CI's Luke Upchurch on filming financial education in Korogocho, Nairobi, Kenya.
Millicent Chepkemoi, a consumer advocate with Kenya’s Youth Education Network puts it best at the end Know Your Money when she describes financial education as ‘a gift’. The gift she refers to is the gift of empowerment; and this is certainly something we witnessed when making this film.
Know Your Money documents the activities of a financial education (FE) pilot project established by Consumers International (CI) in Kenya and Tanzania. As part of the project’s promotion across Africa, we wanted to make a film about the ease with which FE can get off the ground, the legacy of the project within the community, and the remarkable results of its straight-forward approach.
Against a baseline survey conducted within Nairobi’s Korogocho slum; interviews with people who have received FE through the project show a 39% rise in those who say they are saving; a 125% rise in the number of people sticking to budgets; and a 50% fall in those admitting to sometimes skipping loan repayments.
These impressive figures are just the tip of a lasting legacy. The pilot project has provided local consumer groups with the skills to develop their own FE programmes; it has given volunteers within the communities the knowledge to continue providing informal FE long after the initial training; and it has empowered poor people, particularly women, to manage their money better in the long term.
It is an approach that can work within poor communities across Africa and beyond.
Supported by DfID’s Financial Education Fund, the pilot project is based around a free-to-use counsellor’s handbook, designed to be used by both advocates and community volunteers.
Its aim is to ‘embed’ the knowledge within the community by training up FE counsellors from scratch. Just like Millicent, Celine and Michael, who we follow in the film, these counsellors are by no means financial experts. But the accessible design and structure of the handbook means that, with a little training, they are now providing free, impartial financial advice within rural and slum communities.
What is more, the project focuses on the development of local volunteers. This not only helps build the trust of people within the community (who can be naturally wary of discussing personal finance matters), but also ensures that the FE knowledge and skills are retained locally.
As Paul, one of the Korogocho volunteers featured in the film says, “I have been able to help many people overcome their financial problems. [If the project ends] I will still go into the community, educate people, and tell them more about saving, budgeting, debt management and consumer protection.”
Unlike the education services often provided by financial services institutions, the counselling sessions are free and impartial. They are also tailored to the needs of individual consumers and feel a lot more personal than a ‘classroom’ style service.
The individual counselling sessions are structured around the handbook, which is divided into a number of topic sections, including savings, budgeting, and debt management. The counsellor will sit down with the consumer, listen to their concerns, and go through the relevant sections in the handbook. Armed with this one-on-one advice and a set of take-home activities, the consumer will arrange a return visit to discuss progress and next steps.
This straight-forward format relies on the ease with which the free-to-use handbook can be referenced by the counsellors, and the pragmatic format of the activities it suggests.
Developed for CI by FE experts Microfinance Opportunities, the handbook provides practical advice in a way that non-experts can understand and convey. Its simplicity is its strength and that is why the project is proving such a success.
Jane, a resident of Korogocho, told us of the impact the project had had on her ability to manage her money. “The education has taught me I need to ask questions before I take a loan; it has removed fear from my heart… Now I can sit with my family and decide if the loan I take will be a benefit or not.”
Jacinta, another resident also spoke of the sense of empowerment gained from the counselling. “I have learnt I have rights as a borrower. I won’t be oppressed again. Understanding the interest rates of different banks means I won’t burden my family with expensive loans”.
People like Jane and Jacinta, and the other Korogocho residents in the film are often neglected as consumers of financial services. The big banks and financial providers have little concern for the rights of consumers in these deprived communities.
But, as our film shows, managing personal finances and knowing how to engage with financial services are fundamental consumer rights that can play a major role in alleviating poverty and improving living standards. As Sam Ochieng, CEO of Kenya’s Consumer Information Network says, “Spending power is the way consumers can make choices: the way consumers can vote and the way consumers can influence change. Unless you tell them and empower them around how to use their money: to use it wisely and to make decisions; we will not be able to get the kind of changes that we want. ”
This pilot project is a very small step. But with little more than a handbook printed from a PC, some initiative, and a sense of purpose, Consumer Informational Network (CIN) and Youth Education Network (YEN) in Kenya, and the Tanzania Consumers Advocacy Society (TCAS) have empowered over 5,000 vulnerable consumers to manage their money better. Imagine what it could do across Africa.