e-Recording Reaches Rwanda
It has been nearly five months since World Relief first attempted to pilot the e-Recording app in Rwanda. We have since retooled and launched. As I wrote in the first installment we had problems with our smartphone, which had trouble staying connected to the internet. It was an old and very cheap phone, so we knew if we were to give it another try we would have to purchase a new phone. We are now using a Motorola Moto-E, which costs around $130. It’s about $30 more expensive than the smartphones being used in other pilots, but boasts a larger screen, faster processor, longer battery life, and is more durable. We wanted to be assured that if anything went wrong it would not be because of the phone used.
Another problem that I listed previously was that the app was in English, and the cost was too high to have the app translated into Kinyarwanda. To solve this problem, we opted for a cheaper, in-house translation which consisted of me taking pictures of each screen and photo-shopping the English words into Kinyarwanda as a sort of cheat sheet. This way the user could look at the phone screen and compare it to a printed picture to understand each word.
For the pilot we chose a group that was just beginning their third cycle. This gave assurance that the group would be well versed in the VSLA methodology and could compare the traditional passbook system to the new e-Recording. The group volunteered to pilot to e-Recording app. They were excited to try it.
When I asked them who they wanted to handle the phone and input the information. The group unanimously chose the president, which is the same result that we saw from our first attempted pilot.
The first day the savings group met was used to register the group and individual members into the phone. I was unsure of how well they would respond to using the phone and an early survey of the group saw that none of them had ever used a touch screen phone before. I handed the smartphone to the president and watched as our field officer walked him through opening the app and using the phone. As he had never interacted with a touch screen before he had trouble pressing the screen and scrolling. The field officer had to hold his fingers and physically direct him in order to press the correct keys. Teaching people how to use a touch screen seems to be the first obstacle to e-Recording, but I am optimistic of a quick learning curve as the field officer who is now teaching the members how to use the smartphone was having the same difficulties that the new users were having and has now even purchased a smartphone for himself.
As the president inputted the group information others around him leaned in to get a better look with much curiosity. After the group information was inputted it was time to register each member. This is where the phone saves the member’s number, name, ID number, phone number, pin number and status in the group. For this we wanted to have each member input their own information. It would take more time, but each member would get the chance to use the phone. As soon as it was announced that each person would get to use the phone there was a lot of talking and laughter which I took to be excitement of getting to use the phone and laughter from the idea of seeing the older members try and use this new piece of technology.
Overall the meeting took two hours which included registering the group and members on the phone as well as transferring the constitution to the phone. It was a long meeting, but that was to be expected when introducing and teaching something completely new. The meetings should get shorter from here on out. Now that they understand a little of how to use the smartphone and less information will have to be inputted.
Some more issues faced were with each member having to enter their phone number and individual PIN number. Two of the older members were without a phone, so they had to make up a number for their log in information. Also a PIN number was a new concept for most. Before starting I had this concern, but was told that many use mobile money or are a part of a SACCO so they have a PIN for that. But as I found that was not the case. I had to explain what a PIN number was and then cut up small pieces of paper so that each member could write their PIN numbers out.
Another issue faced was accidently hitting a button that closed the app or brought up an unfamiliar screen. There were a few times that this happened and I had to reroute them back to the e-Recording app. This is a problem that can only be fixed by members becoming more and more familiar with not just the e-Recording app, but the whole smartphone’s functions.
A few days after registering the members we had the first official savings meeting with the e-Recording app. Last week they had a meeting where they only brought their seed fund. As is a more experienced group they do a seed fund which allows members to purchase a large amount of shares at the beginning of the cycle. This allows for the loan fund to be big enough to take out loans immediately, which 12 members did. In fact the entire amount in the loan fund was loaned out after that first meeting.
To make sure that the e-Recording app matched what the group had done the seed fund and loans taken last week had to be simulated. This was no problem for the program. The seed fund was entered fast and easy, but putting the loans into the system was a little more time consuming and complicated. When entering loans the date of issue and date of repayment must both be entered. To input the dates there are scroll wheels for day, month and year. Scrolling through the numbers to get to the correct date was challenging for the president and every loan had to be back dated so there was more work than normal. All in all, simulating the actions of the last week’s loans and seed fund contributions took almost two hours. Once again this is a bit longer then we would like to see, but this was a special circumstance so it’s hard to pull out too many conclusions. But if this is any indicator the first loan meeting could be somewhat troubling.
After simulating last week’s meeting it was time to get into the real thing and have the group do what they came for, savings. First was attendance. The president clicked the attendance button to reveal everyone’s names and a green square denoting them being present. One member was absent without a qualifying excuse, which comes with a fine. He was able to press the name and change the members status from ‘present’ to ‘absent without apologies’ and automatically the fine was given to the member. Next was calculating amounts. Before the meeting can start the amount in the loan and social fund must be counted and entered to make sure it is all there. This was easy because the amount was zero. This group also keeps funds in the bank or will when they have an adequate amount of savings. So they also have to put if they have withdrawn or deposited any money into their bank account and the phone will show the amount of savings held at the bank.
