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Using the Challenge Fund approach, the Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity was set up in 2014 to support private sector businesses across Sub-Saharan Africa looking to develop new products, services or processes that increase access to finance for rural people, or that have the potential to scale up their most promising ideas to drive financial inclusion for smallholder farmers.

Between 2015 and 2016, the Fund launched two calls for applications per year; Innovation and Scaling competitions, and between 2017 and 2018, the Fund offered more opportunities for businesses to compete for support through a Rolling competition format that had periodic harvesting points and which included both innovative and scalable projects. 

Competition descriptions

Innovation competition: To support the development of innovative rural financial solutions, the Fund launched the Innovation competition which provided grants of US$250,000 to US$1 million. Applicants to this competition were required to contribute at least 30% of the total project budget in cash, cash equivalent or in-kind matching contributions.

Scaling competition:  The Scaling competition was set up to support the scaling up of proven financial inclusion concepts to new customers or regions. Applicants to this competition could request for grants between US$750,000 and US$2,500,000 and were required to contribute at least 50% of the total project budget in cash, cash equivalent or in-kind matching contribution.

Rolling competition: The Rolling competition was a combination of both innovative and scalable applications. The applications were “harvested” and assessed every two months. 

Overall, the competitions resulted in the Fund receiving 10,857 registrations. From these, 1,805 applications were submitted, 96 business plans shortlisted and eventually, 38 participant projects working in 15 countries were approved for financial support.

Our portfolio

38 participant organisations 

15 Sub-Saharan African countries: Burkina Faso, Burundi, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.


Other competitions launched since

Strategic Investments: Two participants in the portfolio were granted additional financial support through a Strategic Investments window. The window aimed to leverage existing projects to create work opportunities for young men and women; support the growth of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) within their value chains; and accelerate and scale up existing successful projects within the portfolio.

COVID-19 Recovery and Resilience: To support its participants and their customers in withstanding the pandemic, the Fund launched a different funding challenge, the COVID-19 Recovery and Resilience Challenge Window. This opportunity enabled Fund participants to apply to grants of up to $250,000, in order to adapt their business operations to overcome accessibility challenges and continue to serve rural communities, provide bridging finance to affected communities (particularly women and smallholder farmers), and support income retention and improved resilience for affected workers. Twelve participants were selected and supported under this window.

Technical Assistance: Seeking to provide targeted support for scaling the impacts achieved, the Fund also provided technical assistance grants to six participants for specific areas of identified need, to prepare for scaled results and impact. The support was around three (self-declared) thematic areas – post-fund capital raising, Covid-19 response and gender mainstreaming. 

Over the seven and half year journey, the successful marketing of the Fund competitions in achieving significant numbers and quality of applications required a robust brand development and tailor-made communications strategies brought alive through various marketing plans. The development of various marketing tools was crucial to ensure that we targeted the right audience and sought for the right applications.

Parallel to supporting the marketing of these competitions, the Fund has been able to develop a wealth of knowledge and participant stories for financial inclusion stakeholders through multiple communication channels such as the Fund website and social media channels, monthly participant e-bulletins featuring participants news, articles and participant interviews, sponsored and hosted events and workshops, a photo and video competition, production of numerous Fund videos featuring the Fund journey among others aspects.

With the Fund now in its eight year, the success of these competitive model has played a major role in identifying and then supporting these private-sector businesses that have been able to make huge impact by transforming lives of smallholder farmers and the rural poor, reaching over 5 million customers to date.

The competition management and communications teams are proud to have walked this journey with Fund participants, and will continue to support the portfolio as its impact smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

 Screenshot 2022-12-09 at 10.15.52.pngNashipae Leteipan,


 KPMG East Africa

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