Zambia: 20.000 refugees to profit from DFS solutions
If I had to sum up my first visit to the Meheba Refugee Settlement in Zambia in November 2016 in one word, it would be “confrontation”. From the 45 minute, bumpy bus ride it took to get from the main entrance to the UNHCR offices, to the tour of the different blocks in the settlement, to the impromptu town hall meeting where over 50 residents of the settlement emphatically voiced their opinions about the proposed project. Everything I witnessed made me realize how urgently the refugees want access to financial services. That visit made me rethink everything I thought I knew about migration, freedom of mobility, human rights and access to services that I took for granted.
In the 9 months that have passed since our initial visit, UNCDF and UNHCR have laid the groundwork for a project to develop, and test market-led DFS solutions to transition the Cash-Based Interventions (CBI) within the Meheba refugee settlement to digital (electronic) payments. The objective is to create a thriving and sustainable DFS ecosystem where refugees can have safe and easy access to affordable financial services that could potentially transform their lives such as ability to send and receive money, pay bills such as school fees and access savings and credit facilities.
As we made our way back to Meheba for a second time on August 14th, 2017, it was with a sense of hope and determination. This time, we were coming with good news. Working with UNHCR, the Ministry of Community Development, and the Office of the Commissioner of Refugees in collaboration with DFS consulting firm MicroSave, for the next 8 months, we will spend time doing field research with the residents of Meheba to determine what the proposed DFS solution could look like. We will be talking to and training all the key personnel involved in the CBI program. We will identify and on board one or more DFS providers to implement and test the proposed solution. Hopefully, 8 months from now, we will be able to report back with great news-that the recipients of CBIs and indeed every one of the over 20,000 refugees in the settlement (including current and former refugees and low-income Zambians who have been resettled in the camp) now have access to financial services that previously did not exist.
However, the second journey did not come without surprises. As time has passed, some refugees have left the camp and new arrivals have been received, staff from UNHCR and Ministry of Community Development and Social Services have transitioned to new roles or moved on changing some of our key counterparts in the settlement. This means that we will need to rebuild the knowledge and trust, not just of us but also of DFS.
As we presented the objectives and scope of the project to the field team who are on the ground, day in and day out, working to ensure that the CBI program remains operational and effective, it was encouraging to see their level of excitement and engagement.
Stay tuned and follow us on this journey as we keep you updated on the progress of the project.
By Uloma Ogba, UNCDF MM4P Knowledge Management Consultant.