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IT and Micro Financing – An Opportunity for the Community

 

A while ago I posted a blog on ‘How IT can Impact Sustainable Development in Africa‘. That blog featured many examples where IT has been used to directly support business processes at the base of the pyramid. I have also briefly mentioned the positive impact that IT can have as an emerging industry with the opportunity for employment and career development. But there is also a third way how IT can have an impact. Think about all the businesses and organizations that are driving work for sustainable development in Africa. If IT can be used to increase the operational efficiency of these organizations then this has big indirect impact at the base of the pyramid as well – a huge lever.

With the announcement of the partnership with PlaNet Finance and the commitment to micro financing, SAP is focusing on the first and the third just mentioned opportunities for IT to have impact.

 

Three Major Programs to Engage On

Chip Rodgers introduces the three major program areas that SAP will be working together with PlaNet Finance in his blog. Let me recap and build on that. The programs are:

  • Implementing SAP software solutions to optimize PlaNet Finance’s operations and processes. This is the core of SAP’s business. If the operational efficiency of PlaNet Finance can be increased further, then there is simply more resources for PlaNet Finance to focus on their core business.
  • Help to redesign and redevelop the current MicroFit Solution as an on-demand version. This is a software package that is used on the micro financing institute (MFI) level to manage a wide range of the typical MFI business processes including client, product and loan management but also accounting, human resources and other back- and front office functionality.
  • Implement a project in Ghana which leverages micro financing, education and technology to support value chain extensions. This is very much in the spirit of my first blog.

All of these activities are very different, pose specific business process challenges and require different skill sets to solve them. Much of that is also work in progress or has even just started with the announcement. But community members will be able and encouraged to participate in any of the three programs where we need specific expertise.  Here’s where we are as of today and where we see upcoming opportunities for the community to engage:

 

PlaNet Finance Operations and Processes

The challenge on a high level:

  • The high level scope of required functionality is managing HR, accounting, project management & knowledge management.

Current activities:

  • Doing a detailed process mapping and definition of requirements. A medium sized non-governmental-organization has very specific requirements with regards to accounting, human resource management and reporting.
  • Once this is clear, we need to find the right product from SAP’s SME solution portfolio. Several options are currently explored.
  • And certainly, once the scope is defined and a solution is found, we need to get the thing up and running so that it meets the needs of PlaNet Finance.

Opportunity for the community:

  • This will be a classical SAP implementation so we will require expertise accordingly. It is not planned that the whole implementation will be community driven, but I am sure there will be many opportunities for the community to give advice or even getting some implementation support on specific topics.

 

MicroFit Program

The challenge on a high level:

  • This is a big software engineering project. Not only that a new package will be developed based on a new architecture, the current Client/Server version of the package still has to run for a while and then a smooth migration needs to be ensured.

Current activities:

  • Evaluating the needs of support for the ongoing rollout of the current version.
  • Understanding the current and planned future software architecture.
  • Developing the engagement model for SAP and the community with regards to the redesign and redevelopment of the new release.

Opportunity for the community:

  • I am asking you for a little patience one this one. We are still very much at the beginning of the assessment but the whole project will require even more man power than the previous one.
  • If you have experience in web-enabled applications (not necessarily on the SAP technology stack) and are interested in software redesign in your spare time, then please let me know.

 

Shea project in Ghana

The challenge on a high level:

  • Chip’s blog has a nice description of the shea value chain. In the first phase there will be two major challenges for IT to create impact. The rural women, who will be organized into groups and who will have a cell phone, need to be able to use the technology and the provided information effectively. Second, the local MFI will serve as a kind of information broker between the rural women and the large international buyers at the upper end of the value chain. The interface to this information will be a web page.

Current activities:

  • The shea nut value chain in Northern Ghana was carefully studied. Details of the study still need to be completed so that a project and investment plan can be built.
  • A project like this will require different stakeholder, many of them who also work locally on the ground. Together with PlaNet Finance we will have to setup a large virtual team who is taking care of the execution.

Opportunity for the community:

  • Developing mobile applications is one thing. Developing mobile applications for users with a high illiteracy rate and who very often only speak a local dialect is another thing. This will pose significant challenges in user interface design.
  • The web platform on the MFI level needs to be built and local people need to be trained to update the information. We are also evaluating the possibility of creating direct linkages to local online marketplaces or systems of larger shea buyers as appropriate. Anyone who is interested to volunteer in Northern Ghana for that job?

 

What’s next?

As I said earlier: For many of these things we are still in the definition phase and a lot of open questions need to be answered. However, this introduction should give you an idea where the different projects are going. All of the projects have to do with IT and microfinancing and all of them will bring up opportunities for very different challenges. So stay tuned for further updates but if there is something that you feel you need to be engaged in the sooner the better, then please let us know.

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