As part of the exploration of new opportunities to use Mifos in Africa, I’ve been looking into and thinking about new models for the delivery of services – financial and beyond – to the poor in Africa through the microfinance channel.

Consider a network – connected, social, and mobile – that delivers services to empower the poor in Africa. The services could range from traditional microfinance services (credit, savings, insurance) to health and ag information to pure P2P lending services built on a mobile payments platform.

poor centric app network.png

The underlying premises of such a network would be:

  • Find hard problems that the poor face every day and deliver access to apps that solve those problems
  • Make assumptions about a future state – $25 Android phones and ubiquitous data access, for example – but build in an inclusive way that leverages today’s prevalence of feature phones (using SMS/USSD)
  • Engage the broader community across Africa – app providers, MFIs, etc. – in the creation of a connected marketplace for the poor

In doing this, can we remove friction and costs from the flow of both information and capital to and from the poor?

I’ve talked to a couple of MFIs (and MFI-like) organizations here who are starting to go in this direction. Musoni (a Dutch-based MFI with operations in Kenya) is providing traditional microfinance services but are 100% built on the M-Pesa platform. By leveraging the mobile platform 100%, they have the opportunity to build additional value-added services to deliver to their clients over time. Nuru International, based in the US with operations in Kenya, is a development organization with multiple areas of focus ranging from economic development to agriculture to water & sanitation. They’re using Mifos today for their microfinance programs, but could really use a platform that enables them to see what’s happening across all of their programs and to push both information and capital (and proxies for capital, like seed and fertilizer) to their clients.

If so, what are the technology requirements to make something like this work? At it’s core, this is about creation of a platform that has these attributes:

  • Flexible and extensible: supports many models for the delivery of microfinance services, and includes the interface points to plug in new apps at a low time/energy/financial cost
  • Aggregates information across apps: see what’s happening in the ecosystem and provide information to both users and service providers
  • General purpose: can be leveraged for any kind of information or capital transaction

Rather than focusing future Mifos development on incremental features for traditional microfinance services, maybe the real play is to leapfrog to a network of apps – including those that support traditional microfinance – to empower MFIs to grow both in scale and breadth of services, leveraging the explosion of mobile access and mobile apps across Africa.

This is clearly a very high-level, abstract, and early-stage idea but I think that there’s a lot of potential in this and invite others to help refine and improve the idea.

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