Interview with hiveonline
The “dream” – how it started
- hiveonline is the brainchild of a team of banking transformation specialists who decided the last thing the world needs is another bank. We’ve learned a lot about building robust, global financial services over the years, but the value has always been funnelled upwards – to the shareholders, the large corporations and the banks. We seized the opportunity to embrace emerging technology to support the people least served by the financial system. With a platform live in Denmark, we’ve been invited by CARE to support the digitisation of finance for the most unsupported people in the world – women in rural Niger, one of the least developed and poorest countries on the planet.
Area of focus
- In Niger, we’re starting by digitising the Village Savings and Loans Association process – the VSLA was first launched in Niger by CARE in 1991 and since then it’s grown to 10,000,000+ members worldwide in the CARE network alone, with countless others in schemes outside CARE’s purview. The scheme has been extremely successful in giving women access to savings and increasing their economic empowerment in a country that’s culturally patriarchal. But it’s still cash-based, limiting their ability to grow businesses because they can’t access outside capital. We’re giving them a digital credit history and building reputation, while engaging other players such as lenders and retailers, enabling them to expand their businesses and commercial opportunities.
Challenges in the geographical areas of influence
- Niger is a vast country with very little infrastructure, so phone network coverage is patch and internet less than 1%. The environment is harsh, being 70% Sahara desert, while 80% of the population lives outside cities. This means we’re having to adapt our technology to work off-grid, with asynchronous reconciliation, to support communities who don’t have regular or affordable access to data communications. We’re also having to build for older types of phone, as smart phones are known to suffer in this environment.
Co-operation and partnerships
- We’re working with CARE Danmark, who are sponsoring our project, and CARE Niger, who are providing support on the ground and access to the 600,000 customers in their VSLA network in Niger. We’re also partnering with Capital Finance, one of the largest microfinance institutions in the country, and in discussions with the two largest telco providers, as well as many local entrepreneurs, government initiatives and other NGOs.
- We’ve had great response from our customers in city and rural locations, as the women are keen to embrace technology and even the most rural are now beginning to adopt mobile phones. Most are illiterate, so we’re developing simple, symbol-based interfaces, and they’re keen to learn new symbols and words to expand their understanding. Partners have also been enthusiastic, with corporates, financial sector and government all recognising the importance these women have to shaping the future economy of Niger.
About the Nordic effort
- CARE in Denmark and Norway have a long history with Niger; the architect of the VSLA scheme, Moira Eknes, is a long-term CARE employee and now works as a senior advisor, supporting VSLA schemes all over the world, while CARE Danmark is sponsoring this digitisation initiative and also has a long history working in partnership with the Nigerien team. We’re incredibly well supported by both Denmark and Niger teams, who have given us access to their deep and respected networks within the country, as well as their long-established, successful VSLA network.
The Financial Inclusion Summit takes place in Oslo, Norway, on 28 March 2019. To find out more or request an invitation, visit: https://financial-inclusion.com/#register
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