Ashesi D:Lab & MIT D-Lab Presentation


The trip was to attend the Financial Inclusion Innovations for the Informal Sector Conference (Spring 2018) and the MIT D-Lab, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  This conference was at the end of the week-long, annual MIT Practical Impact Alliance (PIA) conference.  PIA, a network of leaders from different industries and geographies, including leading multinational corporations, non-governmental organizations, government agencies, and social ventures, including Johnson & Johnson, Danone, CARE, and World Vision come together regularly over the course of the year to share best practices for alleviating poverty and then spend a week together in the spring to explore market-driven social impact initiatives. In addition to PIA members, representative from other MIT departments and labs as well as individuals engaged in financial inclusion research and practice from Tufts, Northeastern, Boston University, and Boston College will be invited to attend.

The title of the program we were a part of is the Ghana Waste Picker Financial Inclusion Program (Ghana) funded by the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI).

The Ghana Waste Picker Financial Inclusion Program was funded by the Danone Ecosystem Fund to co-create recycling enterprises with waste pickers from three dumpsites in Ghana. The comprehensive program, which organizes 600 waste pickers into a national association of informal recyclers, provides a unique opportunity to work closely with a large number of individuals working in the informal sector, researching opportunities to address their banking service needs and co-creating financial inclusion savings and loan mechanisms that effectively meet the needs of the working poor.  With an estimated 1.8 billion worldwide working in unregulated environments, the research and subsequent financial inclusion model co-designed by Accra-based waste pickers in partnership with Ashesi and MIT graduate and undergraduate students offers, important insight into appropriate banking mechanisms designed specifically for the informal labor force working in low-income cities worldwide.

The initial efforts were to comprehend the current banking practices and needs of waste pickers in Accra and then to employ D-Lab’s co-creation methodology to provide informal recyclers an opportunity to co-design banking mechanisms appropriate to their financial circumstances and needs, as well as cultural context.  In this way, whether the Waste Picker Financial Inclusion Project’s final design concept includes elements from many different banking strategies, for instance micro-finance, mobile banking, financial literacy, financial incentives to encourage savings, and/or innovative technology to reduce loan defaults, the co-design process used by both MIT D-Lab and Ashesi University will ensure that the design innovations that emerge from the program will meet the unique banking


Eight graduate and undergraduate students from both universities were involved in the research to identify financial inclusion mechanisms during the fall semester. Four MIT students from a class taught by Libby McDonald and Kate Mytty: Gender and Development: Accelerating Women’s Economic Prosperity, help Financial Inclusion Innovations for the Informal Sector Workshop (IAP 2018)
 in the districts of Tema Newtown and Kpone in the Tema area. The 
two day workshop attended by 40+ waste pickers was facilitated by D-Lab Instructor McDonald and attended by four students from the Ashesi D:Lab Fellows Program, four D-Lab Gender students, and local facilitators. A second set of research was conducted by the Ashesi students, led by the D:Lab Lead Dr. Gordon Adomdza. The four Ashesi University students, participating in the in the program traveled to MIT D-Lab to present their findings at the Financial Inclusion Innovations for the Informal Sector Conference in April, 2018, mentioned above.

Drawing from their research, the presentations would focus on exploring the banking opportunities for the informal sector, including innovative technology that incentivizes savings and reduces loan default rates, effective financial literacy programs, mobile banking apps, and agent-based ATM programs.  It will then provide findings from research conducted with the Accra waste pickers. The day-long conference with culminate in the unveiling of the model for financial inclusion designed with the Accra Waste Pickers Association during IAP 2018 to meet the unique needs of the informal labor force working in urban settings.

A game of allocating stones to expenses was used for data collection on how the waste pickers prioritize their income expenditure.

