Member Spotlight: Amon Ariyo Tusingwire
FinEquity Africa: Can you tell us about yourself, your background, and how you got into this area of women and finance? Also, could you share more about Women Save?
Amon Ariyo Tusingwire: Thank you for the opportunity. I'm the Country Director for WomenSave Uganda and have been involved since its inception in 2020. WomenSave focusses on personalized savings products and services that are critical to economically empowering women. Until recently, WomenSave was operating under Global Partners for Development, before transitioning into an independent Non-Governmental Organization in 2022. My work takes me upcountry where I focus on marginalized communities, specifically women. I'm passionate about empowering women. I strongly believe in gender equality and economic empowerment. Financial equity is a key focus for me, and seeing the impact of my work motivates me every day.
FinEquity Africa: You're a man championing women's rights: What inspired you to take on this role in a field usually dominated by women, particularly in African countries?
Amon Ariyo Tusingwire: My passion for women's financial inclusion stems from my upbringing. Raised by an illiterate mother due to cultural biases against educating girls, I saw firsthand the impact of gender disparity. Despite my father's efforts to provide financial training, societal norms hindered my mother's active involvement in financial decisions. After my father's passing, my mother's financial literacy became crucial for our family's survival. This experience fuels my dedication to empower women and promote gender equality. I have witnessed women-led households positively impact communities, reinforcing my commitment to this cause.
FinEquity Africa: What are some challenges Ugandan women face regarding financial inclusion, and how does WomenSave address these challenges?
Amon Ariyo Tusingwire: Women in marginalized communities often have to deal with absent husbands who are uninterested in family development, high alcohol abuse and gender-based violence from their partners. Lack of financial literacy and confidence prevents women from effectively managing resources. Women facing these challenges might not directly pinpoint financial literacy as their primary need. Their focus is on other pressing issues around them. In my work with these women, I've noticed that lack of financial literacy, continuous engagement, and confidence-building are fundamental hurdles. At WomenSave, we provide financial literacy training, individual advising, assistance with opening mobile bank accounts, goal setting, and ongoing support to instill financial confidence. When we initially engage them, they sometimes reject our approach, preferring quick fixes like handouts or loans for activities that might not yield profits. Building trust and rapport with these communities is tough. It takes time for them to see the value we bring, but eventually, we witness changes. We have a personalized approach where we involve the entire family in our conversations. It may start as an individual goal for the woman, but it gradually evolves into shared family goals. This is challenging work, but the transformation and positive impact makes it worthwhile.
FinEquity Africa: What specific services does WomenSave provide?
Amon Ariyo Tusingwire: WomenSave's approach covers various elements. It begins with financial literacy training after client recruitment. The one-on-one financial advising is personalized to cater to each client's unique situation and needs. We also guide clients through the process of opening and using mobile bank accounts, specifically MTN mobile money in Uganda due to its widespread network coverage. Customized goal setting is a crucial aspect where clients receive assistance in establishing goals tailored to their aspirations. WomenSave also helps women to create individual emergency funds, emphasizing the importance of preparedness. Keeping clients engaged is key, and this is achieved through regular reminders for deposits and milestone celebrations. Recognizing achievements, be it the first deposit or reaching a significant savings goal, is a way to motivate and encourage clients along their financial journey.
FinEquity Africa: Can you share a success story of a woman benefiting from WomenSave's programs?
Amon Ariyo Tusingwire: Certainly. There's Fiona, a stay-at-home wife with three children. She hesitated to join our program but came on board with her primary goal to save up for a mattress. Although she faced resistance from her husband she continued to save, and eventually brought home a new mattress. Her husband could see the commitment and positive outcomes, such that when Fiona set-up some new goals he stepped in to contribute, acknowledging that these goals were beneficial for the whole family. It's amazing to see how these shared goals brought them closer. When our creative director visited, it was a proud moment to see the achievements firsthand. And it's not just about the goals, it's about the smiles and the happiness these accomplishments bring to these women. We're always mindful that financial literacy can sometimes lead to gender-based issues, so we encourage men to be part of our sessions. Instead of tearing families apart, we're finding that these efforts are actually bringing them closer together.
FinEquity Africa: Are their savings digitalized or still manually handled?
Amon Ariyo Tusingwire: The women we work with haven't traditionally saved their money in banks. Instead, they collect and distribute funds within their groups, maintaining records in a box or with the chairperson. However, this method led to some chaos because women were part of multiple groups, resulting in defaults and complexities. We are steering them away from this and encouraging a shift towards personal savings rather than group savings. Our focus is on instilling personal confidence in financial management. We are advocating for savings toward specific goals and borrowing money for income-generating activities. This approach helps build their confidence in managing their finances. By using mobile phones, these women now leverage digital platforms. They visit mobile agents who deposit money directly into their phones through mobile money services. They then save this money using a platform that offers interest on their savings, empowering them to manage their finances digitally.
FinEquity Africa: How can partners in financial inclusion better design programs for rural women, considering WomenSave's experience?
Amon Ariyo Tusingwire: I believe women primarily need the tools and skills to bolster their confidence in shaping their financial future. While our focus has been on supporting women in saving and wisely utilizing their savings—investing in businesses, education for their children, among other goals—it's clear that many women in communities lack crucial entrepreneurial skills. These skills would enable them to generate more income, supporting their families while also continuing to save for ongoing development. Linking our clients, who have benefited from our financial literacy training, with organizations that provide entrepreneurial skills would be a significant step in empowering these women. Imagine if these graduates could access programs offering entrepreneurial skills,. This synergy could be a major stride toward empowering women and fostering financial equity.
FinEquity Africa: What are WomenSave's priorities in 2023?
Amon Ariyo Tusingwire: Our aim is to expand our services and products, particularly reaching out to women in the most remote communities. Our biggest challenge is limited resources, budget constraints and being understaffed. However, we have recruited three additional savings officers, and our goal is to delve deeper into communities, engage more clients, specifically focusing on involving the youth. We're working towards integrating financial programs at an early age to instill a savings culture. It's important that they grow up understanding that women are capable of making significant financial decisions that contribute to the well-being of families, communities, and society at large. Additionally, we're emphasizing the accessibility of financial technology (FinTech) skills among women. Many of these women are illiterate, so we are dedicating time to train them. While we have been encouraging the use of mobile money, we are transitioning towards a cashless transaction system. Platforms like Momo Pay, enable bill payments and merchandise purchases. It's unfortunate that marginalized women in remote communities have been missing out on these opportunities. Hence, we are allocating time not just for phone usage but, also to equip them with the skills needed to conduct transactions seamlessly through their phones. With climate shocks becoming a recurrent problem, our training, highlights income-generating practices that mitigate environmental impact. We have taught them small-scale cultivation to prevent land encroachment and discouraged excessive firewood use by advocating tree planting for fruit, income, and environmental conservation.
FinEquity Africa: As a community of practice, what expectations do you have from FinEquity Africa in supporting your work?
Amon Ariyo Tusingwire: For us, platforms like FinEquity Africa offer access to partners funding women empowerment projects. I’d love for donors to come visit our programs firsthand. This would be an extra motivation to support women's financial inclusion!