Designing for Financial Inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa

Early this summer, we had the opportunity to go to Africa to study the way financial services typically work, and don’t work, for people living under less than $3 a day; the vast majority of the population.

A team of researchers, business strategists, communication and UX designers from both our London and Chicago offices relocated to Africa for over a month. We had one clear objective: immersing ourselves into the local culture, social relationships and environmental circumstances shaping the needs and expectations of these people.

Working with local researchers and community leaders, we visited many homes, shops and markets in South Africa and Kenya. This picture was taken in Kibera, Kenya. Kibera is Africa’s largest slum.
Working with local researchers and community leaders, we visited many homes, shops and markets in South Africa and Kenya. This picture was taken in Kibera, Kenya. Kibera is Africa’s largest slum.

We visited townships across South Africa and Kenya, and met with men, women, merchants and small business owners. We sat in their homes and we talked with them about their goals, their families and the challenges of everyday life. In hearing their stories and observing their lives, we began to understand the role of formal and informal financial services in their lives.

All the people we talked to welcomed us with open arms! They told us their stories and showed us around. This picture was taken in Jericho, Kenya.
All the people we talked to welcomed us with open arms! They told us their stories and showed us around. This picture was taken in Jericho, Kenya.
Some conversations took place over a cup of tea. This picture was taken in Phumzile’s living room. We visited her in her house in Tembisa, South Africa.
Some conversations took place over a cup of tea. This picture was taken in Phumzile’s living room. We visited her in her house in Tembisa, South Africa.
Other conversations were a little bit more social, in group settings with a bunch of friends. This is a picture of Martin in Nairobi, Kenya.
Other conversations were a little bit more social, in group settings with a bunch of friends. This is a picture of Martin in Nairobi, Kenya.
In addition to the many conversations we had, we took time to reflect and observe the environment around us. We explored the neighborhoods and visited the local markets. This is a picture of Wojtek and Hannah in Jericho, Kenya.
In addition to the many conversations we had, we took time to reflect and observe the environment around us. We explored the neighborhoods and visited the local markets. This is a picture of Wojtek and Hannah in Jericho, Kenya.
And of course, great work happens when you take the time to get to know your team. During our first trip to Kenya, we had the opportunity to enjoy together some of the country’s most beautiful reserves.
And of course, great work happens when you take the time to get to know your team. During our first trip to Kenya, we had the opportunity to enjoy together some of the country’s most beautiful reserves.

The people we talked to have long been excluded from traditional financial systems; however, this doesn’t mean that they don’t have a way to meet their financial needs. They rely on pretty sophisticated yet informal financial systems. Our challenge, as designers, is to understand how these systems work—the efficiencies, the breakdowns and the cultural and social norms that shape the interactions between people and the ecosystem in which they live. This is essential to designing solutions that are not only technologically brilliant but also deeply relevant, distinctive and compelling for the markets that we want to serve.

I wish I had a picture of the full Doblin team who participated in this great piece of work. Unfortunately, we never took one. That said, I found this one with just a few of us. We took it after a visit to one of the game reserves in South Africa.
I wish I had a picture of the full Doblin team who participated in this great piece of work. Unfortunately, we never took one. That said, I found this one with just a few of us. We took it after a visit to one of the game reserves in South Africa.