SOMA (Savings Organized by Mobile Applications) was a development project created to test if Savings Groups formation could be achieved at a cost of per member trained lower than $10 USD. In Mozambique, this cost is estimated to be at $60 USD, and is derived from the budget analysis of multiple development programs implemented by local and international NGOs to create Savings Groups in the country. At $60 USD per member trained this practice was seen as unsustainable and unattractive for the private sector to engage in financial inclusion of the poorest communities. If this value can be lowered to $10 per member trained, banks and insurers might be interested in investing in customer acquisition through Savings Groups creation, and in the process empower and include more vulnerable communities.
To achieve this, SOMA was implemented as a "virtual company", one with very little overhead costs, using smartphones and tablets as the main tools for communication, coordination, and data capture for a project team that was scattered across an area of about 40.000 km² in rural Cabo Delgado Province. Taking into consideration this, the project used animated videos embedded into these devices to help Community Trainers improve their skills in group formation, skipping the need for costly training workshops in remote areas, and developed custom mobile apps to allow for real-time coordination of all Trainers and Groups, which worked as a "virtual office" for all the staff.
The project employed one Project Manager equiped with a laptop, who oversaw the work of 8 Master Trainers equiped with tablets and motorcycles, who in turn identified 25 Community Trainers each, for a total of 200, and equiped them with smartphones and solar chargers. This network of workers used the SOMA server and mobile applications to engage in real-time coordination of all staff and groups.
- Project Leads · Tiago Borges Coelho (UX) - Alfredo Chamusso (AKF)
- Developers · Giannis Panagiotou (UX) - Paulo Phagula (UX)
- Field Team · Fernando André (AKF) - Roberto Tiago (UX)
- Master Trainers · 8 Staff
- Community Trainers · 200 Staff
- Groups · 357 Groups
- Group Members · 6,729 Members
- Applications · USSD/SMS App - Android Apps - Web Dashboard
- Laptops · 1 Unit
- Tablets · 8 Units
- Smartphones · 200 Units
- Solar Chargers · 208 Units
- Motorcycles · 8 Units
Cabo Delgado, where the project was implemented, is the northernmost Province of Mozambique and historically has been a relatively under-developed region of the country. It is the birthplace of the liberation movement that ended colonization, and recently became the recipient of the largest private sector investment in natural gas exploration in the world. This abrupt change in economic potential sparked an armed insurgency that to this date still destabilizes the region and displaces thousands of people.
SOMA started creating groups in the northern coastal areas of Cabo Delgado (Palma, Mocímboa, and Macomia) and the original 18 month implementation plan was to move further down the coast until reaching the provincial capital of Pemba City. After only 6 months of fieldwork, insurgent attacks started disrupting Trainers and Groups, and a decision was made to support the relocation of all willing Trainers to Mecufi, Ancuabe, and Chiúre, in the southern part of the province, where groups could be created in relative security.
The timeline above represents the number of groups that were created in the platform throughout the project implementation, and perfectly illustrates the disruption created by the insurgency attacks. When group creation started in February 2017 and throughout that year, groups were being added as they were being created at an average of 2-3 groups per day, following a consistent pattern.
By the beginning of 2018, as the armed insurgency picked up momentum group creation was completely halted, signaling to the management team that fieldwork was being conditioned. As relocation happened in the first half of that year almost no groups were added to the platform, and by the end of the year Trainers were scrambling to register all the new Savings Groups, creating spikes in the timeline.
SOMA was an experimental approach to SG formation which tested a series of program strategies to better understand their impact on cost, quality and effectiveness of the groups. In the end, it was able to reduce the cost of group creation to $20, a threefold decrease from the current $60 average, yet still double the target of $10 per member trained. Additionally, and due to the adversity of conditions in the field, the program was only able to create 357 Savings Groups out of a target of 600, which if achieved, would place the cost of SG creation below $10.
Aside from making training more affordable, the project sought to deliver additional value for the communities by employing local Trainers, who were able to teach the groups using local dialects. Because these trainers were based on the communities benefiting from the project, they were able to monitor and provide constant support to the groups. In the end, the project was able to directly support 200 Trainers and the 8 Master Trainers, providing them with extra income, smartphones and solar chargers, which they kept after the project stopped operating.
Overall, SOMA was quite successful in demonstrating that Information and Communication Technologies have potential to lower the cost of supporting disenfranchised groups with very low purchasing power and living in rural areas. When digital tools (applications and platforms) are integrated into the existing telecommunication infrastructure and made to be more inclusive, i.e. without the need for internet connectivity and at zero cost, they have the potential to transform the lives of the poorest and improve the social and financial development of their communities, so they can eventually be part of the next billion people going online.
Finally, SOMA also demonstrates that it is possible to lower the overhead costs of development programs and increase the direct support to local communities by upskilling and employing them to become champions of change. Beyond speaking local languages and being members of these communities, local trainers, when upskilled, are able to continue providing support beyond the development programs, ensuring a lasting legacy to their impact. They are also skilled and committed, and proof of that are the photos that are part of this project expo, who were all taken by the Trainers themselves!