UNCDF’s Sprint4Women Design Sprint Competition to increase Zambian women’s financial inclusion kicks off

  • November 18, 2019

  • Lusaka, Zambia

UNCDF Zambia Launches Sprint4Women Zambia – Digital Financial Services Designed for Women

For the first time in Zambia, in September 2019, United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) Zambia kicked off a Design Sprint Competition for Women’s financial inclusion. This exemplifies UNCDF’s new five year strategy in building Digital Economies that help to achieve the SDGs, especially SDG #5, Gender Equality.

This is a significant development for UNCDF and the digital financial services industry as the Design Sprint Competition aims to increase digital financial services for a segment that makes up 51% of the population, yet only 20-30% actively use the digital financial services (DFS) available on the market - women. In addition, the Design Sprint Competition supports the National Financial Inclusion Strategy 2017 to 2022 to increase formal financial inclusion from 30 percent to 70 percent by 2022.

Starting with a Listening Tour with the Private Sector…to a Sprint4Women Competition

In September, UNCDF hosted a workshop with 14 DFS providers who expressed interest in designing or marketing financial product for women. This workshop’s discussions helped to shape the Request for Applications (RFA) for UNCDF Zambia’s Sprint4Women Design Competition, released in October 2019. Applicants were required to:

- Have an existing digital finance product or service launched or being piloted in the Zambian market

- Availability of gender disaggregated data

- Three key team members (product design, marketing, sales, technology, distribution, etc.) must be available for key Design Sprint dates

- Potential for large reach and scale

- A commitment to reaching Zambian women with products and services that speak to their challenges.

These challenges are identified in the UNCDF’s Labour Pains: The Financial Lives of Zambian Mothers report, across income, geography and life cycle . After evaluating the applications, three top-scoring companies have been selected to compete for the grand prize: $85,000 and technical assistance with a Design Consultant, DFS Expert and Data Expert worth over $50,000. The cash grant is tied to the winning DFS provider increasing their active customer base (either by acquiring new active customers or by “activating” existing registered customers) by 30,000 customers over a defined period of time.

A wide diversity of Zambian DFS providers applied to be part of the competition, from MNOs to Banks to FinTechs, and three (3) companies have been selected to compete. The three short-listed companies in the competition are (in alphabetical order):

- Fenix International, a next-generation energy company bringing solar energy products to Zambians via DFS;

- Hobbiton, a fintech company focusing on bringing investment products to all Zambians via DFS; and

- Jumo Zambia, a fintech company that has catalyzed non-collateral based, instant lending via DFS.

Each has brought a proposal to test a version of their product or marketing of their product to better suit the financial needs of Zambian women. The competition involves each provider working with the UNCDF Zambia team to improve the product and ensure it better suits the needs of women in Zambia, which also reflect the needs of other under-served groups such as youth and rural customers.These companies will test their products in the low population geographies to assess how suitable they are for the target group, work with the UNCDF Design Consultant, UNCDF DFS Experts and UNCDF Data Expert to iterate and make necessary improvements and then pitch their experience/learnings to an objective judging panel. The competition is scheduled for November 2019, and the winner is expected to be announced in December 2019.

The Sprint4Women Design Sprint Competition was inspired by research conducted in 2018 on financial services of Zambian mothers, who are more than 75% of Zambian women. During the research, UNCDF learned that 1) Zambian mothers borrow, but mostly borrow from family and friends; 2) Zambian mothers save but mostly at home, 3) Zambian mothers rely on multiple income streams to support their family’s financial needs, and are often short-term employment workers, 4) Zambian mothers may be the key to unlocking education payments because they value education for their children, 5) Zambian mothers have a natural tendency to insurance and security, but don’t use formal insurance products.

What is Next?

The result of this competition was unexpected – we didn’t expect so many DFS providers to come forward and make a “double bottom line commitment” – to increasing their active customer base and increasing women’s financial inclusion. OUR commitment is now to all of those companies – the 14 that shared Expressions of Interest and the additional organizations that formally applied. Our commitment is not just to the grand prize winner of the competition, not just to the three amazing companies shortlisted, but to all of them.

Already, this competition has inspired companies to turn inward and focus more on this segment, and how to successfully activate women customers in Zambia. Donal Connolly, Project Manager Global Credit from Fenix shared, “Thanks again for your work pulling this Design Sprint together, it's such a great way to compete for funding. I've noticed that even just the increased focus on this chilimba initiative so far has helped it to develop from where it was.”

Addressing gender equality and women’s economic empowerment is central to UNCDF’s mandate. What we know, after more than fifty years of working in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and after five years of successfully advancing digital financial inclusion in Zambia, is the only way to empower women is to partner with the private sector and public sector to remove the barriers that prevent increased women’s financial inclusion and empowerment. Luckily, we have an amazing ecosystem to work with to do exactly that.
In the coming weeks, we will share more about how the competition has gone, and what the providers and we have learned. We will also share more about the new UNCDF Zambia Digital Economy Strategy, where at least 60% of the customers we hope to reach and empower will be women.

We will need help – we cannot do this alone, and will need the help of the private sector, the public sector and development partners to achieve this goal. But together, we will succeed in making Zambia a more inclusive Digital Economy by 2024.

Article written by Nandini Harihareswara and Mali Kambandu.