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The Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity Searches for Innovative, New and Scalable Solutions for the Rural Poor.

By Grace Njoroge

The Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity has just launched its 2017 competition. The Fund is a US$ 50 million facility established by the Mastercard Foundation in 2015 with the aim of spurring financial systems development in rural and agricultural areas in sub-Saharan Africa. The Fund supports innovative financial solutions for design, pilot and testing of new ideas, as well as expanding proven ideas into new geographies or new customer segments in rural areas. Since inception, the Fund has surfaced what it believes are some of the most innovative ideas for rural and agricultural finance in the region.

The four previous competitions have awarded nineteen projects with US$ 23, 802,913 in financial support. It is quite encouraging that these proposals are coming from a diverse range of organizations, from large financial institutions, to technology companies, to agribusinesses. The Fund’s list of winners from the 2016 innovation competition reflects this.

Ibero Limited, one of the top five largest coffee exporters in Uganda was awarded US$ 1 million in support of their project that seeks to transform coffee farmers’ livelihoods. The project is developing an ecosystem of complementary services, including access to agronomic training, finance, inputs and markets to reach over 17,000 farmers by 2021.

First Access, a fintech company has partnered with Esoko, an agricultural information and communications company, to develop an innovative rural agricultural credit-scoring platform for lending institutions. The solution addresses the challenge of inadequate data for low-income populations that can aid financial institutions in making credit decisions. With Fund support of US$ 1 million, the duo will coordinate disparate data sets from thin credit files in informal markets to establish borrower profiles. The new platform will help institutions collect better information faster, leading to improved decision-making while dramatically reducing the cost of lending.

Letshego Financial Services, a leading financial institution in Mozambique is another company in the FRP portfolio that has been awarded support of US$ 1 million for an innovative LetsGo Blue Box solar- powered agency banking solution. Through rural agents, Letshego will use biometric authentication to on-board customers eliminating the need for identification documents. The LetsGo Box also tackles the challenge of low electricity penetration and intermittent supply in rural areas. Unreliable power often limits the number of mobile transactions rural agents can conduct as they are unable to operate when their phones are off. The LetsGo Blue box innovatively utilizes solar power to charge mobile phones and tablets making it possible for financial services to happen at any time and practically anywhere. This also creates another income stream for rural agents and increases foot traffic to their businesses as they can sell phone charging services in their areas.

We have seen similarly creative solutions that are not only pushing the rural frontier by offering solutions that are meeting unmet needs, but are also offering opportunities for systemic change to occur.

The new competition will follow a ‘rolling’ format which means that applications will be submitted throughout the year with periodic evaluations. The first submission period will close for assessment on 10 August, 2017. Unsuccessful applicants will be able to refine and resubmit their applications subsequently, along with new entrants to the competition.

As the Fund launches the 2017 competition, we eagerly look forward to the proposed solutions that will bring financial services closer to the rural populations.

For more information about the 2017 competition, including application forms, guidance notes and details on eligible countries, kindly visit the Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity website at  www.frp.org.

Grace Njoroge is a Financial Inclusion Advisor, KPMG International Development Advisory Services