Exciting Technology Helping Borrowers, Changing East Africa
Jenny Jin, KF11- Kenya
It’s an exciting time to be in Nairobi, Kenya right now – especially for anyone who’s interested in development. This city is filled with passionate locals and expats who are working on social enterprises, green companies, and tech startups of all different perspectives and approaches to tackle big challenges. I arrived in Nairobi six weeks ago after living in Silicon Valley for the past three years, and I found a city even more energetic about innovation than where I had come from.
What’s great is that much of the work to address the most relevant issues in Kenya positively affects the microfinance sector. Below is a small sampling of the organizations that I want to share which are partnering with microfinance institutions or are developing products with the typical borrower in mind:
Many solar-focused companies – ToughStuff, My Sunshine Box, to name a few – partner with MFI’s to distribute their products as asset loans where clients can get the product and pay it off over a loan period. It’s great for borrowers who live in parts of Kenya that don’t have power and have to rely on dangerous kerosene. They can use these solar products to keep their shops running at night to earn more revenue, or center a business around recharging their community’s cell phones. Expect to see more of these loans on Kiva soon!
Mobile Information Technology: Google SMS Tips, FrontlineSMS:Credit
In rural East Africa, most people don’t have access to the Internet, but most do have access to a mobile phone. Google launched Google SMS Tips in Uganda where people can send a SMS message to Google to receive agricultural and health info to help their businesses.
Frontline SMS helps non-profits create a SMS communication system to collect information from the people they’re reaching. You can imagine that this could potentially be applied to microfinance institutions in ways like repayment reminders or even collect repayments – which FrontlineSMS:Credit is working on.
Agricultural products, such as the deep irrigation pump at Kickstart, are also looking to partner with microfinance organizations in the same way to distribute their pumps to rural farmers as asset loans.
Developing Grassroots Products: Fab Lab
Fab Lab is University of Nairobi’s Fabrications Lab, providing affordable 2-week mechanical engineering classes to locals. Fab Lab’s philosophy is that Kenyans shouldn’t be daunted by the barrier of a 4 year ME degree to create useful products if they have great ideas. Fab Lab also teaches people how to create a business plan, the basics of operating a business, and connect them with volunteer lawyers and VC contacts to get their business underway.
Jenny is a K11 Fellow with KADET (Kenyan Agency for the Development of Enterprise and Technology).