58 year old seller Betty Mukarame is one of many women taking part in the organization Access to Finance Rwanda’s (AFR) initiatives. Photo: FinScope 2016.


How a Rwandan organization enables women, youth and refugees to leave poverty

The concept of an inclusive economy has proved to make significant change in Rwanda, lifting millions out of poverty, according to the UN. The organization Access to Finance Rwanda (AFR), which is partly funded by the Swedish government, identifies market gaps and design interventions to close those gaps – making the market accessible to the most vulnerable in society.
– Poor people stay poor because they are excluded from different markets, says Jean Bosco Iyacu, CEO of AFR.

The 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda left the country behind in all development aspects, but before covid-19, Rwanda had one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. In 2019, the country reported a GDP growth of five percent annually, in comparison to a developed country like Sweden with only two percent growth, according to the World Bank.

The not-for-profit organization Access to Finance Rwanda (AFR), embodies the thought of economic inclusivity and is unique in their approach of achieving it.

AFR is one of a kind – focusing on market systems development

AFR was created in 2010, motivated by the fact that almost 52 percent of the Rwandan adult population was excluded from the financial ecosystem – meaning they did not have the same pre-conditions to access financial services. AFR promotes financial inclusion and facilitates an inclusive financial sector development in Rwanda. Today, 93 percent of the Rwandan adult population are included, creating a more equal opportunity financial ecosystem. A tremendous achievement over the last decade, says AFR:s CEO Jean Bosco Iyacu.

We take a holistic approach, to look at the policy, the demand side and map the concerns. Then provide the support needed to address those gaps, says Jean Bosco Iyacu.

Gender gap in financial inclusion is closing in Rwanda with only 8 percent excluding women compared to 7 percent amongst male counterparts. Photo: Kigaly city by Portraitor/Pixabay.

In September 2019, AFR launched a project that supports the provision of formal and innovative financial services to refugees and host communities, this in partnership with financial actors: Umutanguha Finance Company (UFC), the Frankfurt School of Finance, and MTN Rwanda. The initiative led to the opening of the first bank office in Mahama refugee camp where about 61 000 people reside. UFC With the support of the Ministry of Emergency Management (MINEMA) made it possible for registered refugees to start bank accounts and access loans to start their businesses, regardless if they had identification or not.

AFR works by identifying the root causes of market constraints like refugees’ lack of access to loans and design appropriate interventions to facilitate markets to work for them. Supporting different actors like banks in markets to design policies, regulations and business models that benefit low income people with a clear focus on underserved groups like women, youth and refugees.

Gender mainstreaming leading the work

Around 80 percent of women in Rwanda belong to a savings group (a social group where each person contributes with a certain amount and collectively share) or use other informal mechanisms to manage their financial needs.

AFR uses a Gender and Inclusion Specialist that is hired to pay special attention to how systems can disadvantage women and advise how the organization can work to strategically counteract it during the design and implementation process in all their projects. They also train and coach their teams to be so-called “gender champions” in their work and the communities they live in. Implementing partners are supported to understand gender dynamics and how these would affect the outcomes and impact of AFR’s interventions.

We aim to deepen financial inclusion of women and other underserved segments, says Jean Bosco Iyacu.

Zamuka Mugore is a female centered financial product launched by Bank of Kigali in partnership with AFR, and is accessible in 20 of their branches nationwide, providing opening of bank accounts free of charge, these accounts can facilitate loans of 1 million to get them started. This product is a measure to create seamless credit access for female entrepreneurs and counteract a system that has been identified to disadvantage them.

AFR has facilitated two and a half million people access to financial services for the last five years, among them 1.1 million women. Sida, Sweden’s government agency for development cooperation, supports AFR in its work to increase access to financial services among poor households. Sidas’ contribution means that Swedish tax payers support AFR’s work in Rwanda and their goal towards equal economic growth.

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