Mali is Poised to be a Leader for DFS in West Africa
“Financial inclusion means economic empowerment, particularly for women, rural communities, and the poor. Financial services offered through electronic means, like mobile phones, are key contributors to that vision.” Paul Folmsbee, U.S. Ambassador to Mali, shared this in Bamako this past October. He was speaking before a workshop of 144 people on digital financial services (DFS) organized by USAID. Throughout the two-day workshop, it was evident that the Government of Mali (GoM), the private sector, donors, and USAID/Mali implementing partners share a commitment to harnessing digital technologies in new and meaningful ways—particularly in unstable and hard-to-access environments.
DFS appears to be on the cusp of significant growth in Mali, driven by the demand for new ways to transfer funds, pay bills, and disburse salaries. While Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal are regional leaders in DFS and both countries host innovative companies launching useful services through digital channels, Mali is not far behind.
Government of Mali Leading the Way
Setting the stage for discussion, Mamadou Igor Diarra, Minister of Economy and Finance, noted that an inclusive environment for digital payments will permit reductions in costs and risks, reinforce transparency, and promote financial inclusion, particularly among women. Gains like these are currently being pursued by the Office du Niger, a parastatal organization that administers a massive irrigation system in the region of Segou. In 2015, it introduced a mobile payments option for farmers to pay semi-annual bills for water and land usage. This is expected to ease the burden of handling bills and receipts and help save money and time among farmers.
At the workshop, a representative from the Better Than Cash Alliance also spoke about how such initiatives, encouraged by the leadership of the Ministry of Finance and Economy, can realize gains in transparency and efficiency. Gary Juste, USAID/Mali Mission Director, echoed this saying, “It is clear that digital finance will be an essential tool in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals objectives in the fight against extreme poverty, reducing inequality and promoting economic growth.” To this end, both Ambassador Folmsbee and Mr. Juste urged the Government of Mali to join the Better Than Cash Alliance, which admits government members and provides relevant technical assistance through its secretariat at the United Nations Capital Development Fund.
NGOs and Private Organizations and DFS
USAID partners took advantage of the forum to demonstrate what can already be done with digital technologies in Mali. Population Services International shared how they use DFS to disburse salaries to community health workers, payments that will eventually be made by the Government of Mali. AECOM described how the Mali Transitions Initiative (MTI) employed DFS for a variety of activities related to economic revival—including cash-for-work programs in remote areas where payment delivery is costly and dangerous—achieving a 99 percent rate of satisfaction among beneficiaries. Beyond digital payments, Mercy Corps shared how their resilience project works with partners to offer digital products including credit, savings, financial literacy, SMS features, and market information.
Finally, key players offering DFS in Mali had an opportunity to share what can be accomplished with digital. In addition to mobile network operators Orange and Malitel, Red Rose presented their Kit for Autonomous Transfer in Humanitarian Emergency (KACHE), a suite of products soon to be rolled out in remote areas. myAgro demonstrated how their innovative layaway model is helping farmers manage cash flows better and access better inputs.
Workshop participants were overwhelmingly in favor of staying engaged to help make digital tools more useful. As digital financial services proliferate across West Africa, the workshop made it abundantly clear that Mali can help lead the way. USAID/Mali is supporting the expansion and uptake of DFS through encouraging its partners to use DFS when possible, sharing user guides and facilitating knowledge sharing among DFS users in Mali. With this solid foundation, and through continued dialogue among stakeholders, these services can grow in ways that improve life for all Malians.