Coming Together as a Network: 10 Lessons from the FSD Network Conference

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On 14th and 15th November 2017, the FSD Network came together for the first time ever in Livingstone, Zambia to discuss the Changing Landscape of Financial Sector Development in Africa.

With over 100 participants from across sub-Saharan Africa, the conference brought together members of staff, grantees and donors from 11 countries in the Democratic Republic of Congo (ELAN RDC), Ethiopia (Enterprise Partners), Kenya (FSD Kenya, FSD Africa),  Mozambique (FSD Mozambique), Nepal (Sakchyam), Nigeria (EFINA) Rwanda (Access to Finance Rwanda) South Africa (FinMark Trust), Uganda (FSD Uganda), Tanzania (FSD Tanzania) and Zambia (FSD Zambia).

From enterprise finance to capacity building, from remittances to interoperability, the topics were wide and varied and the conference provided an opportune time to look back at years of work the FSD Network has sunk its teeth in the engaging world of financial sector development. Emerging trends in the space were not left out either and participants had a chance to delve a little bit more into big data and smart analytics, muse over the ramifications of blockchain and acknowledge the need for development of capital markets.

Ten major things stood out for me as we all interacted during the two days, cheering our successes and learning from our setbacks:

  1. We are our own greatest resource. The FSD Network is a huge resource of talent and expertise across a diverse range of thematic areas. It is and will continue to be a strategic asset to both members of the network and partners beyond the network. We have a lot to learn from each other and there’s a great potential to avoid the pitfalls that inadvertently come up by engaging with others across the network who’ve been there before and give valuable insights. As one participant at the conference put it The FSD Network is a unique resource with boots on the ground that gives us a competitive edge in delivering financial development initiatives in SSA”
  1. The FSD Network must take a comprehensive approach to financial sector development. A lot of work has been done on financial inclusion across the FSDs, but we are just now starting to scratch the surface when it comes to capital markets development. The potential to accelerate private sector development, support economic growth, create jobs and ultimately reduce poverty must be encouraged and supported. As one keen observer at the conference noted, “I have realised just how broad the financial system is – we have been too closed up to the banks, MFIs, SACCOs etc and forgotten the capital markets.”
  1. Opportunities exist to increase the FSD Network footprint across SSA. We currently have 10 countries represented in our FSD Network, out of 46 sub-Saharan countries. Even leaving out the more developed countries in the region like Botswana and Lesotho, there’s still room to do develop the financial sector in more than 30 other countries across SSA, many of them listed as fragile states. Daunting? Yes definitely! But the potential to do more exists and we must begin the necessary conversations that can see the FSD Network grow into a massive network of more than 50 organisations dedication to financial inclusion and economic growth.
  1. Learnings from beyond the continent are critical and useful. The FSD Network is largely concentrated around East and Southern Africa with a small representation in Nigeria. Insights from beyond the network helps us to transplant ideas that have worked well in other markets like Asia and South America to our work in Africa. Having guests from Nepal and the Democratic Republic of Congo not only opened our eyes to the fact that we face similar challenges across the globe, but that there is not just one way to approach financial sector development. Interoperability in Nepal and Kenya might have come about in a different way, but the lessons other countries can learn from each of them might be unique to their own situations.
  1. The FSD Network must leverage its connection to the UK government and make more of its partnerships with City of London, CDC Group and other bilateral organisations. Being a network of FSDs whose majority of funding comes from DFID, it is important that we are constantly in touch with the happenings in the UK government and leverage these connections to bring in much needed expertise from City of London to drive some of our work. Engaging with FCA London on developing sandboxes can be great way to help FSDs develop sandboxes with regulators in their respective countries, a concept that is seen to be taking off in the region.
  1. We must remain cognisant of emerging trends and react to them, either cautiously or enthusiastically. Using biometrics to solve KYC problems for refugees is a solution that could be immensely useful and could go a long way in increasing financial inclusion for refugees especially in far-flung areas. The bitcoin debate is not going anywhere, at least not yet and the possibility of using blockchain in our work is yet to be determined, but in order to remain relevant we must appreciate these new trends, keep ourselves informed and deploy the right tools for the right project.
  1. We can do much more by collaborating as a network. It was evident by the number of similar themes presented by the FSDs that we do a lot of work in related areas, albeit in different country contexts. FSD Africa as a regional program can continue to deplore resources, both technical and financial to ensure that collaborative projects are undertaken across the FSDs and done so in a sustainable manner, one that leaves a lasting impact. One participant at the conference remarked “I networked with 3 colleagues and we agreed on mutual support on different projects that are of interest to all of us.”
  1. Working Groups are a great way to learn, test out new ideas and promote cohesion across the network. 3 working groups met in the wings of the conference i.e. the Monitoring and Results Measurement (MRM) group, the Community Finance group and the Communications group. They all met with the goal of learning from each other but also building cohesion and coherence around the work we do as an FSD Network. An MRM working group attendee had this to say about the meeting, “The frameworks presented at the MRM working group will be very beneficial to engage with going forward. I think they offer a lot of value to FSDs and FSD-like organisations in terms of practical tools that can be implemented, as well as the higher-level theories they are derived from. I plan to integrate them to some extent into our MEL framework.”
  1. Beneficiaries of our work have a powerful voice and must be brought more into the room. The work we do impacts millions of lives across sub-Saharan Africa. But many times, we never get to hear from the beneficiaries of our efforts. Having grantees and implementing partners present at such events brings a much-needed perspective and helps re-energise our efforts to ensure we focus on our main goal: reduction of poverty across Africa.
  1. We must keep coming together as a network, to constantly improve our methods of implementation, fine tune our approaches and break new ground in the frontier of financial sector development.

Marion Kimani, is the Assistant Manager, Regional Strategies at FSD Africa.

For questions/comments, she can be reached on marion@fsdafrica.org. She tweets at @marskimani. You can also find her full profile on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/marion-kimani-06a02529/

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