for external injections of cash via cash transfers in what is becoming a highly volatile market. During these challenging times, it is not uncommon to see long lines at CICO points as mobile money recipients line up to cash out funds received from government and/or humanitarian organizations, with no observable recommendations for social distancing and limited value propositions provided to encourage digitization of money. 

Barrier #2: Agent access and poor liquidity

Access to agents remains a significant challenge for rural women. A study by Caribou Digital and MicroSave has shown that as a result of COVID-19, DFS wallet balances are volatile with observed increases in average transaction values simultaneously with a reduction in overall transaction volume, putting pressure on agents’ ability to balance their liquidity[4,5]. This is further taking place in locations which have limited agent networks. Given the infrastructural constraints that typify areas like this, the push to uptake DFS in light of COVID-19 further shows the weaknesses of pre-existing public and private services[6]. More needs to be done in terms of intentional design of agent networks that are aligned with existing cash transfer points, liquidity flows that map towards regular monthly government cash transfers, and relevant products for low literacy populations. 

Barrier #3: Low literacy and numeracy skills

Often overlooked, but widely recognized as significant, barriers due to low literacy and numeracy skills[7]render DFS unusable for many poor people. Pockets of rural Kenya still experience high and persistent illiteracy, with the highest rates registered amongst women. In the context of COVID-19, “isolated illiterates”, often women-headed households, are especially vulnerable when communications and resources are channelled through text,. Research from My Oral Village, using a simple and easily-replicated field test has shown that illiteracy is strongly associated with inability to read or write multi-digit numbers (such as KES 5,370). This inability makes it difficult to write a cash amount in the input field of a mobile money app without help, and increases vulnerability to the loss of personal financial information at CICO agents and other points where cash meets its digital analog. COVID-19 has added to these challenges, often requiring that illiterate adults leave their homes to get help to understand messages on their phones. These types of barriers perpetuate distrust of DFS and make it seem either unusable or more time consuming than cash. As COVID-19 influences uptake of DFS, those who have been marginalized by literacy previously will remain on the margins and miss important communications concerning their financial lives.

Literacy levels Kenya

How Do We Make Inclusive Finance Truly Inclusive?

Too often, conversations around financial inclusion via DFS lead towards siloed solutions that separately focus on the customer experience, the agent/point of delivery, and the broader systemic challenges that need to be addressed. While these solutions are important, the lack of connective tissue/adhesive linking them together towards a common outcome of improved financial health/resiliency for the customer means we continue to face the above mentioned barriers. Solving for one, does not solve for all; it is unrealistic to think that a single entity can solve for the breakdown in delivery of relevant financial products and services for the extremely poor. Rather, this requires a multisectoral approach where government, private sector, and  social sector actors work together towards an outcome centered on the most vulnerable customers. 

As a starting point, we do not propose significant changes in how each DFS provider works, rather, we propose improving what they already are doing with a bigger vision in mind: inclusive finance for marginalized populations. We think the starting point is the creation and adherence to a set of standard-setting principles that ensure that products and services intended for the extreme poor, especially in the wake of COVID-19 are relevant, reliable, and clearly build the path towards individual resiliency. 

Five principles for delivering to the extreme poor 

  • Know your customer: Take time to ensure that you understand the barriers and constraints unique to the target market. This principle applies to all customers, however, for marginalized and illiterate customers, the main barriers are:
      1. Low literacy and numeracy skills
      2. High dependency on and preference for cash
  • Design relevant products and services:
      1. Design and provide products and services that are low-cost and can be accessed in local and actionable language.
      2. Create digital products and operations that are faster and easier than analog counterparts. 
      3. Integrate into systems that the rural customer actively uses — e.g., chamas (a type of ROSCA); dukas (small shops or kiosks) savings groups; mobile money agents for payments and remittances; G2P cash transfers.
  • Design for ease of access and mitigate delivery constraints: 
      1. Minimize access constraints to liquidity as needed within communities
      2. Provide regular and reliable CICO access through liquidity management
      3. Lower the barrier for local businesses to become agents.
  • Address the literacy and numeracy divide: 
      1. In financial inclusion, innumeracy is more disabling than illiteracy, and less difficult to surmount. 
      2. At product interfaces, cash images or proxies and field-tested images of vital information, can increase safety while empowering adults to achieve basic numeracy. 
      3. Support community and household commitments to adult literacy and numeracy training 
      4. Provide products and services that can be accessed with voice and pictures
  • Define the end goal:
    1. The goal of financial inclusion should not just be access and usage of financial services, but rather customer financial health 

