Pilot Launch | Digital Microwork and Celo Payments for Kenyan Youth

We are excited to announce the launch of our first FinX pilot in Nairobi, Kenya in collaboration with cLabs, Kotani Pay, Appen, Mercy Corps Kenya, and NairoBits. FinX is out to test whether digital stablecoins and mobile wallets can ease frictions and reduce costs in cross-border payments for low-income youth. We believe new financial technologies have the potential to make financial access universal in the 21st century. That said, we know we don’t have enough evidence, particularly in the context of frontier markets and vulnerable populations. This pilot is the first of many that FinX is designing to help grow that evidence base, with rigorous impact measurement, a human-centered approach, and a commitment to transparency.

Status Quo

With this first pilot, FinX is addressing pain points in both cross-border payments and digital microwork. High transaction costs and delayed payments have been cited as significant barriers in the viability of microwork because traditional money transfer services are expensive and slow, especially for online workers who receive micropayments in very small tranches. This expense often requires microworkers to forfeit a significant portion of their earnings (up to nearly 30% of gross wages, in some cases), making microwork and similar opportunities uneconomical. The unbanked are even further disadvantaged as they lack basic access to an account to receive payments and cash-out their earnings from completed microwork.

Patricia Korir, Pilot Participant.

FinX Hypothesis

In this pilot, we hypothesize that if we can reduce the cost and frictions of receiving cross-border payments, we can increase the adoption of digital microwork at scale, and particularly for basic tasks which are more relevant for un/underemployed youth, especially in the context of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions.

Pilot Summary

Digital microwork is a new model of income generation that leverages the global supply of digital microwork with the ubiquity of mobile phones. Through this FinX pilot, we are training 200 un/underemployed Kenyan youth to access digital microwork from global platforms on their smartphones (using the Toca mobile app). Using this app and the integrated digital wallet (Valora), pilot participants can get paid instantaneously with fees at approximately $0.01 using Celo dollars (cUSD), a global stablecoin pegged to the USD, and can cash-out anytime to M-Pesa (via Kotani Pay).

Participants are provided with a stablecoin-based digital wallet through the Valora mobile app
As part of the onboarding process, participants are trained on how to cash-out their Celo dollar earnings from their Valora digital wallets to M-Pesa (via Kotani Pay)

After the initial onboarding and training, youth will independently conduct digital microwork on their personal smartphones, with virtual support and tech troubleshooting available through NairoBits, our local training partner. As part of the pilot design, we are testing out different training delivery methods (in-person vs. virtual) as well as varying the level of ongoing support available to youth during the work period.

Learning & Impact

Given the multifaceted scope of this FinX pilot, we have a series of ambitious impact and learning goals. Our key learning questions are:

  1. How can stablecoins reduce the costs and frictions of sending and receiving cross-border micropayments?
  2. How can stablecoin-based digital wallets unlock new digital employment and earning opportunities to vulnerable populations?
  3. How can stablecoin-based digital wallets incentivize savings behavior for previously unbanked populations?
Pilot Participant using Appen app.

To help us answer these questions, we are employing rigorous impact measurement techniques, including baseline and endline surveys to measure any changes in beliefs, behaviors, and skill level. We are particularly interested in learning how the training delivery method (in-person vs. virtual) affects microworker success and earning levels. In addition, we will collect data throughout the duration of the pilot to monitor key performance indicators, including the quantity and quality of microwork performed, the supply of jobs available, workers’ earnings and savings rates, transaction fees, and cash-out frequency. Together, these impact metrics will help to inform the right balance between tech and touch for future scale up of these stablecoin-based technologies.

Results

Launched in January 2021, this FinX pilot is currently ongoing. As of January 25, the first cohort of 50 youth has been trained. Cohort 1 is 55% female, 24 years of age on average, and 71% unemployed. Within the first week of microwork, cohort 1 earned an average of 22.55 cUSD on the Toca platform. Stay tuned for further results and learnings in Part 2 of this blog series!

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We invest in and fuel high-impact enterprises that increase the resilience of people and communities in frontier markets.

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