SoFI2016: Rwanda was a worthy and deserving host

A few years ago, Rwanda set out to be a magnet for conferences as part of its grand plan to diversify the tourism away from the over reliance on the furry gentle giants that are Mountain Gorillas. 2016 has indeed been the year that this grand plan has blossomed into an amazing reality. The much anticipated Kigali Convention Centre came to life and literally lit up Kigali’s sky. Mega conferences like the World Economic Forum and the African Union summit came to town and travel book editors have had to update their books to include the new hotel brands that now have a Rwandan address.

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It came as no surprise therefore that The MasterCard Foundation chose Rwanda to host its fourth annual Symposium on Financial Inclusion at the exquisite Kigali Serena Hotel. However Rwanda was not chosen merely because it is now a major preferred destination for global, continental or regional conferences, the country brings on the table its own impressive credentials when it comes to Financial Inclusion in particular and development in general.

While countries like Kenya boast private sector led success stories on financial inclusion, in Rwanda the government is often the earlier riser and the pace setter. Therefore the second day of the Symposium on Financial Inclusion kicked off with a keynote address by Hon John Rwangombwa, Governor, National Bank of Rwanda sharing Rwanda’s financial inclusion story.

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John Rwangombwa, Governor, National Bank of Rwanda. /Photo The New Times

The event hosted by The MasterCard Foundation had brought together more than 300 experts on financial inclusion to share and learn from each other on how best to reach the remaining financially excluded people using a client centred approach. The gathering comprised of people from the academia, media, fintech, international development, government, banking and other related sectors.

The Governor started by reminding everyone that financial inclusion was prerequisite for inclusive growth. Indeed Rwanda had an impressive story to share starting with the commendable efforts that have seen 89 per cent of the population being able to access financial services either through formal or informal institutions. To achieve this impressive figure, Rwanda embarked on a number of strategies.

To start with, Savings and Credit Cooperatives (Saccos) were set up in each and every administrative sector of the country (Umurenge) and the government also established the Rwanda Cooperative Agency, a body charged with oversight of the activities of these Saccos. This move has proven vital in Rwanda’s target of increasing uptake and usage of financial services.

On the health side, Rwandans also benefit from a social health insurance scheme called Mutuelles de Sante with subscriptions at over 80 per cent while other have taken advantage of other health insurance schemes in the country. This not only improved financial inclusion efforts but has served as a source of envy to many African countries where access to medical care remains a challenge.

The Rwandan school curriculum also has an element on financial education to help Rwandans to understand, at an early age, the basics when it comes to personal finance and fundamental management practices on earning, spending, saving, borrowing as well investing. It was also pointed that leaders like mayors, all have key performance indicators on financial inclusion that they have to strive to achieve in line with their performance contracts each year.

There is also the amazing story of RSwitch, the first payment switch to attain interoperability in the region. It is a national E-payment switch with a domestic network brand that enables electronic payment settlements. Last year, RSwitch introduced an interoperable platform called Ihuriro to engender a seamless integration among all financial institutions. No wonder, Jean Claude Gaga the CEO at RSwitch reminded Patrick Buchan of AC Group that, “You are the feeder road to my highway.”

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Discussing the Rwandan Financial Inclusion story. /Photo Allan Brian Ssenyonga

Patrick Buchana, Founder and CEO, AC Group also had his moment to explain the challenges and opportunities faced by his startup company that provides ‘Tap and Go’ cards that are used by commuters within Kigali city. The card seeks to ease the life of both the passengers and transport business operators by simplifying the process of payment of transport fares.

Away from Rwanda, Dr Jennifer Riria, Group CEO of Kenyan Women Holding had the room infused with new energy thanks to her passionate presentation on the challenges and opportunities around women’s financial inclusion. Her most memorable line was “It’s not about financial inclusion but financial injustice.” According to her excluding women from financial services is nothing but an injustice and it should be addressed exhaustively.

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Dr Jennifer Riria of Kenya Women Holding. /Photo Allan Brian Ssenyonga

The main take-aways of the day were that leadership really makes a difference as shown by the assertiveness of the Rwandan leadership on matters concerning financial inclusion. It is also important to understand gender dynamics and ensure that women are not left behind on this journey if you are to achieve a holistic approach to economic development. At the end of it all, the contentment and optimism was quite palpable.

About The MasterCard Foundation

The MasterCard Foundation works with visionary organizations to provide greater access to education, skills training and financial services for people living in poverty, primarily in Africa. As one of the largest private foundations its work is guided by its mission to advance learning and promote financial inclusion to create an inclusive and equitable world. Based in Toronto, Canada, its independence was established by MasterCard when the Foundation was created in 2006.

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About Allan Ssenyonga

I am a Ugandan freelance writer/journalist based in Kigali, Rwanda. I have an insatiable desire for understanding and trying to explain media, political, cultural and social dynamics.
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