Meet Arifu, the social enterprise that uses technology to empower the BoP!

Ben & Alex
Jun 10, 2018 · 3 min read

Arifu aims to provide a platform which takes quality education to scale for the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) without internet nor smartphones.

The man behind the venture

To better understand Arifu’s vision, you must meet the man behind the venture, Craig Heintzman.

After studying Commerce and Philosophy at Queen’s University in Canada, Craig took a gap year during which he travelled from Cape Town to Nairobi and then across East Asia. On these two continents, he met two key people: Fred, a Zimbabwean pastor and Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web. Craig soon got an offer from Tim to join him at the MIT and then at the World Wide Web foundation. There he helped keep the Web open, allowing people to communicate, collaborate and innovate freely.

In 2011, hyperinflation had already hit Zimbabwe hard (in September 2008, the IMF estimated the annual inflation rate at 489 billion percent). Fred was struggling to make ends meet and feed his family. He had a business idea which he was pitching to most of his contacts. Craig, a dormant entrepreneur, quit his job and soon after, jumped on a flight to Zimbabwe.

There he spent six months helping Fred with his distribution venture. The adventure came to an end when the Zimbabwean government expropriated Fred’s assets and kicked Craig out of the country. While this experience stimulated Craig’s entrepreneurial spirit, the frugality of rural life taught him a great deal of humility. Two years later, he launched Arifu in Nairobi.

What is Arifu and how does it work?

Arifu is a Kenyan-based platform which hosts education content developed by various organisations with a focus, for now, on farming techniques and financial literacy.

On one hand, you have “Partners” working in various sectors (banking, agri-food industry, etc.) who want to spread skills training and product information. On the other, you have “Learners”: they are the underserved segment of the population, the BoP (Bottom of Pyramid).

The team behind Arifu developed a simple SMS chatbot accessible by any phone on the market. This simple solution overcomes the lack of Internet and smartphone penetration. You just text a number and a menu appears. If one wishes to learn about farming, they reply 1, for finances, they reply 2. After a few free texts, subsidized by the partner, you get short 160 character messages explaining the basics on your particular area of interest.

The business model

Partners such as Syngenta, an agri-food giant, or Equity Bank, one of the major Kenyan banks, both have an interest in educating the population on how to grow their business. This creates a feedback loop by generating a demand for Syngenta seeds, or Equity financing solutions. Through Arifu, they can reach a population for which they would have otherwise needed costly and scarce ground ambassadors. This is a win-win-win situation for the Partners, Arifu and the Learners.

Their value proposition relies on behavioral sciences. Studies have shown that poverty harms cognitive capacities. As a response to this, Arifu’s team of digital learning experts have introduced insights from behavioral economics to tailor the content of the platform delivered to the BoP. This significantly improves the way they retain information and process it.

Promising results

According to the Center for Financial Inclusion, «Arifu reports that an International Labour Organization study based on just two months of use showed a 5 percent increase in knowledge retention following daily reminders, as compared to a 7 percent decrease without».

On the farming side, their partnership with Syngenta resulted in encouraging results, with a 55% increase in agricultural yield and about $190 more earnings per acre.

On the financial literacy side, their joint project with Vodacom, CGAP, and TechnoServe in Tanzania has led to a 500% increase in savings, better repayment rates and reduced dormancy.

This enabled Arifu to reach more than 700,000 customers.

Find more about Arifu here: Https://

Ben & Alex

Written by

We are traveling from Nairobi to Cape Town to meet social and tech innovators on the ground. The goal is to picture the underlying drivers of development.

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