“We are buoyed by our vision which is to catalyze sustainable economic growth in emerging markets by empowering Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) with capital, skills, and critical resources,” said Uzoma Nwagba, CEO of Growth Platform.
Growth Platform is a technology-led and human operation to reach MSMEs in Africa leveraging emerging technologies, agent networks and financial tools to unlock the productivity of small businesses. Over the past 5 years, Growth Platform has deployed a portfolio of $472 million across seven programs, impacting over 4.1 million microentrepreneurs and enterprises through credit, grants, or capacity building.
On Growth Platform’s journey and how they are working to grant access to finance to the most vulnerable populations such as women and youth talks to us Uzoma Nwagba, CEO of Growth Platform.
First, congratulations on winning the 2022 AFI Inclusive FinTech Showcase! What does winning the showcase mean to Growth Platform and to you personally?
Thank you, it means a lot to us having our hard work being validated in this way. As for me, it feels great knowing that the effort being put into the work and the team is paying off.
Ten Fintech and RegTech innovators reached the 2022 AFI Inclusive FinTech Showcase final stage and competed to win the title. How would you describe this experience and how was the exchange with other competitors?
Making it to the final stage and being among the ten finalists was exciting. We showcased our work and got the chance to learn more about other finalists, which was really interesting. There were all these established organizations doing magnificent work in financial inclusion, rendering needed financial services and enabling remittances in their regions. It was also great to see the things we have in common and pick out pointers here and there from what made them tick.
What is the drive behind founding Growth Platform?
At the Growth Platform, we are buoyed by our vision which is to catalyze sustainable economic growth in emerging markets by empowering MSMEs with capital, skills, and critical resources. Currently, we provide capital, financial literacy skills and capacity building for MSMEs in the region who had no prior access to these due to the existence of some barriers that are not entirely of their making e.g., lack of identification, illiteracy, lack of collateral and/or lack of formalized credit histories which make them unattractive to commercial lenders like banks and keep them in a poverty cycle with no business growth.
We have attacked this critical problem with formidable innovation and technology that makes the enumeration of these beneficiaries, their verification and eventual disbursement of funds to their bank accounts and mobile wallets seamless and fully digitized. We have also opened hundreds of thousands of bank accounts and created millions of mobile wallets for first time users, making them financially included and having them in a better position to grow their income and provide for their dependents also.
With 4.1 million beneficiaries in Nigeria and millions more to go in Nigeria and beyond, the Growth Platform is driven to ensure that no MSME is left behind without access to capital and business and economic growth.
Winning the showcase offers Growth Platform, among others, the opportunity to take part in AFI Public-Private Dialogue Platform and receive a one-year membership at the Luxembourg House of Financial Technology (LHoFT) — which provides practical training, education and research services for the FinTech community. How would this contribute to achieving your objectives and expanding your reach?
Membership of the prestigious LHoFT, as well as the opportunity to participate in valuable AFI dialogue platforms, are not being taken lightly as we revel in the opportunity to gain experience, grow our network, and highlight the Growth Platform’s programs even more and learn from the industry. leaders All these align with our organizational growth objectives and will enable our further reach. We are excited about the impact is about to be made.
Even though women lead an estimated 60 percent of MSMEs in countries such as Nigeria, they are more likely than men to be unbanked. How does Growth Platform advance the financial inclusion of women and grant access to finance for women-led MSMEs?
The Growth Platform is focused on formally excluded groups, the poor and especially women and youth. Studies from IFC have shown that women are less likely to be able to access funds for their MSMEs compared to their male counterparts and this has led to a widening gender credit gap of about $1.6 trillion. Through our fully female-focused program National Women Empowerment Fund (NAWEF), a credit extension program targeting women-owned micro-enterprises and our flagship program GEEP, we have empowered over one million women-led MSMEs. 58% of the GEEP beneficiaries are women showing that we are consciously and actively working to close the gender gap in enterprise financing.
In addition to women’s financial inclusion and empowerment, 57 percent of Growth Platform’s beneficiaries are young entrepreneurs. How do you explain this high uptake and how have you managed to financially include youth?
Over 33.6 million Nigerians (16.8% of the population) fall under the youth classification aged 18-35 years old and with a raging skill and employment gap, it is imperative that care is taken to fill these gaps and secure the future of the nation.
Growth Platform’s inclusion of youth has come in two ways, firstly, by actively targeting youth-led MSMEs for financing through our GEEP and SEEP programs and helping them grow and employ others. Secondly, we have also ensured that our human banks (agents) are mostly youth thereby keeping them gainfully employed, economically empowered and less likely to be truants who are detrimental to society. Our goal is to continue to capture this demographic successfully to ensure national cohesion and increased economic growth.
Growth platform started as an ambitious project and soon turned into a successful Fintech company that in just five years has impacted the lives of over four million beneficiary businesses. What takeaway lessons could you share with other innovators seeking to bridge the financial inclusion gap?
Your team is vital to the successful execution of your vision. Scaling has not been an effortless process. It has been tough and grueling; however, with our young and agile team, we have been able to stay the course and keep going. It is important to shake off lethargy and stay motivated. We have learnt the lessons presented to us at every step of our journey and we keep iterating for success.
It is also important to celebrate the little wins as they prepare you for the bigger ones. I remember our first one thousand beneficiaries like it were yesterday. From one thousand, we grew to ten thousand, we hit the first million and we will not stop at 4 million. We will keep going until this poverty cycle is broken and people living at the bottom of the economic pyramid are financially included, their businesses economically viable and they find succor. We aim to truly leave no one behind and know that RegTechs and Fintechs working together can help make this a reality faster.
What are your key messages for regulators on how they can contribute to an enabling environment for inclusive fintech to flourish?
It is important that regulators are focused on the changing times and how much technology has become a part of our lives. Enabling policies that will not end up being blockers to achieving goals should be made to create the environment required for growth.
Regulators should also create policies that meet people where they are, for example at their current level of literacy or the lack thereof, at their current locations, at their current income levels and then advance them from those points to where they ought to be.
What advice can you give other FinTech or RegTech innovators who want to apply for the next AFI Inclusive FinTech showcase?
Trust in your process and what you have built. The world deserves to hear your story and to learn from you about how you are changing the world.
To learn more about Growth Platform please check out their winning pitch!
The 2022 AFI Inclusive FinTech Showcase is supported through AFI’s Multi-Donor Financial Inclusion Policy Implementation Facility, with the participation of the French Development Agency (AFD), the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Ministry of Finance of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
We appreciate very much the valuable support of the Luxembourg House of Financial Technology (LHoFT) as a partner for the Inclusive FinTech Showcase.