In December 2022, an innovative research collaboration was announced between Rural Inclusion, University of Nottingham, United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and Agri Evolve for an impactful interdisciplinary project on Financial Education for Rural Communities in Africa: A Digital Approach”.

The project will investigate the role of digital education and the effective practices of improving financial literacy for coffee farmers in the Rwenzori region of Uganda.

The project is supported by the prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering under the Frontiers programme, and led by Professor Meryem Duygun

The impact evaluation of the Ostrii platform will pave the way for more large-scale research of this kind in other African countries, thus providing a scalable solution to educate smallholder farmers in vulnerable communities on financial and climate risk management.

Agri Evolve, a family business working with a network of over 15,000 smallholder coffee farmers in the Rwenzori Region, will deliver a financial education programme to 360 farmers, who will be equally split into three control groups including; the use of the Ostrii platform delivered by a local agent, the use of the Ostrii platform through self-group learning and the use of a traditional manual with similar content. The Ostrii platform is an offline mobile app designed for use by rural agents to deliver financial knowledge in the form of animated stories in local languages. Ostrii was developed by Rural Inclusion, a UK-based social enterprise driving economic development in rural communities across Africa and Latin America.

Following the delivery of education, researchers at the University of Nottingham and field staff of Agri Evolve will track the performance of each control group analysing behavioural change and the uptake and usage of formal financial products. The findings of the research will be published, and disseminated at a stakeholder workshop in late 2023 in collaboration with UNCDF.

Prof Meryem Duygun, the project lead & co-director, Inclusive Financial Technology (INFINITY) Research Centre at the University of Nottingham said: “I am thrilled that our network and partnerships with UNCDF and two fascinating social enterprises, Rural Inclusion and Agri Evolve, have led to a strong bid that successfully secured funding from such a prestigious funder. This project is strongly connected with the research we are undertaking at INFINITY. Our work in Africa will further our understanding of how financial inclusion and technology can be used for the benefit of society through promoting sustainable economic growth and quality education, strengthening resilience and adaptive capability to climate-related disasters, and building knowledge and capacity to meet climate change.”

Jack Farren, the Co-Founder & CEO of Rural Inclusion said: “We are excited to launch this project to investigate the impact of our Ostrii platform for coffee farmers in Uganda who lack access to smartphones and the internet. We believe that our approach to education in focusing on the use of animation in local languages is not only relevant for local communities, but also standardised, engaging and accessible for those with low literacy levels.”

The project team comprises academics and professionals: Prof Meryem Duygun and Dr Tian Han (University of Nottingham), Stephen Waiswa (UNCDF), Jack Farren and Joseph Lukwago (Rural Inclusion) and Beth Rowland and Agnes Kerora (Agri Evolve).