AFRACA is a pan-African network promoting rural and agricultural finance through advocacy and policy change. Its members include 19 central banks, 17 agricultural and development banks, 20 commercial banks, 8 microfinance networks and 55 micro-finance institutions. The AFRACA Secretariat, working from the Kenya School for Monetary Studies in Nairobi, facilitates the network under the supervision of the AFRACA Board.
The challenges that members face in improving the rural finance environment to provide sustainable, high quality financial services to the bottom of the pyramid communities across different countries and cultures are complex. The Secretary General and his team are committed to deepening the unique contribution that AFRACA, as a convener of financial institutions across Africa, makes to providing access to finance in rural and agricultural communities. As a locally led network, with such a broad membership, AFRACA is strongly positioned to address the issues which need to be resolved if their mission is to be achieved.
In 2019-20, Creative Metier worked with six membership networks to explore their potential and to test the Converge network approach, adapting it to the local context in Kenya and Uganda. This case study documents the journey of AFRACA through the initial research phase and subsequent our work together.
The AFRACA Journey
When we first met AFRACA in January 2020 they were a pivotal point. Their knowledge and passion for change in the sector was immediately apparent but they were also facing challenges. The value proposition to members was not clear, members were finding it difficult to articulate the case for paying their membership fees when finances were constrained, and the team were burdened by uncertainty and stress about the future. We first sought to understand the AFRACA team’s ambition and current position, working together for two days in Nairobi introducing the network approach and exploring potential applications. The passionate commitment of the AFRACA team was evident from our first meeting and has continued throughout our working relationship.
The immediate impact was a mindset shift, from seeing AFRACA as a provider of services, to AFRACA as a convener of the AFRACA membership committed to a shared mission to broaden access to finance for underserved rural populations. With this fresh lens, understanding and meeting member needs, sharing knowledge and learning, the development of a member database to give members more visibility and increasing opportunities for study tours all emerged as priorities.
The AFRACA Secretariat realised that to achieve their mission they would need to bring in fresh perspectives, to better engage their current members as well as widen the dialogue beyond financial institutions to include agribusiness and farmer organisations, agricultural and financial technology companies (agtechs and fintechs), mobile network operators and telephone companies. Bringing in agribusinesses and farmer associations as end users of member services to regional conferences and meetings has generated new dialogue around the impact of financial sector practices. Bringing industry innovators into the conversation gives members the opportunity to hear about new ideas, and to identify potential collaborations and partnerships.
The AFRACA team then asked us to work with them to plan the convening of their East Africa Sub-Region Meeting. Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
‘From hindsight, the support from Small Foundation through Creative Metier, was as if AFRACA was being empowered to respond to Covid-19 and rethink its strategy of engaging its members in an impactful way’ Thomas Essel, Secretary General, AFRACA