By committing to these principles as a broader community we are collectively ensuring that any product or service will not be rolled out without broader consideration for its long-term impact and the provision of the necessary support to ensure that it actually works for the extremely poor. We are committing to working in partnership and not in isolation with the belief that any lasting solution will be successful through collaboration of thought and approach. 

Where Do We Go from Here?

As we contemplate how women in rural communities manage challenges related to COVID-19 and participate in the growing digital economy, there are opportunities to leverage increased use of DFS to implement immediate solutions that respond to the crisis, as well as subsequent needs related to recovery and building their resilience, and lastly, adapting to new ways

We see three ways in which stakeholders can work together to address these opportunities:

  1. Coordination of stakeholders to design products and services focused on addressing the barriers highlighted above. Given how interrelated the challenges are, several interventions might need to be deployed at once to unlock DFS for rural and illiterate communities. This systemic approach will require coordination across a range of actors.

OPPORTUNITIES TO PLUG-IN

  • Help us finalize and then commit to the above-referenced principles committing to service delivery of products and services to last mile populations that ensure more than just access and usage, but have a longer term vision of broad scale economic inclusion and resiliency as an outcome. Contact the authors for more details.
  • Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IDEO.org is running the Women and Money Program to design solutions that can unlock new opportunities to include women. In partnership with The BOMA Project, the program is focusing on Northern Kenya and open to working with partners to address DFS challenges for marginalized women in rural areas. If interested in partnering, contact Christabell Makokha at christabell@ideo.org and Wendy Chamberlin at wendy.chamberlin@bomaproject.org.
  • Arifu is a chatbot platform aiming to bridge the digital divide in quality information access. Learners with even the most basic phone can access training via interactive SMS or smartphone chat applications, for free. For COVID-19 Arifu has developed a two-pronged approach: the starter pack that focuses on delivering information that tackles the most urgent needs of different populations, including on health information, DIYs on masks and sanitizers, digital literacy learning content, how to apply physical distancing as an SME and more. In addition, Arifu is partnering with organizations to create contextualized advice for their audiences to solve problems as they arise. This content can then be accessible through licensing for additional partners to send to their audiences if it fits challenges as they see them. Please go to www.arifu.com for more details.
  • My Oral Village invites you to get in touch to discuss how to “oralize” your digital solutions to better serve low-numeracy people. We can provide a rapid numeracy assessment tool and/or help with crafting solutions. Please write to Brett Matthews at brett@myoralvillage.org and visit myoralvillage.org for information about Oral Information Management (OIM) design. 
  1. Advocacy: The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to redefine how we live and transact; it is therefore imperative to identify new solutions and/or tailor existing ones to be more responsive to the needs of populations in rural areas with insufficient infrastructure to support the uptake of DFS. While this makes sense in the initial stages of disease spread, a dynamic multidimensional response is necessary. Less focus has been on how COVID-19 is impacting rural communities and what solutions will be appropriate given contextual constraints previously referred to. We believe it is important to continue to raise awareness as to last mile challenges and solutions that go beyond point-in-time but rather have long-term economic recovery in mind. 

