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Announcing School community banking project and open research, serving the underbanked in rural Africa using digital financial services.
Author, Bruce Tushabe is an elected member of Core Working Group, Finscale. This research was given editorial review by the Advisory Council, and Finscale Project linked Steering Council. Open Source Projects studied: Apache Fineract, Mifos X Web App, Finscale, Serenity.
About Kisoboka Africa
The case for Digital Financial Inclusion in rural Africa
What is the School Community Bank Model?
An illustration of the SCOBA model, An illustration of the revolving credit workflow
About pilot case study in 2021
Observations and Inferences from the pilot case study
Scope of the Community Project
Summary, A Digital Web Platform, SCOBA groups mobile app, Digital Payments and Telecom network integrations, global beneficiary member registry
Road Ahead: Growth Strategy
Project’s Tentative Timeline
Invitation for Feedback
Citations and References
ABOUT KISOBOKA AFRICA:Kisoboka Africa is a nonprofit Program, which seeks to address the challenges around financial inclusion in Africa. We are working to ensure financial inclusion and economic empowerment for the underserved communities of Africa.
Kisoboka Africa maintains a unique School Community Bank model, where community members especially women and youth meet in local schools to save, access micro finances and acquire business skills so that they can run micro businesses and generate incomes to meet their family needs, including financing children education.
The organisation has worked with more than 2000 beneficiaries, who have saved upwards of 100,000 Euros and been able to start over 800 small businesses.
To accelerate digital financial inclusion for the underserved, and with support from Muellners Foundation, Kisoboka Africa is working on a digitization project to support women and youth in rural communities of Uganda, to have access to digital financial services using their basic phones.
This digital platform will also help Microfinance organisations to automate their data, processes and payments, so as to become efficient in delivering financial services in these communities.
At this point, Kisoboka is working to harness opensource technologies like Apache Fineract, architectural design principles of Finscale, and decentralised identity management on Serenity Trust System to make this a reality.
The Kisoboka team believes blockchain technology has a place to play in accelerating prosperity in underserved communities.
THE CASE FOR DIGITAL FINANCIAL INCLUSION IN RURAL AFRICA
Access to financial services is still a very big challenge in Uganda, especially in rural communities. Banks are mainly concentrated in major towns and their services are highly priced. According to global partnerships for financial inclusion, billions of adults still remain unbanked and inequalities persist due to this underbanked situation.
The World Bank highlights that gaining access to basic financial services—such as transaction accounts, credit, savings products and insurances—help the poor increase their incomes and become more resilient to disasters and global economic uncertainty. For women, the ability to send and receive payments, save, and get credit for expanding their businesses can be a socially transformational experience.
We have been working to improve financial services access by working with rural communities through the School Community Banks model. This experience has taught us that smallholder farmers prefer working with microfinance organisations such as a Savings and Credit Cooperative, or village savings and lending groups.
The COVID19 pandemic presented unique challenges where beneficiary members could not meet physically to access financial services in their particular groups and this highly impacted their livelihoods. In addition, we found that we could not rush technical support to the groups because of several social distance measures and Covid regulations.
This highlighted to us the very importance of digital financial services in providing secure, low-cost and contactless financial service tools to communities to improve their livelihoods. This crisis has underlined the advantages of digital financial services in different dimensions and its critical role in achieving the sustainable development goals.
This is the motivation behind developing digital financial tools to ease micro savings, access to micro credit, and improve information management for the poor.
WHAT IS SCHOOL COMMUNITY BANKS MODEL?
The School Community Bank (SCOBA) is a group of parents and community members who meet in local schools in a particular community with an objective of saving and having access to small loans for investment.
In these groups, members are also equipped with business skills to enable them to start and manage sustainable micro businesses to improve their lives.
The program also provides members with financial literacy skills and enables them to save and manage their own savings group.
The reason the groups are based in schools is to also improve parental engagement in their children’s education. Beneficiary members get a chance to interact with teachers on a weekly basis, when they go for their meetings.
An illustration of the SCOBA model:
An illustration of the Revolving Credit Process Flow:
ABOUT PILOT CASE STUDY:
In 2021, we carried out a pilot project on digitisation of 33 SCOBAs in rural Lwengo district Uganda by working with a Ugandan Fintech. We used their proprietary, closed source digital solution and provided 33 smartphones to a few select SCOBA group members.
990 community members (676 female, 317 male) belonging to 33 groups (school community banks) were onboarded using the digital platform to manage group operations, including saving, checking for members’ balances, among others activities. Loans were applied for using the system. This enabled community members to continue their group operations, despite the physical movement restrictions during the COVID 19 lockdown. Other groups have now requested us to support them and also start using digital platforms.
Observations & Inferences from the pilot case study:
- Limitations in scalability: The software we used in the pilot case study is proprietary and very expensive to maintain for the SCOBA members, making it difficult to maintain and scale. It is not open source which shows many limitations in our abilities to scale the case study.
We are moving towards an open accounting system.
