2019 marks ten editions of the European Microfinance Award, launched in 2005 by the Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, as a biennial Award – the first of which took place in 2006, and after considerable interest and exposure, became annual after 2014. The Award serves two parallel goals: rewarding excellence, and collecting and disseminating the most relevant practices for replication by others.
The Award’s influence and prestige has grown, and its €100,000 prize for the winner (and €10,000 for the runners-up), attracts applications from many organisations that are innovating in a particular area of financial inclusion. As well as the significant prize, an important additional benefit to winners is the exposure that they receive, and the opportunities for expansion and replication that the attention of the sector can provide.
To celebrate ten editions of the Award, e-MFP has decided to reach out to the previous winners, for a ‘where are they now?’ blog series, published in the order we receive them throughout 2019, to look at what they have been doing with their initiative since they won, and how the winning of the Award has helped, and what plans they have in store.
In 2018, the theme of the Award was Financial Inclusion through Technology. Advans Côte d’Ivoire, part of the Advans Group, is a non-bank financial institution in the Ivory Coast which won for its response to traceability and safety issues faced by cooperatives paying cocoa farmers, as well as low school enrolment due to lack of regular cashflow among farmers, by offering a digital savings and payment solution, with wallet-to-bank and bank-to-wallet transfer services that enable producers’ cooperatives to make digital payments to farmers for their crop revenue. The following is an edited interview with Advans CI.
e-MFP: How has your initiative evolved since you received the Award? What have been the biggest changes?
Advans CI: Firstly, since Advans CI won the 2018 Award, we have increased our outreach to farmers in Cote d’Ivoire significantly. We strengthened our capacity to reach new areas and better oriented key actions and objectives for our field teams. The number of farmers benefitting from our account and mobile banking service has reached 29,000, with 12,000 farmers opening accounts between January and August 2019 and 260,000 Euros in cumulated deposits after the first semester. Our third digital school loan campaign, which aims to ensure that children go to school even in the low season when cocoa farmers have insufficient funds for school fees, has also got off to a flying start, with 500 loans already disbursed via mobile after only three weeks (disbursements begin in August and run to end September each year).
e-MFP: What did winning the Award mean to your organisation? Did anything change as a result of winning, both within the specific initiative for which you won and in the organisation more broadly?
Advans CI: At Advans CI, winning the Award was a real motivating factor for our teams, who were very proud to have achieved this level of recognition from the industry. Field staff felt rewarded for all their hard work on the project and are now even more committed to help drive financial inclusion in rural areas.
In addition, the media coverage and the reputation of the Award meant that important stakeholders in the cocoa and other value chains heard about Advans and this has facilitated some new partnerships and promising contacts among agri-businesses for the future development of the project. Some potential future partners contacted us following the award: for instance, a chocolate maker heard a lot about our digital school loan and asked us for a presentation for a possible partnership, and other organisations like the Jakobs Foundation are now promoting our products more. Even our current partners were aware of the international recognition the award bestowed on the organisation and our initiative, and this has strengthened our partnerships, such as with our insurance provider with which we have created a special insurance product for farmers.
At the Advans Group level, we’ve been able to capitalise on the award to dig deeper into Advans Côte d’Ivoire’s experience using digital services for farmers, this has served as a leverage to fuel further discussions and research into digital financial inclusion for rural populations. This included a group workshop on digital transformation in July, which highlighted the important potential of digital services in rural areas and will continue with a seminar in November in Abidjan on Cote d’Ivoire’s experience. The future workshop will aim to inspire subsidiaries that will work together on an innovation ‘roadmap’ to increase financial inclusion in both urban and rural areas. Other Advans subsidiaries in Tunisia and Ghana have begun to perform studies on possible additional delivery channels for their farmer clients.
We’ve also been invited to several panels and events (including the joint e-MFP/Financial Inclusion Forum UK event in London in May) to speak about the project and it’s always a pleasure to share our experience.
e-MFP: Are you aware of any impact your initiative has had on other organisations?
Advans CI: As explained above, the attention created by the Award around the project has encouraged other affiliates in the Advans Group to explore new channels for outreach, showing them that it is possible to launch this kind of digital solution in rural areas (Advans operates in Cameroon, Ghana, DRC, Nigeria, Tunisia, Pakistan, Cambodia and Myanmar). Several media organisations also shared our story so we had quite a lot of contacts from other companies as potential partners following our win as mentioned above.
e-MFP: What do you see in the future for your initiative and for this area of practice more generally?
Advans CI: Going forward we’d particularly like to replicate our scheme in other agri value chains in Cote d’Ivoire; not just working with cocoa farmers but also for example with rice and cashew farmers. We also plan to adapt the scheme in other Advans subsidiaries that serve rural clients. In Cote d’Ivoire we are planning to expand our offer to include more financial services for our farmer clients, based on the needs identified in our research, including insurance, trainings and more personalised financial advice and support. This will include launching new delivery channels adapted to rural areas and full digitisation of payments to farmers. In addition we aim to provide a wider range of services to Village Savings and Loans Associations (rural groups of women in needs of savings accounts and group loans) in partnership with the international NGO Care and some new partners.
We believe that digital solutions like our mobile banking service are starting to play a key role in accelerating financial inclusion in rural areas, and digital technologies will be increasingly integrated into the customer experience in the years to come. At Advans we aim to take a high-tech and high-touch approach to ensure that our clients fully benefit from our financial services – as with our financial inclusion agents who support farmers in their first steps using the mobile banking solution. Our main concern remains understanding farmer’s needs in order to be able to design and offer services which are in line with their everyday reality (especially important for populations that are more vulnerable or less financially literate) to ensure uptake and regular use.
The European Microfinance Award is jointly organised by the Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, the European Microfinance Platform (e-MFP) and the Inclusive Finance Network Luxembourg (InFiNe.lu). For more information on the 2019 Award on "Strengthening resilience to climate change", visit the Award website.