World Refugee Day: Innovation facilitates financial inclusion of refugees

  • June 20, 2018

  • Nyarugusu Camp, Tanzania

By Xianglei Zheng

© Refugee women in Nyarugusu refugee camp test Jijenge for the first time.


© UNCDF’s Adriano Tidah demonstrates Jijenge application to refugee savings groups in Nyarugusu refugee camp.

Today is World Refugee Day, an occasion commemorating the strength, courage, and perseverance of millions of people forced from home. A neighbor to countries where civil strife and ethnic conflicts have endangered many, the United Republic of Tanzania hosts more than 315,000 refugees from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi, with Nyarugusu Camp, the world’s third largest refugee camp, hosting over 70,000 Burundians alone.

What’s more, because of Tanzania’s encampment policy, refugees are unable to leave the camps or become formally employed, and thus face significant limitations in income-generation and opportunities to use and manage money.

The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) is committed to complement existing livelihood programming and improve the situation of refugees and members of the host community by supporting the expansion of savings groups and digital and financial literacy. From October 2017 to June 2018, UNCDF piloted a programme on access to finance for refugees in Nyarugusu refugee camp, leveraging the network of specialists in financial and digital literacy to build refugees’ financial capability. The initial phase of the programme has seen fruitful results—along with the formation of over 95 new savings groups, UNCDF has worked with partner organizations to deliver financial education through innovative channels to group members and others.

Jijenge, a tablet application developed by Fundación Capital, a Colombia-based development organization, is one of these innovative products. Jijenge is designed to build users’ financial capabilities and introduce them to formal financial services. Through the app, users can learn how to use mobile money through a simulated game as well as learn how to register a mobile money account with an agent. For the refugees, Jijenge is an easy and fun way to learn how to make better decisions with their money.

Created to facilitate financial inclusion for the poorest and the unbanked, Jijenge is made for anyone and everyone who wants to use mobile money and to better manage their finances. The name of the app, “Jijenge” means “To Build Oneself” in Kiswahili. As the name exemplifies, users can teach themselves at home and learn at their own pace through this new method of learning. They can repeat the lessons as many times as they need until they fully grasp the skills and feel comfortable applying the skills in practice; a perfect tool for refugees, who often have more free time and lower levels of literacy than host country populations.

So far, refugees’ reception of the app has been extremely positive, as one woman put it, “Playing [with the tablet app] helped me to learn important things like to not share my mobile money pin. Without the game I would not know such things.” The app is still being tested and refined, but more content on household financial skills such as saving and budgeting will soon be added to better cater the needs of the refugees in the next step of the program.

As the number of refugees in the world rises and protracted crises become more common, the quest for improved livelihood and financial inclusion of refugees is critical to improve their self-reliance and reduce dependence on humanitarian assistance. UNCDF in Tanzania continues to support financial inclusion of refugees by enabling innovation and digital literacy, as well as expanding the programming to the host community, engaging in policy advocacy, and working to accelerate refugees’ linkage to the formal financial sector.

By Xianglei Zheng