BRING FINANCIAL INCLUSION TO RURAL HOUSEHOLD IN THE DRC
For: UNCDF and a micro-finance institution.
While at: Dalberg
Role: As the creative and research lead, I planned and executed this program right from the immersion all the way through to the prototype and recommendation.
This project is a public-private partnership that seeks to develop and deploy a set of financially viable and scalable financial/savings services that improve the lives of the DRC’s rural communities. This project has been done in a sprint format, and is born from a partnership between the UNCDF and a micro-finance institution that serves the “unbanked” as a catalyst for economic inclusion for the poor.
Congo’s history of conflict and instability creates tough challenges for a population seeking to make a stable living and put some savings aside. The Congolese must contend with price fluctuations, currency devaluations, poor harvests, theft, fraud, an expensive health system and political upheaval.
The systemic breakdowns of financial service providers and institutions as a consequence of constant instability has frayed trust and cohesion within communities and households. Moreover, people feel left out of the banking system. Rural households view banks as tools of the rich instead of services that can help them stabilise their finances and grow their wealth.
This engagement concentrated on how to provide Congo’s rural majority innovative financial services that tap into the desire for change and help them put aside while overcoming these barriers.
While the existing customer base of the MFI is among the broadest in the DRC, it is reaching only 1% of its market potential. The majority of these potential customers are financially excluded and rural. The current banking portfolio of individual and village loan, saving and transfer products inadequately serve rural Congolese because of the inaccessibility of the services, rigidity of the terms and lack of financial and market information.
To reach the rural majority, we needed to design services that are in tune with rural personas, therefore uncover nuances and usage in existing and accepted strategies used by the rural population to overcome hurdles.
To assess the current state of financial inclusion in the DRC, we conducted a kickoff in Kinshasa to transfer knowledge between the key stakeholders and refine the research plan and material.
With the help of local fixers, we conducted an immersive research in the Kongo Central region in multiple communities and market towns - through a snowball approach - to understand rural households’ needs, behaviours and motivations and to prototype and evaluate a wide range of potential solutions.
We the synthesised these needs, through personas and prototyped directions. Our approach to identifying, conceptualising and designing a portfolio of innovative services that meet the needs of the DRC’s undeserved rural population is iterative, measurable and results-driven.
Uncover the current ecosystem of formal and informal savings and revenue channels used to overcome financial challenges
- Due to a lack of trust in formal institutions, people manage their finances with community-developed tools that are flexible in ways that banking services are not. By using an evolving deck of cards representing basic financial needs and services, we represented the financial portfolio of each interviewee. This allowed us to uncover strategy used during times of needs, and create persona profiles around these behaviours, looking at risk tolerance and safety of current services, the ability to plan ahead and the trust placed in their community.
Explore opportunities through the use of rapid iterative prototyping
- We engaged participants in a dialogue using prototypes to help surface their needs, expectations and ideas. We continued to refine the designs almost daily throughout our time in the field. Using fixers and local guides allowed us to move from one community to another with ease .By using a chain referral system, it allow us to talk to a wide variety of user to insure the accuracy of our recommendations and concepts.
The mobile channel was identify as best suited to secure one’s finances, but financial mobile services are currently inexistent
We recommend to develop a rural portfolio to augment the current service suite and help the rural majority cope during lean times and emergencies. To help people mitigate against risks such as health emergencies, poor harvests and exogenous shocks to their local markets we designed 2 mobile services that collectively address the needs of the rural personas.
It helps people to save for specific goals while allowing their priorities to change, offers access to urgent cash in times of need, enables them to save and repay loans on terms that fit within their irregular income and provides financial counsel and market information.