- Costly training updates: The frequent updates on the digital platform by the service providers sometimes disorganises the information entered by the SCOBAs. Closed source updates meant costly training updates as well.
We are moving towards low cost technology solutions.
- Poor accounting standards: The software lacks well-developed and globally interoperable accounting standards and thus not helping the SCOBA groups to solve their accounting issues satisfactorily.
We are moving towards IFRS(International Financial Reporting Standards) of accounting and an open accounting system.
- Internet Issues: The unreliable internet in some of the rural project target areas, slowed down groups’ saving work during the times when the internet connectivity was completely off or very slow – these scenarios brought work to a standstill in some School Community Banks.
We are attempting to solve this by building an open source system, which will enable SCOBAs to have an offline version with the use of USSD technology.
- Some community leaders (mandated to manage the SCOBA group’s savings activities) are illiterate w.r.t smartphone usage. This slowed down the onboarding stages in a few communities but KISA staff managed to offer thorough induction & training in smartphone usage to specific leaders.
We are attempting to accelerate the training and increase smartphone literacy in the SCOBA communities.
SCOPE OF THE COMMUNITY PROJECT
Summary: To address the obstacles observed in the pilot case study, and in the saving groups, using “pen and paper” mode of operations in the underserved SCOBA communities, a digital financial inclusion platform is being designed, also to bring a network of local micro-finance institutions, under the ambit of this community project, who are looking for a simple, web-based and scalable banking software which;
- automates how the SCOBAs manage members, savings, loans and financial reporting; and
- comes with a client web-portal and mobile money integration for the beneficiary members.
It is user-friendly, eases adoption and reduces the inherent risks which come with implementing a new solution.
- automates and streamlines financial processes, customer relationship processes, and other business processes in such a way that can help connected microfinance organisations drive their activities efficiently.
- provides relevant, industry-specific functionalities, even for the most specialised microfinance institutions.
- leverages the rapid adaptability, simplified customization, and ease of use offered by the platform, microfinance organisations can easily add functionality, integrate with other applications, and enhance online business capabilities.
Besides traceability and tracking of fund movement, we are also looking at following featured scope:
Note: This is further detailed in Feature Feasibility list and List of documented Standard Operating Procedures(SoPs), designed by the community members.
- Maker-checker grouped roles corresponding to key responsibility functions, which provide individual stakeholders with tools, alerts and efficiency capabilities, tuned to the needs of their particular role, within a single screen, while roles attributions also make employees’ jobs easier as their work takes them to other parts of the application.
- Enhanced reporting capabilities based on the inbuilt reporting tools and external third party services pool, to enable stakeholders to analyse data, identify trends, generate insights, and monitor traceability against both local and global key performance indicators (KPIs) in both savings and lending portfolios.
- Omnichannel access allows beneficiary members and stakeholders to integrate data and business logics, derived from the list of SoPs with other external systems and processes e.g digital payments, payroll and HR systems, to support an integrated ecosystem across both local & global (geo-located) micro finance institutions.
- Data security and privacy protocols to ensure safety of data and to avoid unauthorised access to beneficiary member data and to ensure security protocols required to run microfinance organisations are well preserved without intrusions throughout the digital financial services system.
We have further componentized the community project as follows:
A. THE DIGITAL WEB PLATFORM
By deploying a digital financial services platform on top of Apache Fineract 1.x & Mifos X community web app, a central web platform is created for networked microfinance organisations looking for a simple, high-quality, cloud-based banking software, which automates how they manage customers, savings, loans and financial reporting.
With this platform, one should be able to do the following;
- Configure own chart-of-accounts and create own product settings and accounting preferences,
- Manage beneficiary member savings accounts with ease, member shares and dividends with ease,
- Manage entire end to end loan SoP from origination to repayments, cash management, bank and mobile money accounts and also manage receivables, payables, expenses, incomes, expenses.
- The admin of the system should also be able to onboard beneficiary members for bulk and notification SMS
- Automatically reconcile mobile money deposits and withdrawals
- Integrate to Point of Sale(POS) terminals for field operations with cards and biometric functions e.g fingerprints.
- Provide members access to all facilities transparently through a client portal.
- Manage all the financial reporting
B. SCOBA GROUPS MOBILE APP
For groups of people driven towards mutual savings, A 3-suite solution (Mobile app, USSD and Web) enables online and offline features, 3P authentication and is designed to enable integration with a financial institution of their choice.
A SCOBA group administrators’ mobile app, group administrators’ web r (For supervised groups, this is for the supervisor. This should also consist of member access on the USSD platform, member access on web portal and 3P authentication for transactions. It should also provide for bank or Mobile money cash-in and cash-out integration
C. MOBILE DIGITAL PAYMENTS & TELECOM NETWORK INTEGRATION
This project integrates mobile money and SMS notifications into a microfinance organisation or village saving group operations. Enabling deposits, withdrawals, balances and mini-statement checks, and loan requests on mobile using USSD.
With this, SCOBA members should have the following benefits;
Receive and pay-out funds through mobile money,
Get free, secure mobile money accounts with a Telecom as a result of connectivity to telcos with APIs that will allow Credit and Debit to the mobile money account.
