In the Africa Chief Economist’s Office, we seek to generate knowledge on key development issues around the continent. We also host the Gender Innovation Lab, which – as the name suggests – specifically generates evidence on how to close the gender gap in Africa. Over the course of 2018, we’ve produced a range of products (regional reports and updates), but we also produce academic articles and book chapters seeking to answer key, specific development questions.
The mobile money market is booming in Somalia. Approximately 155 million transactions, worth $2.7 billion or 36% of gross domestic product (GDP), are recorded every month. Mobile money accounts for a high proportion of money supply in the domestic, dollarized economy and has superseded the use of cash; seven out of 10 of Somalis use mobile money services regularly.
The World Bank Group (WBG), with private and public sector partners, set an ambitious target to achieve Universal Financial Access (UFA) by 2020. The UFA goal envisions that, by 2020, adults globally will be able to have access to a transaction account or electronic instrument to store money, send and receive payments. The WBG has committed to enabling one billion people to gain access to a transaction account through targeted interventions. Ethiopia is one of the 25 priority countries for UFA initiative.
The wealthy can borrow money to finance their investment needs because bankers trust them. Those who are less well off, and who need loans the most, do not have this access and must call upon the solidarity of their family and community to finance their investments. The same logic can be used at the country level. High income countries borrow, while many poor African countries have a limited access to international capital markets. In recent years, only one fourth of sub-Saharan African countries were able to issue international bonds—and do not have any other alternative but to solicit international aid.
The World Bank (WB) has set an ambitious goal of securing universal access to formal financial services by 2020. Although 700 million people have signed up for a bank account since 2011, about two billion worldwide remain unbanked. As the WB seeks to expand worldwide financial inclusion, it should look to Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) for inspiration.
Africa stands at a crossroads. Economic growth has taken root across much of the region. In many countries, exports are booming, foreign investment is on the rise and dependence on aid is declining. Governance reforms are transforming the political landscape. Democracy, transparency and accountability have improved, giving Africa’s citizens a greater voice in decisions that affect their lives.
The 2009 financial crisis demonstrated how closely local government finances and housing policies are intertwined with the financial systems and the economy as a whole. The ramping up of efforts to combat global warming and the prospects created by the COP 21 preliminary discussions have once again thrust local governments into the spotlight, with their growing responsibilities in the areas of adaptation and mitigation.
Sub-Saharan Africa is making significant economic and development strides. Yet, natural disasters, combined with the effects of climate change, rapid urbanization, and conflict situations are threatening these gains, keeping vulnerable and poor communities in a chronic cycle of poverty:
- 425 million people who live in Africa’s drylands are highly exposed to climate shocks, and this number is set to grow by at least 50% by 2030. We cannot fully quantify the human cost, but Kenya alone suffered losses of $12 billion in the 2008 to 2011 drought. Official development assistance (ODA) in humanitarian aid to the Horn of Africa after the 2011 drought was $4 billion, 10% of all aid to Africa.
- Africa’s coastal cities are engines of growth, but are highly vulnerable to flooding and sea-level rise. In the last three years, major floods have hit cities such as Maputo, Dakar, Lagos and Douala. Like droughts, floods won’t go away. Along with periods of extreme heat, strong winds and coastal storms, they are likely to become more frequent.
- Ebola Virus Disease outbreak, from March 2014, was the most widespread, and reached epidemic proportions. The poor bore the brunt, lost their jobs and incomes, had difficulty accessing medical services and suffered psycho-social trauma. On a macro-level, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are estimated to lose over $1.6 billion in forgone economic growth in 2015.
- Conflicts and disasters often reinforce each other to worsen negative development impacts and increase human suffering. From 2005 to2009, more than 50% of people affected by disasters lived in fragile and conflict-affected states (globally). Fourteen out of the 20 most conflict-affected states are in Africa.
Rwanda’s level of financial inclusion is fast increasing, propelled forward by ambitious targets and innovative policy and regulatory approaches. The 2008 and 2012 FinScope surveys showed that financial inclusion had doubled from 21 to 42 percent and the 2015 iteration is expected to show continued progress. But with such a large and rapid movement of adults into the formal financial sector, ensuring that the ‘newly banked’ are able to effectively and responsibly select and use financial products is critical.
Since the beginning of time, women have been at a disadvantage when looking for financial loans. One reason is that women have less control over land and assets that can be used as traditional collateral. This puts a real damper on her ability to launch an enterprise or, even when she manages to launch one successfully, to take it to the next level.
In Africa, women’s entrepreneurial knack is self-evident to anyone who sets foot on the continent—just look at any roadside! So, this problem is likely quite costly and holding back development. Can we solve it somehow?
As it happens, the Entrepreneurial Finance Lab, an entity that spun off from Harvard’s Center for International Development in 2010, has developed a tool using something called “psychometric testing”, which measures personal characteristics such as knowledge, skills, education, abilities, attitudes and personality traits as a means to predict how likely it is a person will pay back a loan. And it is proving quite effective. Could this be a way to finally help find a solution for women who don’t have any credit history or hold formal title to assets that are traditionally accepted as collateral?
The World Bank Group’s Global Practice for Finance and Markets (GFMDR) started thinking seriously about this, and worked to see it if it could be integrated in a Bank-funded project in Ethiopia (the Women Entrepreneurship Development Project, US$50m). Francesco Strobbe leads the project team, and started to discuss the issue with us in the World Bank’s Africa Region Gender Innovation Lab (GIL). “I thought this was a great opportunity to test some innovative measures to see if we could reach a real breakthrough with much potential for women entrepreneurs—in Ethiopia and elsewhere.”