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Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic is a critical moment for SMEs, the financial sector, and the entire economy. Most SMEs, depending on their means and skills to cope with COVID-19, are struggling and they need to be supported both by the public and private sector stakeholders. This would entail that they get the right credit or facilitation from financial services providers but also facilitation from the government to see how they can survive this critical period.
 

In a bid to curb the negative effect of COVID-19, a lot of information is being produced by different institutions. However, you find that SMEs do not really have full access to that information.

At AFR, we asked ourselves what we can do to support SMEs and agreed to convene different stakeholders so that SMEs can benefit from proper advocacy, policy-making and support that addresses their real needs during and post the pandemic.

As a result of this reflection, AFR, the Private Sector Federation (PSF) and ConsumerCentrix launched the SME Response Clinic Website as a platform that shares information with SMEs in a simple language and collects information from them to guide stakeholders in policy making and support. To make this platform’s advisory, training and information resources accessible to all SMEs, articles are made available in both English and Kinyarwanda.

As evidenced by different interactions on this platform, the public and private sectors remain committed to supporting SMEs that are most likely to be affected by these unprecedented times. For instance, to mitigate severe financial damage to Rwanda’s economy, the Government of Rwanda through the National Bank of Rwanda (BNR) has announced a series of measures including setting up a recovery fund to help the national economy remain on its feet during and post the pandemic.

As a market catalyst and convener for the financial sector, AFR continues to collaborate with other key stakeholders to come up with response strategies that can address the financial sector impairments caused by COVID-19 pandemic and promote an inclusive financial sector in the process. Among them, we are creating information channels and feedback mechanisms to maintain close collaborations with our partners and beneficiaries, promoting the continued use of digital financial services, strengthening research and analytics, as well as providing support to the insurance sector’s resilience.

The effects of Covid-19 on group-based financial services in Rwanda

On April 3rd,  the Savings Groups Practitioners Forum in Rwanda met through a webinar hosted by AFR to discuss some of the effects they and their members or clients were facing as a result of the spread of Covid-19.

You can read the webinar’s key takeaways here
AFR, the Private Sector Federation, and ConsumerCentriX in a joint Covid-19 response partnership for support to Rwanda’s micro, small and medium enterprises.

On May 5th, AFR signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Private Sector Federation in a new initiative aimed at supporting entrepreneurs in Rwanda to adjust to the economic realities of Covid-19. The SMEs Response Clinic, as the initiative is termed, is a digital platform that will translate new policies and financial advisory services and access to finance-related information in a clear and straightforward language both in English and Kinyarwanda with ConsumerCentriX being a leading implementing agency.
 
Find out more about the SME Response Clinic here
The Role of Inclusive Finance and Digital Finance Technologies in Pandemics

For the past few years use of digital applications has been at the top of the list of technologies being adopted by individuals and organisations however the coronavirus pandemic is pushing digital transformation to the front of the line. The value of digital channels, products and operations is immediately obvious to companies everywhere right now as it may force firms to embrace new technologies in order to operate while warehouses and offices are empty, with lasting effects on growth and productivity.
 
Read the full blog here
The Rwandan Small and Micro Enterprise – Reflections on financial data during the Covid-19 Pandemic

The informal institutions, largely the savings groups remain a key source of access to finance for Rwandans. Of the adults surveyed in 2016, 72% used informal mechanisms (whether they also used formal channels). They are largely rural, cash-based, operate as groups who meet physically.
 
Read the full blog by our Country Director here
Championing refugees financial inclusion in Rwanda - Refugees’ finance in the Covid-19 pandemic period and beyond

Although, it has been a long journey to introduce financial inclusion for the refugees’ population due to regulatory policies, risk management, identification, and compliance constraints in the banking sector, refugees in Rwanda are improving their lives financially and contributing to the overall development of the country.

Read more about refugees financial inclusion here
AFR – Reinventing the future with women-centred financial products

Since its inception in 2010, AFR prides itself on successful runs in removing the systemic barriers that hinder access to financial services by putting the low-income people particularly the rural poor and women at the centre of its interventions. Through partnerships with financial institutions and other stakeholders, various financial products have been successfully developed, tested, and launched for use. They are now being utilized by a growing number of beneficiary communities that include saving groups, cooperatives, and individual entrepreneurs.

Read more about our work on women's financial inclusion here
Finscope 2020 Survey Report

On May 29th, The Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning in partnership with AFR launched the 2020 Finscope Survey Report, a yardstick that measures how Rwandans are financially included and progress made towards narrowing gaps.
 
Read more about the Finscope 2020 Survey Report here
The potential of digital platforms as distributors of financial services in Rwanda

AFR partnered with Cenfri and Yego Innovision Ltd to conduct research with the taxicab/motorcycle drivers to better understand the risks they face and facilitate the development of an insurance product that speaks to the driver’s needs and offers value.

Read more about the research findings here
The impact of Covid-19 on the microfinance sector in Rwanda

AFR in partnership with the Association of Microfinance Institutions in Rwanda conducted a survey in May to assess the Impact of COVID-19 on the microfinance sector in Rwanda. The study is expected to inform various stakeholders and policymakers on ways to provide support to the microfinance sector and for peer learning, so that they can continue their work, sustain their own business and extend financing to low-income households and microbusinesses.
 
Read more about the survey findings here
AFR 2019 Annual Report Summary

In the last quarter, we have released our 2019 Annual Report. Our research has found many ways in which a variety of financial services have a positive and empowering impact on people’s lives. But overall, there is a lot that could be done including making digital financial services interoperable and less costly to the masses. Additionally, financing for inclusive human development remains a challenge in Rwanda. The 2019 report shares some of the stories of our work with partners aimed at exploring the frontiers of how we can enhance financing as part of a braver movement to realise a big vision for the financial system as an enabler of sustainable economic development.
 
Read the report summary here
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