As we begin 2021, it is timely to reflect on the past year and make commitments for the new year. 2020 was a unique year with uncertainties caused by the pandemic that exacerbated the inequalities that exist in the socio-economic systems worldwide. According to UN Women and UNDP data released in September 2020, the pandemic will aggravate poverty on a global scale but women will be disproportionately affected. This is one of the many examples of how global and local efforts including financial inclusion interventions are being disrupted. However, together, we can make a change.

As in many other countries around the world, our government has put in place different measures to stem the effects of COVID-19 on the national economy and citizens’ livelihoods in general. Different measures to stop the spread of the virus including curfews and lockdowns have been introduced. Although the measures are effective in slowing down the spread of the virus, they have had a negative impact on the welfare and income streams of different categories of the Rwandan population including day labourers and entrepreneurs in the informal sector.

While the pandemic outbreak has been challenging on many fronts, we cannot deny the fact that measures such as social distancing, lockdowns, and cash-based payment drew the attention to Digital Financial Solutions (DFS) and has drastically influenced the whole ecosystem. The shift towards DFS is a positive aspect but there is a need to make it work for the low-income people and the poor.

New digital financial solutions have been introduced and existing ones were strengthened to ease the doing of business and remote working but the disparities in accessing digital connectivity and flexible employment are still self-evident.  The financially unserved and underserved communities remain behind in accessing and utilizing digital financial services in this period where movements and physical contact are restricted.

At AFR we are now leaning on new models of intervention that embrace Adaptation, Resilience and Recovery. Our COVID-19 response was founded on ad hoc research to understand the impact of the pandemic on different sectors of the economy, mobilise support to policymakers and implementing partners while designing a context-driven reprogramming of our interventions to include COVID-19 response and adaptation, digitalisation across most projects; and supporting Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) recovery.

In 2021, AFR renews its commitment as a market catalyst and convener for the financial sector in Rwanda by removing the systemic barriers that hinder access to financial services by putting the low-income people particularly the rural poor, women and youth at the centre of our interventions.

From all of us at AFR, we wish you a happy and healthy new year.

Taking the financial inclusion journey forward: AFR signed a grant agreement with SIDA to deepen financial inclusion and support economic transformation in Rwanda 

On December 3rd, 2020, AFR signed SEK 60 million (USD 6.7 million) grant from Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) to support the implementation of AFR’s Phase III Strategy from 2021 to 2025. The grant will help to deepen financial inclusion and support economic transformation in Rwanda.  For more information please read the event press release.
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THE SME Response Clinic: Collaboration is best path forward to deliver on financial inclusion objectives

In May 2020, Access to Finance Rwanda (AFR) partnered with ConsumerCentriX, and the Private Sector Federation (PSF) in Rwanda to launch the SME Response Clinic, a digital platform to avail SMEs in Rwanda with information to help them cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The site features information on access to finance and funding opportunities, capacity building programs, trends in Rwanda’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, and public policies concerning SMEs. 

Since its inception, the SME Response Clinic website has received 21,320 views by 15,137 visitors. Its reach on social media has been tremendous with over 6 million impressions across platforms reaching 1.5 million unique viewers. The SME Response Clinic has a social media following of 1,845 and currently has 232 email subscribers – a number that is growing with the implementation of a new pop-up on the platform to gather email addresses.

Supporting the automation of Non-Umurenge SACCOs

Since 2016, AFR has been championing joint efforts to support Non-Umurenge SACCOs, improve their efficiencies and competitiveness in the provision of financial services to low-income Rwandans through the automation of Non-Umurenge SACCOs. On October 7th 2020, AFR in partnership with the Association of Microfinance Institutions in Rwanda (AMIR), signed an MoU with 11 SACCOs from different districts across the country to deploy a core banking software that will automate the SACCOs’ business operations and integrate digital transaction channels. This is as a part of project implementation, which will see deployment of a core banking software, which will automate SACCOs’ business operations, and boost integration into digital payment channels and facilitate reporting to the National Bank of Rwanda as a regulator. Moreover, this will facilitate the delivery of digital financial services t smallholder farmers that are currently members of the SACCOs ad limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A look back at our 2020 impact stories and publications

2020 called for a change on different levels, we also launched a new website, which narrates our story from our first steps in 2010 when AFR opened its doors and set off on the long journey towards financial inclusion in Rwanda. Below are some of our publications in 2020 available on our new website.
Championing Refugees Financial Inclusion in Rwanda
Reinventing the Future with Women-Centred Financial Products
The Role of Inclusive Finance and Digital Finance Technologies in Pandemics
The Rwandan Small and Micro Enterprise and financial data during the Covid-19 Pandemic
Enabling Smallholder Farmers to Absorb Shocks of Crop Failure or Reduced Yields Through NAIS (YouTube)
FinScope 2020 Report

Since 2008, we have been publishing every four years the Finscope survey report in partnership with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. The FinScope survey is a nationally representative demand-side survey to address the need for credible financial sector information. It provides insights to guide policymakers and regulators in terms of how to address or respond to existing challenges, monitoring and reviewing the financial inclusion target. Read the Finscope 2020 report here

Other Studies
  • AFR partnered with Cenfri and Yego Moto to study the risks faced by taxicab/motorcycle drivers and facilitate the development of an insurance product that speaks to the driver’s needs and offers value. Find out more here.
  • AFR in partnership with the Association of Microfinance Institutions in Rwanda (ASSAR)conducted a survey in May to assess the Impact of COVID-19 on the Microfinance Sector in Rwanda. Learn more from the survey findings here.
  • We have also partnered with the Rwanda Bankers Association (RBA) and the Association of Microfinance Institutions in Rwanda (AMIR) to study the impact of the pandemic on the banking and microfinance sectors.
Like any other institution, the outbreak of COVID-19 in Rwanda catalysed change at AFR, a shift from physical to digital way of doing business and of today, we are still adapting to this new normal. Our staff meetings and departments meetings moved from face to face to screen-to-screen discussions whereas working remotely became a new norm. In 2020, AFR participated and hosted webinars that mainly discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the finance sector, risks mitigation, and adapting to the current and post-pandemic era. Here is a compilation of the events we held in 2020:
April 3rd: We gathered Savings Groups Practitioners Forum in Rwanda through a webinar hosted to discuss the effects the group members are facing during COVID-19. Learn more from the webinar’s key takeaways here
July 2020: AFR hosted a series of Facebook Live Webinars, as part of the SME Response Clinic initiative, to discuss existing government relief measures that can support women entrepreneurs, banks, and microfinance institutions during and post COVID-19.
August 2020: AFR’s Ag. Country Director was a panellist on a webinar organized by Cenfri to discuss context-relevant policy options for Africa to adapt and not just respond to a post-COVID19 world.
September 2020: AFR attended the Seamless East Africa conference on banking, payments, and fintech
September 2020: Our Ag. Country Director led a session on ‘Agriculture and Practicing Gender: Concrete Ideas for Building Gender into FSDs’ COVID-19 Responses’ organized by the FSD network.
October 2020:  AFR hosted a webinar to disseminate the findings of the study on the impact of COVID-19 on the Rwandan insurance sector.
October 6th:  In partnership with AYANI, an international development-consulting firm, to support the design of the Technical Assistance Facility for Youth (TAFY); we organised a consultative virtual workshop. The main objective was to gain insights from a range of stakeholders to ensure the development of a well-informed and inclusive facility that responds to the needs of beneficiaries and addresses identified market constraints.
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