‘Financial Inclusion’ might be the most noble sector of financial technology, solving problems the traditional finance industry won’t — servicing underbanked demographics in areas with poor financial infrastructure.
Tackling these challenges, the EFSE Fund and the SANAD Fund for MSME, advised by Finance in Motion, have partnered with Village Capital and the LHoFT to develop the Fincluders Bootcamp 2017, unique investment readiness program designed for entrepreneurs offering inclusive financial products.
In the run up to the event, we caught up with the people behind the startups. This time, we spoke to Mary Joseph, Director of Partnerships and External Relations at FarmDrive:
“Private, public, and social sector actors must come together to uplift and partner with Fintech start-ups and scale-ups that are working towards the goal of financial inclusion.” — Mary Joseph
Could you introduce yourself, and tell us a bit about your background?
I am Mary Joseph, and I am the Director of Partnerships and External Relations at FarmDrive. At FarmDrive I develop our partnership strategy and manage the partnership ecosystem which is core to our operations and development.
Through roles in various sectors, industries, and countries, I have worked to improve operations and increase the profile of companies and organizations that drive social change. I also serve on the Young Professionals Advisory Board of the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction, an NGO that empowers communities around the world to escape poverty.
What does ’financial inclusion’ mean to you, as a personal mission?
Financial inclusion is a tool for reducing poverty, inequality, and oppression around the world. As a first generation Nigerian American, who grew up with privileges many Africans have not had access to, I have always felt it a personal mission to foster development on the continent. Professionally, I have been able to contribute to this mission through my work at a micro-lender in Ethiopia, an MFI in Kenya, and now, through alternative credit scoring at FarmDrive.
Could you describe the mission of FarmDrive, and the benefit from a customer perspective?
FarmDrive is an agricultural data analytics company driving financial services to unbanked and underserved smallholder farmers, while helping financial institutions cost effectively increase their agricultural loan portfolios. Using simple mobile phone technology, alternative credit scoring, and machine learning, FarmDrive closes the data gap that keeps smallholder farmers from the financial services that would allow them to grow their agri-businesses and increase their incomes.
What are the unique challenges and opportunities of your home market — geographically and culturally?
One of the greatest challenges we face working in rural areas of Africa is the lack of infrastructure and access to technology. We run our farmer-facing app on SMS in order to navigate the various challenges surrounding mobile phone usage in rural areas. While mobile phone penetration in Kenya is 90%, most of the phones in use are basic feature phones. The smart phones are typically older generation, with limited space, and present additional challenges around charging, data connectivity, an app usage. Thus, while it is sometimes more difficult to develop on SMS, it is more convenient for our farmer clients.
What is your relationship like with the regulator there? How supportive are they of innovation, and how has it shaped the fintech scene there?
The Kenyan regulatory environment for digital financial services is very enabling. This has influenced the growth of Fintech solutions, such as M-PESA, that increase financial inclusion.
Any final thoughts on Fintech of entrepreneurship you wish to share?
Fintech entrepreneurship will be one of the key factors in increasing financial inclusion around the world. Private, public, and social sector actors must come together to uplift and partner with Fintech start-ups and scale-ups that are working towards the goal of financial inclusion.
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Photos: © FarmDrive/Alice Lee Photography