The World Bank Group announced today the winners of the Mission Billion Challenge “WURI West Africa Prize”, and Ghana’s Naa Sika digital micro-savings platform emerged tops.
The scheme, which seeks to reward innovations in cross-border social protection for the informal sector, is supported by the West Africa Unique Identification for Regional Integration and Inclusion (WURI) program, which facilitates access to services through foundational identification (fID) platforms, and by the Identification for Development Initiative (ID4D).
The WURI program aims to benefit 100 million people in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Niger, Ghana and Togo, irrespective of nationality or legal status.
The Mission Billion Challenge “WURI West Africa Prize” powered by MIT Solve, asked the competing innovators how governments can more effectively facilitate social protection programs that account for precarious, informal work across borders, based on regionally interoperable foundational identification platforms (fID).
In all, 208 teams from 37 countries, mainly from Sub-Saharan Africa, participated in the competition with proposed solutions to facilitate cross-border contributions to and payments from social insurance programs, such as pensions and savings accounts.
Naa Sika, the first prize winner, from Ghana, is a micro savings platform that enables informal sector workers, such as women traders to access digital wallets and fee-free savings accounts.
Tonti+, the second prize winner, from Benin, is a digitized informal savings group that enables motorcycle taxi drivers to pool savings and credit through daily contributions.
A statement from the World Bank said both solutions address ways to incentivize informal sector workers’ enrollment and participation in social insurance programs.
A panel of high-level judges selected the winners to receive cash prizes from the ID4D initiative and mentorship from Google Developers Experts.
As first prize winners, Naa Sika is getting a prize package worth US$150,000, which comprise of cash, plus mentorship and support from Google Developers Experts.
CEO of Ghana’s Naa Sika, Ralph Menz told Techgh24 he feels “awesome” about the award, especially because it is coming from the World Bank, adding “that’s huge!”
“It is a big endorsement to our solution as it gives us the opportunity to role out to those African countries where WURI project is being carried out, including Nigeria, which is a friendly environment and very supportive of fintech startups,” he said.
Ralph Menz believes the win is also good for Ghana because “we hardly hear such news of fintech startups in Ghana, compared to our neighboring countries where funding and huge successes are announced almost every day.”
He is confident that the success of Naa Sika will encourage other young Ghanaians working on projects to use tech to solve problems in our country to continue because there are big opportunities out there for them.
“We will use the funds to finalize our regulatory requirement to acquire a fintech license which will allow us to scale the solution nationwide and beyond the borders of Ghana,” he said..
Meanwhile, honorable mentions were made of Universal Social Protection Wallet, a solution from Kenya, and NaYa Limited, a solution from Cameroon. The other finalists also included: Micro Pensions for Retirement Resilience (Ghana), MiKashBoks (Sierra Leone), and Townpay (Senegal).
“In Sub-Saharan Africa, informal sector workers often fall through the cracks of existing social protection programs as they are often not eligible for social safety net benefits and social insurance programs provided for the formal sector. Informal workers represent 80 percent of total employment, with nearly 90 percent of them women,” said Dena Ringold, the World Bank’s Regional Director for Human Development in West and Central Africa.
She added that “being able to quickly scale up social protection programs through flexible platforms and provide emergency support to informal workers, particularly during these unprecedented times, will help countries chart the path for a resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and help boost Africa’s human capital outcomes over the longer term.”
The “WURI West Africa Prize” is also supported by the Rapid Social Response Program (RSR) and Disruptive Technologies for Development (DT4D) initiative.
“Harnessing disruptive technologies to deliver social protection to informal sector workers who do not benefit from existing social safety nets, but who are vulnerable to falling into poverty, is an urgent development challenge. The WURI West Africa Prize supports social insurance systems for the informal sector, that are built on top of foundational identification platforms and are interoperable with social registries, to build resilience to weather future shocks,” said Michal Rutkowski, World Bank Global Director for Social Protection and Jobs.
“The World Bank’s Regional Integration programs such as WURI are encouraging ‘Made in Africa’ technology and innovations for cross-border benefits and service delivery to advance human capital and financial inclusion outcomes in the region,” said Deborah Wetzel, World Bank Director for Africa Regional Integration
The WURI Program is a $395.1 million 10-year International Development Association (IDA) operation supported by the Regional Integration Window to build foundational ID systems that are interoperable across Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Niger, and Togo. The Program will cover 100 million people to help achieve human development and financial inclusion goals. The Program furthers the World Bank Group’s twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity, and directly supports the ECOWAS regional strategy 2019-2023, which aims to raise the living standards of the populations in its member countries.