Also, on the methodology of the research, the waste pickers were grouped into 4; based on each tool; mobile money, banking, insurance, susu and ROSCA. Then open-ended discussions were facilitated with the waste pickers with the aim of identifying who they are, what they do, how they use the financial tool and what problems they find in the use of the tool. The words ‘how’, ‘why’ and ‘what’ were used to probe further into responses of the waste pickers during the. This methodology was used in order not to have leading conversations for the waste pickers to dive direct answers but to provide in-depth information on their experiences in the use of the already existing financial tools.

On from the panel discussion, a co-creation event will be held to give the waste pickers the replies from the panelists to the questions they asked and design the financial tool that will address all their pain points and include recommendations from the experts on the panel.

Our Findings

After collecting data from the trip to Kpone and Tema Newtown it was important to perform an analysis to gain further insights into the challenges and aspirations of the waste pickers. To do this, we split the data into similar groups to identify key themes that were prevalent both in Tema and Kpone.

It was apparent that despite the geographical differences in location there were some similarities between both sites.  For instance, both groups were both concerned about fraudulent activity, reliability and trustworthy financial tools. Other themes specific to Kpone were: family financial security, health insurance and a tool that is accessible. In Tema we found that individuals wanted a tool that had no barriers to usage (e.g. lack of a phone), the had scare money so were unable to save or make money so wanted an extra source of income and wanted the ability to withdraw funds periodically.

From these themes generated we identified a Point of View statements (POVs) which gave us an idea of the user, their need and the insights we gained from the themes in both towns. The POV we generated was: “The waste pickers in Kpone and Tema Newtown need financial tools that are easily accessible, reliable, trustworthy and will provide family financial security to help them achieve long term benefits.”

After the collection, analysis and making sense of data, there is the need for having a direction which will direct the researcher on what to do next. This is where the Point of View (POV) comes into play. The POV is that the waste picker in Kpone Landfill and Tema Newtown need financial tools that are easily accessible, reliable and trustworthy that will ensure financial security and educational opportunities for themselves and their families. Moving on from here, the POV will give us a direction towards possible ideas for the solution.

Panel Discussion

The Presentation was followed suit by the  90 minutes Panel Discussion. The panellist were made up of experts in the financial industry who could answer questions the waste pickers had asked in Ghana. The panelists were;  Dr. William Derban who is the Chair of Financial Inclusion Forum Africa and also the director of E-banking & Strategic Partnerships, Kim Wilson a lecturer and researcher on Markets and development at Tufts University, Daryl Collins Co author of Portfolios of the Poor and Managing Director of BFA, Julio Lavalle founder of Poupa Certo & MiBolsillo and the moderator of the discussion was Joyce Lehman a Financial Inclusion Consultant. The panel addressed the questions the waste pickers asked in Ghana using their experience in the sector to recommend some solutions. The questions from the waste pickers were under these four themes; savings, interests and mobile money.

IMG_1926.JPGWhen asked how we could resolve issues of fraud and insecurity in the mobile money sector, Dr. Derban mentioned that the root of problem is that many customers of the mobile money are not tech savvy. By virtue of this problem users most of than not give it to others to issue transactions for them. Dr. Derban explained that Mobile Money was designed such that the customer can interact privately with their accounts. However for most people the Mobile Money agents issue transactions on their behalf even when they are not there.  He suggested that the Mobile Money may have some design problems and hence we can explore the prospects of solving our problem by redesigning the mobile money process. The others discussed issues related to how much people like waste pickers are aware of the financial saving options available to them. An example was that people in Ghana are not aware of the MTN Yello Save plan that is built for mobile money users using the formal banking model of Fidelity bank. They discussed that in some cases lack of knowledge can also create problems. They also discussed other financial solutions other countries have implemented.

Questions from the audience were also taken and addressed. For Instance, the audience wanted insights about the market mobile money was created for and whether or not the market is evolving

In the end, the research team got insights and recommendations about prospective designs and solutions for the waste pickers. The team is looking forward to showing the waste pickers videos of the responses to their questions in Ghana.

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