Financial Inclusion

Connecting rural women to the tools that can improve their financial futures

A roving agent model that brings digital financial services to rural women in Northern Kenya by motorbike.

In sparsely-populated Northern Kenya, women travel long distances to access the financial services they need to make payments, deposit cash, and manage their family’s money. For those who have a family to care for, an informal business, or other household responsibilities, making regular trips in up to 40°C heat is both inconvenient and difficult.

As part of IDEO.org’s Women and Money program, we partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to bring digital financial services (DFS) to women in rural areas. After initial research to better understand the social, financial, and geographic barriers facing people in this region of Kenya, we began to see where we could help close access gaps. 

In addition to living far from the towns where banking agents are located, our findings showed that low levels of numeracy and literacy make women less confident using DFS. Not only is there a long journey to the banking agent in town, but there’s a difficult and discouraging experience using complicated financial tools at the end of it. To increase uptake of DFS in rural communities, we would need to improve access and ease of use while also boosting the confidence of users who had been previously discouraged.

The Boda Pesa solution connects a mobile money Agent to users through an intermediary called a Community Link. The Community Link travels between the villages that they serve by boda boda, the motorbikes common throughout the region, to meet with rural women and assist them with their financial needs. With the Community Link’s help, the woman can request to transact with a mobile money Agent based in town through the Boda Pesa app. The Community Link then coordinates a convenient time and location for both the Agent and the women in the community to connect. As a function of their role, these roving brokers become known to the women as a trusted and accessible liaison who spreads awareness about Boda Pesa, answers their questions, boosts their confidence in DFS, and builds credibility and trust in the Boda Pesa ecosystem in the village. 

The best part about this model, and the reason it works so well, is that it’s all about connection; Boda Pesa requires that women in the village connect directly, regularly, and comfortably with a trained intermediary who then connects directly with the Agent Network. These working relationships close access gaps created by distance, bringing individuals and families in hard-to-reach communities the tools they need to stay up-to-date on their finances. It also boosts the confidence of women in rural areas by giving them a friendly, familiar person who ensures they are informed and connected. Finally, the system is also profitable to agents, who are now able to connect more easily with rural customers.

We started small, focusing our initial efforts in Ngaremara in Isiolo County, Archers in Samburu County, and Sagante in Marsabit County. In our first six months, our ten Community Links reached over 1,000 users to complete more than KSh 3 million in transactions. We also prototyped Boda Pesa lite, a version of the service for users in less rural areas that is optimized for users who may be closer, more familiar with DFS, and therefore need less support to transact.

Going forward, we plan to scale Boda Pesa to other regions in Kenya and Uganda. This project continues to be an exciting opportunity to test bold and targeted solutions that address widespread systemic barriers, and we believe it will help more women have power over their financial futures regardless of region, occupation, age, or education level.

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