At the Joe Bar Market, market women like yellow
In the Joe Bar Market on the Old Road, the stalls follow one another neatly, displaying local delicacies like colorful embroidery on rotting-wood-plank canvas.
If you have been there this year and you had to think of a color associated to this place, your mind would probably respond yellow without hesitation. Yellow has become the dominant color in the market since market women started accepting mobile money.
This is the outcome the “MoMo Angel Campaign” pilot launched by Lonestar Cell MTN to recruit and train women as agents and merchants in the marketplace.
The campaign was inspired by the #DFS4Women event organized by The UN Capital Development Fund’ s programme MM4P last October 2016, which saw in the Lonestar Mobile Money Senior Manager Massa Dennis an active participant.
During the conference, concrete examples fueled the discussion around the barriers that prevent women from accessing mobile money at the same rates as men, and why women agents are crucial to reach women customers. The challenges that women agents face were also addressed, with testimony of how other countries were working to remove them. At the end of the event, participants were asked to come up with solutions themselves, through an ad hoc ideation session. That is when Massa Dennis started drafting her first ideas for a new agent strategy in Liberia.
In December 2016, she shared Lonestar’s intentions with the UNCDF MM4P local Digital Finance Expert Ali Akram: “UNCDF has provided tremendous support to the growth and expansion of mobile money in Liberia. Through the technical assistance of MM4P, we have been able to sign on some major bulk payments deals, most notably, the Civil servants payments with five key ministries set to kick off in Q1 2017. We will be launching the “MoMo Market Women” Initiative in January 2017 which was an outcome of the Digital Finance for Women Conference I attended in October organized by UNCDF”.
MoMo Angel is now reality and hit the news.
Heavily branded, the campaign is built around three value-proposition pillars:
- When a market woman performs a minimum of 20 transactions monthly valued LD$1,500 (US$16), she qualifies for an educational assistance of LD$2,000 (US$21) against the receipt of a previous educational payment for one of her dependents, preferably a girl;
- A market woman agent gets LD$ 470 (USD$5) for every other market woman she is able to recruit;
- A market woman aspiring to be an agent is asked for a minimum start-up capital of LD$5,000 (US$53) instead of the legally required LD$20,000 (US$ 213).
With this initiative, Lonestar is clearly setting a trend in the wider marketplace of financial service providers. “Our market women initiative is geared towards empowering, giving them the means to save their money conveniently to realize their daily income without difficulties. […] We registered them for mobile money, where they can easily pay for the market through the same mobile money, in order for them to know this, we provided one-month extensive training for these women to be able to use mobile money, and its benefits. […] We have 10 agents at this Old Road market where these women can have access to mobile money services, we have also set up a platform where an agent can bring her friend”, explained Massa Dennis to the media at the launch event.
This initiative comes in the back drop of a country that is just emerging from devastations of the Ebola virus disease that plunged Liberia into economic crisis, and subsequent contraction of the banking sector. Only an estimated 30 percent of the country’s adult population own a bank account with a formal financial institution and limited access to financial services constrains recovery of the economy.
Women play a critical role in the country’s economy, constituting 47 percent of Liberia’s labor force and undertaking key roles in the agricultural and informal sector, either as producers or running small-scale business. As digital financial services gain traction in Liberia, it can be a potent tool in expanding and enhancing women’s economic roles in the country’s fragile economy by providing them a means to access savings, loans and insurance products.
On International Women’s day, MM4P commits to continue supporting initiatives towards women economic empowerment and gender equality, not just in Liberia but across the nine countries the programme currently covers.