OPPORTUNITIES TO PLUG-IN

  • FSD Kenya is an independent trust that promotes inclusive finance as a means to poverty reduction in Kenya. FSD Kenya works closely with the government, the financial services industry, and other partners in the pursuit of an inclusive financial system that supports Kenya’s long-term economic development goals. Starting in March 2020, FSD Kenya partnered with BFA Global to produce the “Kenya Covid-19 Diaries,” a series of blogs and case studies that describe how low-income households are coping with the changes occasioned by the pandemic. FSD Kenya has also launched an online dashboard – the“Covid-19 EconData Kenya” site – which gathers and publishes data aimed at helping policy makers better target economically vulnerable populations. The dashboard additionally tracks impacts of the response to Covid-19 on the Kenyan economy and the financial sector, as well as people’s financial lives and resilience. For information or collaboration please contact Amrik Heyer via email at amrik@fsdkenya.org.
  • BFA Global is a consulting firm that uses finance, data, and technology to build a more sustainable and equitable world. As the coronavirus spread approached the pandemic phase, BFA’s researchers designed and deployed a rapid “dipstick” survey to assess how the COVID-19 response was impacting income and overall financial health with 1,500+ people in five countries. This work has expanded to 10 markets, and has been repeated with similar respondents over 2 waves already, with 3 more planned. The COVID-19 and Financial Health survey and results dashboards have been open-sourced and widely shared across multiple sectors. These results have already been valuable to the overall industry conversation i.e., a CGAP article and a Kenya dashboard published by FSDK. The results from Wave 1 have also triggered an article by the Director for Access to Financial Services in Mexico and has been included in his newsletter to the industry. If interested, please contact David del Ser at  ddelser@bfaglobal.com.
  1. Research: As referenced above, sufficient focus is being placed on COVID-19 implications in population dense areas. Much less is understood about the household and market effects in rural areas. It is not enough to apply findings from one context to the other as the constraints and opportunities are contextually distinct enough (e.g., infrastructure, access to education, local government capacity, etc.).

OPPORTUNITIES TO PLUG-IN

  • Busara is coordinating a set of COVID-19 perspectives with the aim of understanding the medium and long-run effects of COVID-19 through a multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approach with a focus on using behavioral science to address fundamental behavioral challenges imposed by COVID-19. Still in early stages of defining the research agenda, we’re interested in contributions from all interested actors. To get involved please contact nnenna.okoye@busaracenter.org or mareike.schomerus@busaracenter.org. Busara is also regularly adding to its COVID-19 response page including guides on how to do remote research. See Busara Stand Against Covid-19 for more details.
  • My Oral Village conducts research to identify the capabilities of  low-literacy and low-numeracy people who live in last mile communities to inform the design of tools that they can use to participate safely in DFS. To explore a research project, please contact Brett Matthews (brett@myoralvillage.org) and visit myoralvillage.org for information about Oral Information Management (OIM) design. 

While the challenges discussed in the webinar and summarised here are not new or unique to COVID-19, the effects are even more compound now for the most vulnerable communities and it’s important we address these challenges to facilitate their participation in an increasingly digital economy. 

***

Resources

Reports shared from the webinar (link)

COVID-19 resources (link)

Event recording (link)

Event slides (link)

***

Authored by

Christabell Makokha, Director of Partnerships, IDEO.org | Christabell@ideo.org 

Wendy Chamberlin, Global Program Director, The BOMA Project | wendy.chamberlin@bomaproject.org

Osman Siddiqi, Director of Research & Impact, Arifu | osman@arifu.com 

This document was published online on May 19, 2020.

Footnotes:
  1. Inclusive finance? Not there yet…
  2. What African operators are doing to help during COVID-19 outbreak
  3. Kenya Prioritizes M-Pesa During Coronavirus
  4.  The Role of DFS Agents during the Covid-19 crisis
  5.  Market-led solutions for financial services
  6. Reaching services from satellite communities is costly and challenging as network connectivity is inconsistent, security remains a real threat and, for example, the A2 in Northern Kenya is one of the only tarmacked roads. 
  7. Defined as people unable to read a simple sentence or instruction and state a 3- or 4-digit number (typically a value equivalent to 20 to 100 US dollars in local currency) as words (i.e., 3 thousand four hundred twenty-seven rather than simply stating the numerals 3, 4, 2, 7).
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Categories
Impact Innovation

The Role of Predictive Analytics in Digital Advisory (Part 2)

By Osman Siddiqi

 

Our previous post on predictive analytics shared the incredible story of Zachary Ndegwa about how he used Arifu to multiply his income streams over the years. This story makes us ask every day how we can make Arifu a lifelong learning companion for people particularly to inform day-to-day decisions at scale. 

