GoodDollar In Rwanda: Who We Met With To Advance Our Pioneering UBI Pilot

Tal Oron Tal Oron
Rwanda: A UBI pilot candidate
UBI pilot candidate: Spark Microgrants was one of a number of organisations we met with

Executive Director Tal Oron Discusses Who He And General Counsel Ziv Keinan Met While In Rwanda – A Candidate For GoodDollar‘s Next UBI Pilot

For three days in December 2019, GoodDollar’s General Counsel Ziv Keinan and I explored the candidacy of Central African country Rwanda as the location of a universal basic income (ubi) pilot scheme for GoodDollar.

During our scoping trip (more of which can be read about here), we met with organisations — spanning banking, education, telecommunications, charity and commercial sectors with potential links to GoodDollar’s mission. Here follows what we learnt from our conferences.

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Discussing GoodDollar with Bank of Kigali’s CTO Regis Rugemanshuro

Our appointment with Bank of Kigali (BK), the largest commercial bank in Rwanda in terms of assets, proved enlightening. We met with CEO Dr Diane Karusisi and CTO Regis Rugemanshuro and discovered that there is a healthy struggle between the mobile payment industry and the banking industry in Rwanda. Innovation is critical to winning this struggle, and online payment mechanisms are widely available.

Innovation: The Mother Of Necessity

In the below video we can see a pitstop shop, a 90-minute drive from the capital Kigali, with a simple sign showing a phone number. You can pay for anything in the store using your phone bill account.

Looking to combat this, BK has created IKOFI, a keyring and mobile payment service that is similar in characteristics to MoMo (see MTN Group below) — cash deposits, cash withdrawal, P2P and zero-commission transactions.

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Some 70 per cent of Rwanda’s population is made up of farmers, and so, the bank is solving farmers needs as their first offering, providing a cheap alternative to payment using an NFC enabled keyring that is used for payments and would act just like a phone but for people with no phone.

Also of interest to GoodDollar, BK has created BKtechhouse, dedicated to the development of new payment technologies. Hopefully, now the communication channel has been opened, a future partnership between GoodDollar and BK is possible.

Willing And Able … But Lacking Tech Adoption?

We were invited to two impressive education institutions, the first of which was the Next Einstein Forum (NEF). Israel’s ambassador to Rwanda, Ron Adam, set up the meeting with Dr Youssef Travaly, NEF’s Vice President of Science, Innovation and Partnerships, suggesting it would be a good move to learn about their activity, establish a connection and examine possible ways of collaborating.

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Making contacts at NEF in Rwanda

NEF, launched in 2013, is an initiative of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), in partnership with Robert Bosch Stiftung. It is a platform that connects science, society and policy in Africa, and the rest of the world — with the goal to leverage science for human development across the globe.

NEF is seeking to establish a student-exchange programme, and Ziv is hopeful that he can assist by connecting them with some United Nations initiatives.

We also visited Carnegie Mellon University Africa (CMU-Africa), where we met with Professors Tim Brown and David Ross. The School of Computer Science (SCS) at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, United States, is a leading private school for computer science established in 1988. It has been consistently ranked among the top computer science programmes over the decades.

CMU-Africa was established in 2011 and is the only US research university offering its master’s degrees with a full-time faculty, staff and operations in Africa. CMU-Africa runs Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering (MSECE) and Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) degrees, and 240 students from across Africa are currently enrolled in the courses.

Born out of a partnership between CMU and the Government of Rwanda, CMU-Africa is addressing the critical shortage of high-quality engineering talent required to accelerate development in Africa — home to the fastest-growing workforce in the world.

Professor Tim Brown told us CMU-Africa’s mission is to produce creative and technically strong engineers, who have been trained in the African context, and are prepared to make a transformative impact in their communities and the world. Pleasingly, we discussed an option to build a few classes around GoodDollar, and a connection with IDC Herzliya — a private school in Israel.

However, as Ziv noted: “Much like most of our encounters, at CMU-Africa we heard about the challenge to train and grow startups. The opportunities and country growth are there, but it’s the human capital and end-consumer adoption of technology as a whole that is lacking.”

Enabling Rwandans

One organisation attempting to supercharge the tech scene, from a commerce perspective, in Rwanda is DMM.HeHe. Led by CEO Clarisse Iribagiza, it is a blockchain-savvy and successful startup, and we met the team at their headquarters in Kigali Heights, in Rwanda’s capital city.

DMM.HeHe is driven by digitising Africa’s trade ecosystem. The platform empowers local business leaders, who don’t have great knowledge of e-commerce, by generating the support and expertise they need to launch their goods on to an online marketplace and solve last-mile delivery issues.

GoodDollar making friends at successful startup DMM.HeHe

The organisation operates an innovation academy, and after meeting GoodDollar will exploring the possibility of supporting one of the programmes, which might be used to support research of universal basic income (UBI) in Africa.

Mobile Money Solutions: UBI Pilot

Another extremely useful meeting was with Mitwa kaemba Ng’ambi, CEO at MTN Rwanda — the local branch of South African multinational telecommunications giant MTN Group, which operates in a number of European, Asian and African nations, and is the largest mobile network operator in Africa.

Mitwa underlined that MTN has the largest market and value share in Rwanda’s increasingly competitive telecommunications industry; it has close to 5.2 million subscribers and network coverage of 99 per cent.

MTN’s mobile money solution, MoMo, allows every person — whether they own a bank account or not — to exchange their paper currency for mobile money. The mobile money can be transferred between individuals or used to pay service providers.

“The result is that many more people are joining the financial system, and this time a bank account is not required,” says Ziv. “It’s a true revolution in financial services.”

I would, though, question whether sending and receiving MoMo money is cost-effective. The current average charge per transaction is around 5 per cent, but can reach 12 per cent on small transactions — this hurts, yet again, lower-income people.

Brighter Tomorrow: UBI Pilot

Last, but by no means least, we connected with the inspirational Spark MicroGrants, which enables communities to design and launch their own social impact projects.

Spark works with local partners to catalyse sustainable collective action and improve livelihoods in communities through a community-activation process accompanied by a microgrant. This fosters cooperation, increases citizen participation and improves livelihoods in the process. Moreover, Spark boasts 98 per cent project sustainability, having “sparked” 264 communities to date.

Decades of prescriptive aid and government have sidelined the poor from the very programmes meant to uplift them, therefore entrenching the psychology of reliance against self-determination.

Villages are littered with empty school buildings and broken water taps because they were built without community buy-in. Additionally, governments and NGOs lack an easy way to garner valuable citizen input in programming. Spark enables civil society organisations to build the fundamentals of success for all other development efforts, at the grassroots level.

In summary, our packed, three-day exploration of Rwanda showed us the huge potential of the country. There has been so much progress made in the last decade, and it is clear to us that the next 10 years there will be an incredible amount of change, with tech advancements enabling all of the population, from rural farmers to tech entrepreneurs.

The willingness is there, and the infrastructure and investment are not far behind. The next five years will be pivotal, and with luck, GoodDollar can play a key role in elevating the lives of the poorest in Rwanda.

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