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Jeanne

Youth-led financial solutions that work for Rwandans

Rwanda is continuing to go digital, and Jeanne Bovine Ishemaryayo plans to be there every step of the way. According to the government’s Vision 2020 plan, Rwanda will be a cashless economy by 2024. That is good news for social innovators and software engineers, and Jeanne happens to be both.

A 2017 graduate of the University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology, Jeanne’s social enterprise, Computer Geek Technology, develops software. But instead of focusing on the technology and data alone, Jeanne thinks first about the urgent needs of her fellow Rwandans and how she can build solutions that are locally relevant and solve everyday challenges.

eSavingRw is the latest platform Jeanne has developed through Computer Geek Technology. The platform makes it easier for a type of local savings group called Savings and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs) to manage the money being deposited and withdrawn by members.

“International organizations often establish these SACCOs to try to help local communities and entrepreneurs, but within a certain time they disappear because there is a misuse of money,” Jeanne explains. While SACCOs are a successful model for collaborative savings and community economic growth, the groups typically keep their members’ money in a locked box, and recordkeeping is often done on paper. Jeanne knew she could find a way to make SACCOs work better for Rwandans.

“The eSavingRw platform makes it easier for Rwandans to participate in savings cooperatives, and for SACCOs to keep their members’ money safe.” 

The eSavingRw platform makes it easier for Rwandans to participate in savings cooperatives, and for SACCOs to keep their members’ money safe.

Jeanne’s solution is helping to build trust in an effective grassroots financial solution, meaning greater numbers of women, marginalized people, and rural populations can access financial services.

eSavingRw works similarly to mobile money platforms like mPesa. Users type a code into their phones and can deposit or request to withdraw money from their cooperative via a designated youth agent in each village. Other SACCO members are notified of the request and can use their phone to approve or decline the requests of their members. Since the platform uses SMS-based text codes, users do not need a smartphone or data to access the service. “This is to make sure people in villages with limited access are able to use the platform,” Jeanne explains.

The savings platform has already gained 3,800 users since Jeanne started the project in March 2018. They have also partnered with six SACCO groups— savings cooperatives that were formerly using Excel spreadsheets or paper notebooks to track transactions. She persuaded the first cooperative managers to try the software by offering them a free six-month trial, and they have all now officially adopted the platform. Jeanne continues to work closely with them to develop additional features based on their needs.

The power of a pitch

As a social entrepreneur, Jeanne says she has always struggled to clearly pitch her business ideas. “This was why I entered the DOT Impactathon,” Jeanne explains. “I know that sharing is good, and it attracts people to know what you are doing so they can invest or partner.”

As a young woman in technology who has established one of Rwanda’s first truly localized digital banking solutions, Jeanne has a powerful story to tell. “I am organizing events that will bring together bank managers from across the country. I pitch to them how eSavingRw works, then it should be easy for me to get their recommendation, which I will incorporate into my pitch to the Ministry of Finance so I can meet my goal of rolling out eSavingRw throughout the country.”

Jeanne is also applying the pitching and branding skills she gained during DOT’s Impactathon to grow her impact among young women. She organizes a three-day training session for university students and recent graduates where they can build their ideas with technology and entrepreneurship skills.

Her next goal is to create a series of digital innovation clubs for secondary school students who want to pursue a career in technology. “The [clubs] will give more youth the chance to dive into technology and have an easier way to interact with each other,” Jeanne says.

This is especially true when it comes to getting women involved in the tech sector. “Most of the women thought technology was for men only, but I joined a digital club and earned  first prize for my skills. It inspired me to keep going. Now I can say that among the youth I have a leading tech company in Rwanda.”

For Jeanne, business has never been about personal success alone. With 14 full-time and part-time employees, a proposed 7,000 youth agents hired through eSavingRw, and thousands empowered through her software platforms, Jeanne is a living demonstration that social innovation success can also mean success and opportunity for those around you.

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