Accelerating Microfinance Impact with ICT
Whether the goal is to realize microfinance’s full potential or to avoid potential pitfalls, for most microfinance institutions (MFIs), improving the way they use information and communication technologies (ICTs) is crucial.
Today, even the best-managed MFIs working in environments with relatively good infrastructure often struggle to implement management information systems that are scalable and sustainable. The challenge is even greater in the resource-limited communities where many MFIs find their natural constituents. As Allen Hammond et al have noted in The Next 4 Billion:
“there is still a serious shortage of infrastructure on the ground to provide financial services to the [bottom of the pyramid].”
Fortunately, while building strong institutions can take decades, implementing sustainable ICTs doesn’t have to. Affordable and sustainable power, hardware, software and connectivity systems already exist, they are just not widely available, mostly due to lack of local knowledge and limited support capacity.
Enterprising Solutions Global Consulting recently asked Inveneo to help identify and solve the ICT challenges facing MFIs in two post-conflict countries – Sierra Leone and DR Congo – where they work to build the sector’s capacity. We began with assessments of the current use of ICTs among select client MFIs in each country.
Inveneo’s studies were followed by pilot projects designed to test whether more sustainable hardware, software, networking and power solutions can augment MFI performance and capacity. Our goals were to lower overall operating costs, improve and accelerate information flow and increase overall efficiency and growth.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Working with our ICIP partners in DRC (NEKOTEK) and Rwanda (Rock Global Consulting and Great Lakes Energy), Inveneo designed and deployed ICT and power solutions to 9 HQ and branch locations; 4 in Kinshasa (Bomoko) and 5 in Bukavu (Mecrebu).
We installed new, power-efficient desktops, a server, low power printer and CF lighting at each branch, powered by generator and grid-fed battery backup systems and power stabilization systems. In addition, we deployed a private, broadband wireless network in Bukavu to allow access to a central server running Loan Performer and inter-branch VoIP calling.
Whereas pilot MFIs in DRC were focused in urban settings, in Sierra Leone – HOPE and Association for Rural Development (ARD) – have HQ offices in the capital city, Freetown, and branch offices in Makeni, some 4 hours “up country.”
In Makeni, Inveneo installed low-power servers and workstations running Windows XP (protected with Deep Freeze) and Loan Performer. In addition, HOPE’s branch was entirely off-grid so Inveneo worked with Energy for Opportunity, our local power partner, to deploy a full solar array and power backup system.
To help create local capacity to support these pilot projects, Inveneo combined both classroom and hands-on training to coincide with pilot deployments. In total, we trained 10 new Certified ICT Partners to provide support as needed for future deployments, with Inveneo providing backstop technical support as needed.
In both countries, Inveneo also included IT administrators from the MFIs themselves in relevant parts of the training, thereby creating capable “Tier 1” support and establishing a strong link between system users and capable outside support for more challenging problems.
Initial indications are that reliable power, computing and connectivity systems can significantly benefit MFI performance. In DRC, for the first time, loan officers have reliable access to Loan Performer, their Windows-based accounts package system. We’ve also heard that Bomoko’s branch offices in Kinshasa can now access their Loan Performer system through power outages lasting as long as 2-3 days without having to try to start their aging generator.
For the full details, read our detailed project report:
Accelerating Microfinance Impact with ICT (PDF)
Working collaboratively with organizations like ESGC, Inveneo hopes to develop a better understanding of the real impact of specific ICT interventions for MFIs. We believe that combining efforts at institution/capacity building with appropriate and tested ICT solutions is the best way to achieve the promise – and avoid the peril – of the rapid expansion of microfinance services in the developing world.