Digital financial services are part of an effective arsenal in addressing the economic needs of low-income women working to save money. Digital tools enable them to buffer against income shocks, support financial goals, make investments in their businesses and families, and allow for long-term financial planning. For those reasons, Opportunity International provides digital finance solutions to empower people living in poverty to transform their lives and their communities.
Digital Savings Ledgers
Informal savings groups exist in communities around the world, especially where formal financial services like banks aren’t accessible or have too many requirements to be tenable to low-income women. These groups meet regularly, learn financial literacy together, and contribute to a savings pool that is used to make loans back out to the group or support the community. Typically members record transactions by hand or even memory. Opportunity is piloting a digital savings group ledger, which is a digital app and a dashboard that are deployed alongside technical assistance to support groups like this.
Khumbo Msutu, Digital Financial Services Project Officer in Malawi, explains that the app “reduces meeting times and helps to build trust among group members because there are fewer mistakes in the ledger. The data demonstrates credit worthiness of groups and individual members if they want to request for loans from financial services providers or even from others in the community.”
Leading With Women
In the deployment of the digital financial tools, digital financial literacy plays a vital role in both absorption and scale. For many in developing economies, low levels of literacy—coupled with social norms that exclude women from serving a financial role in their families—present a persistent gender gap in accessing digital financial services. These demand-side constraints leave most formal financial service providers with an unclear picture of women’s wants and needs for digital financial tools.
In order to overcome some of these challenges, Opportunity has put women at the forefront of the deployment of the savings group app in Malawi and Uganda, with all training being led by female staff. Khumbo Msutu in Malawi and Mercy Mngolobe in Uganda have shown the power of education to create change. “Having a female trainer has increased the group members’ confidence that its possible for women to take charge in building capacity for people in rural communities,” says Msutu.
Success That Shines
What does success look like for all-women savings groups? In southern Malawi, a group has moved from the use of paper ledgers to a fully digitized ledger. The group’s treasurer, Twaina Mustafa, then became a trainer for another group in a neighboring village that was struggling with acceptance and utilization of the app. The nearby group found it convenient reaching out to a peer—especially another woman—to help them get the guidance they needed to begin using the app.
Mustafa has become a beacon of hope for other women in her community and beyond who hear of her work. “I really feel good to be standing in front of my friends and doing this work, sharing what I was taught during the trainings,” she explained. “This has given me respect among my fellow group members.”
We’ve learned that having a female project coordinator has encouraged early adopters to transfer skills via an extended peer-to-peer support system, and her presence also has created a feedback loop built on trust. For Msutu, “training women has been so fulfilling because they are so eager to learn, mostly because in the normal setting it is the men that are on the forefront of technological trends. This interest in learning has resulted in positive results as they are fast learners and understand the content very fast.”
The initial successes seen in Malawi will be replicated next in Uganda, where groups are already excited to become digitized. Although it is a long roadto empower women to become the leaders they are meant to be, seeing women like Mustafa thrive in leadership roles reminds us that the inclusive power of technology transforms lives of all community members, regardless of gender–indeed, digitALL.
Ama Akuamoah is the Director of Market Engagement for Opportunity’s Digital Financial Services team and is based in Ghana.