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The Lesotho Hackathon is a competition aimed at promoting innovative solutions to address some of the identified challenges to financial inclusion in the country, focusing on the access to mobile financial services, especially among the poor and rural populations.
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Access to formal and semi-formal financial services is limited in Lesotho, especially for low-income and rural populations. The majority of Basotho are excluded from the formal credit system, while restricted accessibility and high pricing of banking products further limit uptake. The Government of Lesotho has recognized this issue as a major constraint to job creation and income generation, and has prioritized financial inclusion in both the National Strategic Development Plan and the Financial Sector Development Strategy. Mobile money offers an important avenue to deliver financial services in Lesotho, as the use of mobile phones is widespread (with an estimated accessibility rate of 70% of adults). Yet, a 2016 research by UNDP on Lesotho’s mobile-money sector identified some systemic problems within the enabling business environment and highlighted four key areas that prevent mobile-money products from reaching scale and providing valuable financial services to undeserved Basotho: awareness, acceptance, availability and affordability.
The Hackathon on Inclusive Financial Services is a competition that was organized as part of the Lesotho Scaling Inclusion through Mobile Money (SIMM) project, initiated in 2017 by the Ministry of Finance and UNDP Lesotho. The competition aimed at generating new ideas and facilitating mobile-money product diversification to unlock opportunities for improved access to financial services. Innovations in the mobile-money sector provide an opportunity for low-income and rural Basotho to gain access to credit, savings and insurance products. The objectives of the competition were:
– To design and develop next-generation applications to improve on existing digital financial systems and product offering;
– To create Lesotho-relevant technological solutions to solve local challenges;
– To facilitate the use of technology to bridge the financial-inclusion divide in Lesotho; and
– To leverage existing information, networks and human capacity to generate innovations.
Held in April 2018, the three-day Lesotho SIMM Hackathon provided a platform for young innovators to collaborate and explore their ideas, while interacting with private-sector and civil-society experts and practitioners in the fields of financial services and business development.
During the Hackathon, 62 participants in 17 teams developed prototype solutions that were presented to a panel of judges during a final pitching session. Assessed according to a range of fundamental criteria, the seven winning teams received a cash prize of US$5,000 each, as well as continued mentorship and technical support to enable the development of their solutions up to market introduction. In the evaluation of the initiative, the following key learning outcomes were highlighted:
– Linking innovation and financial inclusion;
– Skills development and mentorship; and
– Partnership, networking and collaboration opportunities.
The initiative eventually enabled the development of the following solutions:
– ITMAS (by TECHNIFY): e-ticket that enables minibus operators to bank their daily earnings instead of having to deal with cash, and offers commuters without mobile phones the possibility to pay electronically;
– SESIU (by TRIO): financial-management solution that offers members of savings groups the possibility to deposit subscriptions, monitor group performance or lend money over the system;
– Buddy Rescue (by NOVA): mobile application that assists old, visually impaired and semi-literate people to use mobile-money services;
– KYC (by Bundle-Up): mobile application that facilitates know-your-customer (KYC) processes by providing a depository for KYC documentation with verification using the National Identification database; and
– Cashflow (by Cashflow): solution that tackles liquidity and agency challenges to financial-service accessibility, by providing a searchable and verifiable platform to remit funds.
For the organization of the Hackathon, UNDP Lesotho partnered with the private sector, NGOs and fintech startups to provide technical support and facilitate market interfacing into the programme. South-South partnerships were established with FinMark Trust (an independent non-profit organization based in South Africa, focused on the promotion of financial inclusion) and MEST Africa (a fintech mentorship programme based in Ghana that supports young African software entrepreneurs, through training and incubation).
UNDP and FinMark Trust
Ministry of Finance of Lesotho and FinMark Trust