As it draws to a close, the Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity held its final participant learning event on Wednesday 22 February 2023 at the Trademark hotel in Nairobi, Kenya. The event brought together many Fund participants, Fund management team members and partners, and the Mastercard Foundation.
The full day event began with welcome remarks from the Fund Engagement Partner, Smita Sanghrajka noted the objectives of the event were to facilitate networking and sharing of knowledge among participants and other Fund stakeholders. She noted that the Fund had supported 38 participants in the portfolio, spread across 15 Sub-Saharan African countries. She highlighted the significant Fund achievement in surpassing an initial target of reaching 1 million financially excluded people. To date, it has reached 5.3 million people, providing the means to transform lives as rural financial markets have grown.
David Bagenda, Country Director, Kenya, Mastercard Foundation credited the Fund success to its participants that have improved the lives of millions and their beneficiaries.
Fund Program Coordinator, Grace Mberia, Fund Grants Manager, Wilson Irungu, and Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Lead, Timothy Hobden from Triple Line Consulting next explained Fund program journey since inception, covering its operations, competitions, portfolio selected and impact over the 8-year Fund period. The main part of the event saw various interesting panel discussions and multiple, short participant presentations made.
In this session, panelists from Syecomp, FutureLink Technologies and Pula Advisors gave unique perspectives on their digital solutions and opportunities. Daria Dubovitskaya from Triple Line Consulting.
Syecomp is a geomapping technology and digital farmer services company, operating in Ghana. Elorm Allavi, Founder and CEO of Syecomp shared that the business had invested in a market access product (warehouses and packhouses) which helps Syecomp reduce farmer default levels.
FutureLink Technologies has developed digital finance solutions for SACCOs and MFIs in Uganda. Represented by co-founder and CEO Vincent Tumwijukye, Vincent highlighted that customer retention for them is about a continuous obsession with the customer, who by their choices then gives you that platform to innovate for them.
Pula Advisors designs and delivers innovative agricultural insurance and digital products to help smallholder farmers endure yield risks, improve their farming practices, and bolster their incomes over time. Pula was represented by Senior Project Manager, Faith Kinyanjui, who shared that Pula continues to innovate to provide claims at faster rates and this has been supported by digital innovation and has been enabled with support received from the Fund.
By virtue of its focus on reaching poor, rural customers in Africa, the Fund for Rural Prosperity has supported companies whose business models depend on their ability to build lasting relationships with smallholder farmers. Outgrower and inputs-based business models almost exclusively work with smallholders. Among 8 impact studies conducted with Fund participants, representing ~30% of total customers acquired under the Fund, 81% of surveyed customers indicated that agriculture was their primary source of income.
Three Fund participants represented as panelists were Easy Solar, Savonor and Ibero Uganda.This session was moderated by the Timothy Hobden from Triple Line Consulting.
Easy Solar is a solar energy company in Sierra Leone that has developed asset leasing solutions for a range of solar products for households and businesses. Their CEO, Alexandre Tourre explained that Easy Solar has been able to build infrastructure and establish more than 450 distribution points, allowing for greater accessibility to its products with the support received from the Fund.
Savonor is a palm oil processor in Burundi who developed credit solutions for outgrower farmers. Hervé Nkurunziza shared that Savonor had a small outgrower project with about 50 farmers before the Fund, compared to around 8,000 farmers to date. He explained that one way Savonor did this was by partnering with a large microfinance organisation in Burundi to provide loans to farmers, reinforcing the value of the right partnerships.
Ibero Uganda Ltd is a coffee outgrower scheme operating in Uganda that has launched a range of credit products to serve the needs of its farmers. Rachel Nakasiita, Ibero’s Farmer Services Unit Manager, discussed the challenges of reaching farmers in the last mile, especially when lending is based on produce seasons. She explained that it can be very expensive to provide services to farmers in rural areas. However, with the support from the Fund, Ibero Uganda was able to innovate and establish a strong presence on the ground, working directly with farmers to build trust and reducing payment default rates.
Several participants took up the opportunity to give short presentations on their Fund journey and projects. Some quick highlights of these presentations are below.
Carlos Jorge Nhamahango of Letshego Mozambique highlighted a challenge the company faced with customer identification using fingerprinting during the COVID-19 pandemic. To address this and other challenges, Letshego is now combining more than one digital product using a FAMOCO device, which will not only make the process easier for customers, but also more cost-effective for the company.
Boldewijn Sloet of SolarNow BV in his presentation, noted that the program had launched 13 financial products and resulted in total net earnings of 1,000 Euros per year on average for its medium scale farmers in increased revenues and/or cost savings.
Mutande Kosta Tembo from Stewards Globe acknowledged the need as they step into the future to expand their product line to support climate-resilient crops that can sustain production.
Anne Maina of Inuka Africa explained that their Fund-supported project aimed to empower dairy farmers through the use of a digital record-keeping platform called Smartcow. With the support of the Fund, they were able to provide this tool to farmers and help them maintain accurate records for effective farm management, including tracking milk production, vaccination dates, and animal profitability.
Godfrey Ssekabira of Olam Uganda explained that with Fund support, farmers in over four supply chains have been able to produce and sell traceable coffee, resulting in increased productivity from 0.5 kilos to 1 kilogram and above. Farmers also now have access to certified premiums from their coffee sales.
Lily Akorfa Keledorme of Farmerline noted through the Fund program, Farmerline Group has been able to refine and expand solutions that are tailored to farmers in different regions and value chains, benefiting impoverished and unbanked rural communities by increasing their resilience.
Novati Mushi of CRDB Bank pointed out that women have demonstrated excellent repayment rates based on their experience. Meanwhile, he noted that youth represent a learning opportunity as they test out CRDB products and require capacity building, which the bank is actively addressing.
Dr. Mitima Djuma of Equity BCDC mentioned that the bank is focused on expanding financial access in the DRC, which at the time the Fund project started was only at 8% of population reach.
Andreas Nicolaides representing Great Lakes Coffee and Rwanda Trading Company shared that with Fund support they have trained tens of thousands of farmers and registered at many customers. He further pointed out that sustainability of the business gains made during the Fund project will require focus on higher productivity from farmers.
Sijmen de Hoogh of Dodore highlighted that the Fund experience confirmed Dodore's Agri-wallet platform's validity and its ability to establish trust with farmers. As a result, it intends to partner with various entities to further develop the offering for the future.
Mike Malan from Compuscan revealed that despite having a great idea and strategy, the company, at the time, encountered regulatory barriers in the country where it was operating, ultimately leading to its market exit. However, this experience provided valuable lessons, and the key takeaway Mike has is to share these experiences with businesses to help them thrive in similar markets and push financial inclusion boundaries.
Fund Engagement Partner, Smita Sanghrajka summarised the day as one where great businesses and their financial inclusion achievements were celebrated, where many insightful learnings were shared around the portfolio and where new opportunities were identified for future sustainability and scale.
The event concluded with a networking cocktail that provided a further opportunity for informal networking amongst all attendees.
The participant learning event brought out the significant achievements and learnings from the Fund participants over the eight-year Fund period. Beyond the Fund, several of the participant companies have made headlines across the continent as they continue to scale, attract additional investments, and create a sustainable future for financial inclusion. The Fund has been a stepping stone for these companies, and wishes them continued success.