The third party services APIs which we are considering to connect to, during this digitization project are from MTN Telecom and AIRTEL Telecom.
D. Global Beneficiary Member Registry
With a public blockchain ledger and decentralised identity management system of SCOBA members, we aim to enable global ESG and Impact Funds to invest into SCOBAs transparently in the long term.
With this project, we will begin to maintain a beneficiary member registry on the open source Serenity Trust Management System.
THE ROAD AHEAD: GROWTH STRATEGY
Total Addressable Metrics:
In line with the Republic of Uganda’s latest Financial Inclusion Strategy 2017-2022 and the volunteer’s grassroot experience, several metrics have been identified by the project community to conclude an addressable map for scaling the SCOBA model.
Priority groups include women, residents of rural areas, and youth above 15 years old.
In Uganda, women are less likely to own a mobile phone, be active users of mobile money (38% of men use mobile money versus 25% of women), have an account at a financial institution, save or borrow money and under- stand financial services. Women do use informal financial services more than men in Uganda (34% usage for women versus 27% for men) so levels of exclusion from any form of financial services is similar for men and women, but formal usage of finan- cial services and financial capability among women are lower than for men.(refer National Financial Inclusion Strategy | 2017 – 2022 for the statistics in this paragraph)
By the end of 2025, we propose that at least 30,000 women and youth (members of School Community Banks) in the rural communities of Uganda shall be facilitated through a digitised savings and credit system, to save money and to acquire soft loans for self-development. We have analysed that the project’s foundational digitization capabilities should be laid down within a period of nine(9) months.
A digitised savings and credit system/platform customised and fully utilised by all the 1000 school community banks to ease members’ access to savings and borrowing services, while observing social-distancing guidelines in the rural areas of Lwengo District by the end of nine months.(refer M7-M9: tentative timeline)
Community leaders from the SCOBAs shall be trained in using phones to keep and report records of the savings and borrowings conducted by School Community Banks in the project areas of operation. They will also be trained on how to use the system for accounting purposes of their groups. (refer M4: tentative timeline)
At least 1000 smartphones secured and in use by the school community banks. We would like to enhance all SCOBA members’ ability to use their phones to access financial services like mobile money, check their savings, apply for loans and services.
The end goal is to have a fully operational open source digital system by harnessing open source technologies and open accounting systems, which will enable members to save using mobile money, apply and access loans on their basic phones, and have all their accounting operations on the phone.
We want to make the activities of the School Community Banks fully digital so that the underserved community(under our Observation) goes away from using physical books for record keeping and accounting.
Project Tentative Timeline:
|Month||Primary Activity||Secondary Activity||Indicative RASCI|
|M1||Staging of Fineract, Mifos X web and mobile app on cloud infrastructure||Fiscal Host Appointment, Provisioning of cloud infrastructure||Finscale CWC|
|M2||DB Migration on the Multi tenant deployment||Setting up Beneficiary Membership Registry||Serenity CWC|
|M3||Third Party Services Integration||Local third party API integrations||Finscale CWC|
|M4||Training SCOBA groups and group leaders||Volunteer driven training and enhanced online accessible multi-lingual training documentation||Fiscal Host, Uganda|
|M5||Research and Development||Finscale, Serenity projects||Open Research|
|M6||Organising Project Investments, ESG and Impact Grants, Academic documentations||Project Investment Proposals – working capital and lending capital||Open Council (Treasury Committee) + Fiscal Host, Uganda|
|M7-M9||Adoption and usage of digitised platform by 1000 SCOBA groups||Documentation and publication of public audit reports on the community project||Fiscal Host, Uganda|
From experience, School Community Banks(SCOBA) are a powerful tool for the improvement of financial practices in rural underbanked communities. The community model both encourages mutual understanding and positive behaviours in savings and lending, investing in small businesses, and provides a way to reduce the impact of volatile external events on the beneficiary members.
With the availability of mobile phones and other digital technologies in Africa, the maintainability of savings groups and the accounting of savings and loans can be simplified, and the associated data can be harnessed to provide additional benefits for members, thus improving their financial wellbeing.
With digitalisation, there is the opportunity to extend the benefits of the school community banks wider than individual rural communities and scale to many other places across the lower and middle income regions.
Digital SCOBAs platform can also enable implementing partners to include other members of the local economies like microfinance institutions, insurers and banks, who can further strengthen and assist grassroot entrepreneurs and rural communities to grow their businesses and wealth.
INVITATION FOR SUGGESTIONS/FEEDBACK:Foundation also invites public Discussions on its Community Projects on its Public Platform.
General Public feedback is invited through following channels:
- Reach out directly to the author – Bruce Tushabe on the official email; [email protected]
- Publish your thoughts on the public mailing list: [email protected]
- Engage with the community on the public forums, Foundation’s discourse forums or in one of the open source communities, by joining us here, as a contributor.
References & Citations:https://developers.airtel.africa/home
FEATURED Photo by Hanna Morris on Unsplash