6.7.1 Adapt Financial Service Strategies for Rural Areas and for Young People – Leverage the Most Accessible Financial Services and Help FIs Extend their Reach

To reach young people in rural areas, multiple strategies are often required. Rural YFS practitioners are adapting services that are successful in urban areas or with older rural populations, to meet the needs of harder to reach young populations. Rather than replicating existing infrastructure, however, many rural YFS practitioners are linking young people with existing financial institutions. In some cases, programs provide services to prepare young people to be ready clients of mainstream financial institutions and work with the financial institutions to adapt their programs to meet the needs of young clients. Depending on the competitiveness of the financial services market and the mission and capacity of the financial institutions, YFS programs are sometimes able to motivate financial institutions to serve harder to reach clients.

Adapt and Leverage: Savings and Financial Literacy for Rural Girls

The Population Council and Asante Africa Foundation[1] implemented asset development initiatives in rural and urban Zambia and rural Kenya to reach the most underserved and vulnerable girls. To develop their respective programs, Population Council conducted market research that helped them better understand the different needs of rural vs. urban girls and Asante Africa Foundation conducted an assessment of rural girls. The studies identified lower literacy levels, lower ability to save, and physical distance as key issues for rural girls, and adapted services accordingly. The two programs seek to develop:

  • Economic Assets (savings account, financial education)
  • Social Assets (friends, self-esteem, awareness of rights, understanding of sexual violence)
  • Health Assets (knowledge, and in Population Council’s program, vouchers that can be redeemed for a package of age-appropriate health services.)

Both initiatives use the “Safe Spaces” model whereby community-based, female mentors facilitate weekly, participatory learning in a familiar, protected environment. Asante Africa Foundation’s program works through schools, to leverage that existing infrastructure. AGEP is a community-based program for both in-school and out of school girls, meeting in a range of spaces in the community. At the same time, the programs recruited and worked with financial institutions to help the girls obtain formal bank accounts for savings, with a view toward future possibilities of borrowing for career or business investments. In Kenya-Asante Africa Foundation chose to work with Kenya Women’s Finance Trust (KWFT) and in Zambia Population Council is working with the National Savings and Credit Bank (NatSave) for several reasons:

  • Mission match of serving the vulnerable, hard to reach, unbanked populations
  • Flexibility in the identity of an adult co-signer: KWFT and NatSave agreed to allow the girls to select an adult who was not necessarily a legal guardian
  • Accessibility: KWFT has mobile bankers that travel to rural areas and NatSave is implementing agency banking in the rural areas

KWFT and NatSave are motivated from a mission point of view, but also see the girls as future clients, and their parents and other adult co-signers as potential current clients.

How did these rural girls in Zambia and Kenya use their savings? As expected, the girls saved very small amounts of money. One surprise observed in the Zambia program was that the girls did not save regularly. Rather, they added savings to their accounts during harvest seasons. Also – for girls with access to informal savings groups or M-Pesa, mobile phone-based money transfer – when their savings had accumulated using these informal means, girls sometimes transferred their savings to a formal savings account. The girls were not able to use the account for significant asset accumulation, but they withdrew money to meet essential needs for socks, panties, sanitary napkins, school supplies, food and also for treats.   Asante Africa Foundation’s program adapts and replicates for rural Kenya a 2008 Population Council pilot project, Safe and Smart Savings Products for Vulnerable Adolescent Girls, tested in urban Kenya and Uganda.


[1] Asante Africa Foundation believes in the power of knowledge as a catalyst to help young people create a future where they can live their potential.  The Population Council conducts biomedical, social science, and public health research and disseminates evidence to shape more effective policies, programs, and technologies that improve lives around the world.  The programs profiled here are Population Council’s Adolescent Girls Empowerment Program in Zambia and Asante Africa Foundation’s Girls Advancement Program in Kenya.