After verifying that the amounts were correct it was time to start the meeting. Social fund was collected and amounts put into the phone. Next it was time to purchase shares. The member would give their money to the money counter and sit in the chair. They would watch as the secretary stamped out the savings. After verifying that was correctly done, they would turn to the president who would hold out the phone to show the amount entered, allowing the member to verify it was the right amount and he would press save with the member watching. This maximizes transparency and accountability allowing the members to watch every step of the e-Recording process. After a few times of entering the share amounts the president was quite proficient and would have the numbers entered and the phone turned to the member before the stamping was even concluded. This part of the meeting last only 30 minutes, which is about the same amount of time as a traditional meeting and may have been even quicker without having to stamp each person’s share value. After spending such a long time registering the members and group it was encouraging to see that meetings, that will happen each week, won’t take any extra time because of e-Recording.
At the end of the meeting all amounts had to be verified, just as in the beginning. The expected loan and social fund amount was already calculated by the app and showed up next to the box to input the number calculated by the money counters. This is a great function because if the money counters make any error in their addition the app will catch it and they can fix it to make sure that the amounts are all correct. At the end the president had very positive things to say about e-Recording. He remarked that “indeed this phone is very smart.”
After two long days with e-Recording I am left with seeing many positives and negatives over the app and its use. It is still too early to make any significant conclusions, but I will continue to monitor the group as they test the app and hopefully bring more updates along the way as I learn more.
UPDATE: The e-Recording pilot is five weeks in. It is definitely a learning process for both me and the group. Sometimes I wonder if the app is really worth the struggle as it tends to prolong each meeting, but with each pitfall comes a glimmer of hope. But let me start with some a major obstacle that we’ve encountered so far. A problem for us has been the issuing and repayment of loans. The app only calculates a flat interest rate balance which is something that many other practitioners do, but we use a declining scale. I was not aware of this before starting the cycle and unfortunately there is no smooth way to get around this once the group is in mid-cycle so we are stuck having the member restart the loan after every repayment. The first loan repayment meeting took nearly two hours in total. In the future we should be able set up the loan repayment in a way that will offer the option of a declining interest rate which will make it a much smoother process, but I still would see these loan repayment meetings running longer with e-Recording.
The app did have many benefits with the loans. When a member is taking out a loan it shows the available amount to loan out. There were more loan request than funds available so this help the group determine which loans were of higher priority than others. Also one member tried to take a loan that was more than three times her savings and the phone immediately showed a warning forcing her to take less. The phone helps to enforce the methodology which is one of its biggest strengths.
There are still a lot of kinks to work out. It is clear that with this pilot we are learning just as much about the app as the group is. A lot of the finer nuances of e-Recording we and the group are working through together. We probably won’t be able to pull any conclusive results from this one group because it hasn’t been implemented as smoothly and effectively as it should, but we are planning to expand the pilot to nine more groups and we have received funding to have the app translated into Kinyarwanda. This small informal one group pilot will enable us to run a bigger pilot where we will have a more holistic understanding of how e-Recording works and how it needs to be explained and taught to the group.
Reader Comments (3)
Thanks so much for this comprehensive report of the pilot of the e-recording app. We are considering piloting it with some urban groups in La Paz, Mexico, and your report is very helpful. A question for you: for the next 9 groups that you will pilot the app with, will you also start in the third cycle? Curious if you would recommend starting from day one/first cycle? I loved that way you said that you noticed that the app has the potential to reinforce correct use of the methodology. At the same time, I could see a group having to be too focused on the technology, rather than on the spirit of savings.
Thanks so much for your thoughts and efforts!
Katie Doyle Myers
Director of Programs, Philanthropiece Foundation
Mon, December 1, 2014 | Katie Doyle Myers
Thanks for your questions and it’s great that you are planning to use this. In an urban area like La Paz, you will be able to jump some of the technology hurdles we faced implementing it in a rural area (bad network, weak knowledge on cell phone technology, etc).
We’ve decided to pilot the technology with groups in their 2nd cycle (or beyond). We thought, for our context, that a group just learning the savings methodology would be enough for the first cycle. Then, in the second (or third) cycles, once they understand the meeting procedures, we add in the new element of e-recording. For us, this has worked well especially because the learning curve on methodology AND cell phone technology is quite steep for our members. However, I think it’s great to use e-recording in the first cycle! Why not just teach it from the beginning? Even better, I think it would be great research to approach a group with two options: “using the passbook system will cost you ____ or using the e-recording system will cost you _____. Which would you like?”
Best of luck as you begin to use this! Let us know how it works for you!
Senior Technical Advisor, Savings for Life,
Tue, December 2, 2014 | Courtney O'Connell
Thanks for the feedback, Courtney! I would love to form an informal working group with field agents and/or program officers who are utilizing the e recording app. We are in the very beginning stages of our pilot in Mexico with it, and some questions are surfacing; would be excellent to have regular communication with folks who are a few steps ahead of us in working with the app. Would you and/or Chris be interested in joining? I would be happy to organize. Thanks for your consideration!
Tue, January 13, 2015 | Katie Doyle Myers