UNCDF’s MicroLead programme provides another excellent example of how UNCDF leverages its funding to catalyze private capital and domestic savings: starting with its own initial contribution of $6.8 million, UNCDF mobilized another $20 million for MicroLead from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
These funds were then invested in local financial service providers, which put a further $100 million of their own capital into their expansion under the project. Within five years, MicroLead had mobilized more than $645 million of ‘sleeping capital, money out of the mattresses’, from a million local depositors, creating a major new source of local investment capital.
One of MicroLead’s partners was Equity Bank, which MicroLead engaged to expand operations into South Sudan. In 2008, 90% of the population in Southern Sudan lacked banking services. Some banks required a deposit of US$ 50 equivalent to open an account, making it inaccessible to most low-income people. The financing agreement with UNCDF recognized and shared the risk of expanding in South Sudan in 2009 - with the referendum scheduled for 2011 - while also requiring Equity Bank to meet performance targets on additional equity committed (US$10 Million), branch expansion (9), and deposit accounts (132,000).
Equity Bank designed and offered products suitable to the market by offering zero-balance deposit accounts, demonstrating that anyone could open an account. At June 2015, Equity South Sudan had 132,740 depositors and US$ 167 million equivalent in deposits.
Equity Bank has also demonstrated resilience in the face of a volatile operating environment. In spite of recent conflict, which led to Equity Bank suffering destruction to two of its branches, it has been able to continue to keep deposits secure, including the life savings of many low-income clients that will allow them to rebuild their lives. Many South Sudanese who kept their ‘money in their mattresses’ lost their funds as they fled disturbances.