To achieve this vision, it becomes important to understand how to credibly and frequently know if an Arifu learner is learning, applying knowledge, and how to respond with information or service linkages across time, space, and needs in order to build the kind of agency, decision-making, and growth Zachary exhibited with a little help from Arifu. 

This is not straightforward work. But we have some serious momentum.

Arifu’s Theory of Change is complicated. It’s complicated because we’re sector and problem-agnostic. What this means is that our operations cut across agriculture, financial services, health, employment, business growth, across countries, learner segments, and their intersections. Even so, two aspects of our Theory of Change drive our strategy. First, is a deep focus on us being able to inform day to day decision-making and activities through accessible learning content. The second is about leveraging market forces from the private sector, government, and more to showcase our value-proposition to partners to drive their growth and spur further creation, iteration, and scaling of Arifu’s content. 

In 2020, however, we have laid strong foundations for honing in on these two big questions across multiple learner segments. This includes a recently concluded pilot study in partnership with AgriFin Accelerate and with researchers from the World Bank and Harvard Business School. This study showed linkages between our internal Learning Scores (our Knowledge Score and Skills Score) and with self-reported farm revenues and profits. It further showed linkages with learning retention.

Locations of all surveyed farmers for this study

Figure 1: Locations of all surveyed farmers for this study

 

The study categorized a random set of learners into four groups ranging from very low engagement with our content to very high engagement. Arifu’s backend Learning Scores were compared with findings from an in-person survey implemented with the World Bank. The survey asked learners about their demographics, farm-level outcomes, and replicated questions from within our content in person. The sample size in the pilot size was 153 learners. The learners had engaged with Arifu’s content at least three months before the survey was implemented. The study taught us two main things:

  1. Our Learning Scores are predictive of learning retention i.e. farmers’ responses to our quiz questions were highly correlated with their responses to questions in the content.
  2. Our Learning Scores were predictive of financial outcomes such as annual revenue and profits.

Importantly, the results showed strong associations between the Learning Scores and financial outcomes and resolved an open question on learning retention. Specifically, a one standard deviation increase in the Learning Score is predictive of an increase in annual revenue of approximately KSH 9,065 (USD 84) and in annual profits of around KSH 1865 (USD 17).

Figure 2: Arifu’s Learning Score associations with total revenue and profits. Given the low resolution of the image above, the metrics from top to bottom on the y-axis are Respondent’s earnings past 30 days, Total HH income past 30 days, Total revenue past year, Total profits past year.

 

The findings tell us the Arifu Learning Score has strong potential as a possible Credit Score. In addition, it is possible that the Learning Scores are good predictors of behavior change and adoption of practices, purchase of inputs, and more.

We have seen through several independent studies that providing actionable and relevant information can improve the quality of life of learners, show learners how to use products and services in beneficial and non-harmful ways, and for building resilience during lean periods. This includes a 60 Decibels implemented impact study on potato farmers which showed that between 47-71% of farmers saw their crop production improve and between 16-49% of farmers saw an improved ability to save attributable to Arifu [1]. 

So what’s next? We have launched and are part of over four large scale impact evaluations, including at least two randomized controlled trials, across three countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, covering merchants, farmers, and youth [2]. The projects will reach well over 600,000 learners to further inform the precision of our Learning Scores prediction strength towards behavior change, product and service utilization, generation of leads for partners, and understand whether outcomes may have improved for learners. 

We are continuously looking for new partnerships to refine our Learning Scores and to build research projects that can help inform and further our vision for how we can leverage predictive analytics, as one tool, to drive our impact and drive the goals of our partners. 

