AirSave: Taking Human-Centered Design from Theory to Practice


This case study explores the challenges and opportunities of introducing an agent-based mobile savings product to mobilize savings for rural, low-income women in Uganda, as well as the use of human-centered design (HCD) in product development.

Beginning in 2013, UNCDF MicroLead programme funded technical assistance provider, MEDA, and UGAFODE on a project to reach 80,000 additional savers in Uganda. To accomplish this ambitious goal, UGAFODE received technical assistance and training from MEDA, and 17Triggers. Under UNCDF’s MicroLead program. Using human-centered design research, the UGAFODE team identified that there was high demand from rural Ugandans for a safe place to store money, especially cash kept in savings group lock boxes, as well as an opportunity to build a relationship with a banking institution to access other services, like credit. Customers also expressed a need for greater accessibility, since many live far away from physical bank branches. Thus, two new product concepts were born: GroupSave, a savings product for registered savings groups, providing a safe place to store group savings, and AirSave, a new digital access channel, which would allow customers to leverage their existing GroupSave mobile money accounts to move money in and out of formal accounts at UGAFODE. This case focuses on the AirSave channel.

Fast forward to November 2014. UGAFODE completed a six-month pilot of AirSave, but the results were well below expectations. Sign-ups were below target, and activity on the AirSave accounts lower. Facing lackluster results, Ugafode’s Business Growth department and MEDA embarked on a new journey to understand why customer adoption was lower than expected and why dormancy continued. As it turns out, the journey of rolling out a new alternative delivery channel connected to mobile money is not simple, even when agents rather than MFI staff are utilized. While UGAFODE correctly anticipated demand for savings, it did not correctly anticipate the challenges of introducing a digital channel. In the end, refining its target market and improving agent management would be critical for the successful implementation of the AirSave channel.