At the turn of the 20th century, Zimbabwe experienced one of the worst economic crises in recent memory. By 2009, with runaway hyperinflation and poverty rates nearing 80%, a third of families were unable to send their children to school because they just couldn’t pay. For a poor nation, a generation of children who go without formal education can be crippling, especially when, according to a recent study by Hamburg Institute for International Economics, a secondary school education in Zimbabwe translates to a 49x return financially.
Smallholder farmers make up an estimated two-thirds of the workforce, and they are often hit hardest when times get tough. Moreover, their irregular income patterns frequently pose an unsurmountable barrier to regular school fee payments. Mismatched income-payment cycles and a lack of financial services designed to meet their needs means educational opportunities are not reaching the smallholder farming communities that need them most.
Econet, a trusted telecommunications company in the region, partnered with IDEO.org, Mercy Corps, and Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) seeking to reach these communities and give them access to better financing tools that could ultimately help them build up their livelihoods and economic stability. But with the national economy in tatters, we knew that any first step toward a solution would mean gaining trust.
To establish this trust and to position Econet as an organization ready and willing to help smallholder farming households build a more stable financial future, IDEO.org designed a micro savings and credit solution to empower families to send their children to school, called Save4School.
This idea was born from the insight that education, though aspirational for some farming households, is still always the top priority. Even the poorest parents will skip a seed or fertilizer purchase to make room for school fee payments. The universality of the desire to send kids to school gave us the perfect opportunity for design.
In prototyping Save4School, the design team found that the key to success was smoothing the timeliness of payments through savings and small lines of credit. By helping match farmers’ payment schedules to those of the schools’ we were able to design a product that was uniquely suited to farmers’ needs. And it turns out that the Save4School concept is also enormously beneficial for schools themselves. School administrators reported that they typically receive payments on-time from fewer than 20% of families. By making a match between farmers’ income cycles and the due dates for school fees, everyone wins. Particularly the children of Zimbabwe.
With recent support from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Education, Save4School is set to launch a pilot in summer 2017.