Footnotes
  1. A significant portion of farmers who responded to this survey had not seen improvements in their production since they had not harvested their crop yet. To unpack this we are conducting a follow-up survey one year since the original study.
  2. These projects are in partnership with Google.org, the World Bank, Government of Kenya, Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth, and UC Berkeley among other renowned organizations.
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Categories
Articles Impact Videos Webinars

Power of mobile learning: How to digitally reach your target audience in Nigeria

By Andrew Thiongo

Arifu’s mission to impact the lives of people from low income communities is set to expand into Nigeria following the launch of our WhatsApp channel on the 9th of September 2020. The launch took place during a Nigeria focussed webinar that centred on the power of mobile learning and how organizations could leverage Arifu’s chatbot to reach their target audience in Nigeria. The webinar also featured a presentation and case study from one of our partners – IITA’s Akilimo App.

During the webinar, attendants had the opportunity to learn about Arifu’s different information dissemination platforms. Arifu’s solution is available through SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Telegram. The panellists were able to share insights about the benefits and limitations of using the different chat platforms to enable partners to reach their specific target audiences. Here are some of the factors for potential partners to consider when using Arifu’s different chat platforms:

SMS Platform

Arifu’s SMS platform has a wider reach compared to other chat platforms since it caters to feature phone users as well as smartphone users. The SMS platform is especially beneficial to learners from low income communities because they can access insightful information without owning a smartphone or being able to access the internet free of charge. The onboarding process on SMS can be done through an invitation message or also through typing in a code word such as “Arifu”, this prompts the Arifu chatbot to share the content menu with the learner. The learner is then able to engage with Arifu’s different content modules on financial literacy, business management, good agricultural practices as well as health and safety content. Some of the drawbacks of using the SMS platform are that the message delivery timeline is a bit slower compared to chat applications, there is no rich media to enhance customer experience and the partner may incur monthly shortcode costs as well as cost per SMS charges. All in all, the Arifu SMS platform is greatly beneficial to partner companies seeking to target people from underserved communities especially in rural areas.

Facebook Messenger

Arifu’s Facebook Messenger platform provides a low-cost delivery option for partner organizations and the Facebook Messenger chatbot response is much faster compared to SMS. Facebook ads can also be utilized by the partners to increase lead generation and to also zero in on their target audience through demographics made available on Facebook. The platform is also available on the web-based messenger as well as the Facebook Messenger app. It also comes with rich media enhancements, is easy to navigate and the integration process only requires a simple API integration. 

WhatsApp

As a chat platform, WhatsApp has a wide reach and it also has rich media features that also enable users to share images, videos and audio files. The Arifu WhatsApp channel enables learners to form WhatsApp groups and share their location as well. The rich media capabilities enable learners to interact with picture illustrations and videos which help make the learning process fun and more engaging. Partners will however incur costs such as monthly active user costs, cost of sending out push messages and the integration process is done by a 3rd party business API partner.

IITA’s Akilimo App

IITA’s Akilimo App is a service tailored toward provision of agronomic advice to cassava farmers. The content on the app focuses on different use cases such as intercropping, fertilizer recommendations, good planting practices as well as business management and financial literacy content provided by Arifu. The app provides farmers with a single brand user experience that links them to Akilimo’s products as well as offering advisory services to learners based on their GPS location. Arifu’s partnership with Akilimo has enabled the organization to leverage the benefits of the different platforms mentioned previously. Through SMS, the Arifu chatbot has recreated some of the app’s features and made Akilimo available to farmers who use feature phones. The content is available in different languages such as English, Pydgin and Yoruba, this makes the learning process easier for the farmers who can interact with the content in their preferred language.

By partnering with Arifu, our partners can assess which of the above-mentioned chat platforms best helps them advance their products and services to their target audience. Whichever of the solutions they opt to use, Arifu’s guarantee is that the partner will benefit from having a highly scalable and cost-effective tool that will increase outreach. Arifu will also increase awareness about their products and services as well as providing insightful data analytics that will help inform product development and innovation geared towards meeting the needs of the learners. A partnership with Arifu will enable our partners in Nigeria to witness the power of mobile learning as has been the case with all our partners across the African continent.

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