The very beginnings

Since early 2000, access to financial services has received growing attention from policymakers around the world. The realization of achieving financial inclusion is hinged upon widening access and use of affordable financial services and products by a majority of the population. The East African region has not been excluded in its efforts to embrace inclusive finance strategies in an attempt to improve the livelihoods of the underserved populations, as well as expand their overall economic and social dimensions.

Swisscontact established that access to finance remained a prerequisite for a successful and sustainable economy. Through its Inclusive Finance Programme (IFP), Swisscontact concluded that emphasis should not only be pegged on inclusive products and services that were accessible and affordable.  Focus should also be placed on both the financial literacy of the population and on the competencies of the workforce who design and deliver these products to the population.

In 2005, Swisscontact undertook a diagnostic survey of the financial sector in East Africa. Based on the lessons learnt and specifically the fact that various types of products and services were offered by different financial institutions, the team put together a strategic plan aimed at guiding the project interventions over the next years. Partnerships were envisioned as the key to future project interventions. Understanding potential partners and their specific operational contexts remained crucial to the success of Swisscontact’s work. This programme implementation strategy was applied across Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.

IFP integrated various interventions in its implementation to improve the financial inclusion of smallholders, youth and MSMEs. The multi-faceted approach incorporated large sections of the underserved population helping them improve their livelihoods. The pool of resources attached to the programme was qualified, passionate and committed to improving financial access for those at the bottom of the income pyramid. The team worked tirelessly together with the beneficiaries amid numerous challenges to ensure the success of the programme implementation and overall positive impact. Although a rare feature in today’s development world, the continuous donor commitment combined experimentation and high levels of flexibility for new ideas.

In the past 14 years, IFP experienced a global shift from microfinance to financial inclusion which was categorized by:

  • Diversification of financial services from credit to promoting savings, payment methods, new forms of credit such as leasing, hire purchase and insurance.
  • A wide range of formal institutions offering diverse products and services.
  • Financial inclusion as part of the global development and Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Technological innovation in the delivery of financial services (agency banking, mobile banking, internet banking and automation).
  • Capacity development of microfinance professionals lacking market-oriented skills.

Between 2017 and 2020, the programme embraced a new strategic direction focusing on expansion and increasing access to financial services for smallholder farmers, excluded households, microfinance graduates, MSMEs and youth in TVET. In the case of the Community Savings and Lending Groups intervention, focus was placed on the automation of business and farmer groups in Kenya as well as linkages to formal financial institutions to improve their access to financial products and services. The key strategic thrusts for this programme recognized East Africa as a competence centre for financial services with the ability to:

  • Integrate financial services into other Swisscontact projects within the region and far beyond.
  • Develop a demand-driven curriculum for the financial industry; and
  • Innovate and test new products (Innovation Lab).