Digital finance is an emergent and disruptive field. It is important for those working in the field to remain up-to-date and to apply what they learn. Peer engagement and interaction helps facilitate this continual development and growth of a profession. DFI students benefit from being part of a global, moderated peer-network called The League of Digital Finance Professionals, which currently has a network of over 5,000. Online opportunities include active WhatsApp and LinkedIn groups, a cultivated knowledge bank including around a thousand resources and the DFI blog and webinars. Face-to-face networking is achieved through Community of Practice (CoP) meetings, where DFI appointed facilitators convene our students/alumni either as part of the foundational training to help contextualise the learning to their location, or to discuss issues facing their country. CoPs have been established in 20 cities, predominantly in Africa, with over 800 meetings having been convened with over 6,000 attendees.
DFI’s 2019 Monitoring and Measurement of Results Report indicates that close to two-thirds of respondents in the study were able to attend CoPs. Of those who attended, most felt that the links they made with fellow practitioners were valuable, and a high percentage were able to stay in touch with these peers in various ways. Practitioners also felt the CoPs gave them significant value which assisted them in the workplace and in their careers. High numbers of respondents mentioned acquiring new skills, feeling more connected, getting involved with new collaboration opportunities, and feeling more confident, motivated or inspired. A high number also stated that they had been able to apply these gains in their workplaces and even in their sector and broader society, although the impact here was largely at an individual and company level.
These opportunities are helping to develop a profession with connected, competent, confident, relevant and engaged people, who are then able to create and deliver quality services, products, initiatives and innovation. This evolution of this profession will bring with it increased capacity and body of knowledge, along with a sense of identity and ethics of practice. In turn this can contribute to increased employment and activity within the sector, uptake of digital financial services and financial inclusion of the population.
Most practitioners found CoPs to be extremely useful aspects of their DFI experience, even if in the shortest case, they only lasted for the duration of the course. But 2019 has seen more countries creating active alumni groups, and even establishing or creating plans for more ambitious Associations. These groups have ambitions to lobby policymakers and regulators for a better DFS environment, and raising awareness in various ways. Official registration is seen as an important step in order to give the associations a legitimate platform from which to lobby and raise awareness at country level.
Three of the CoPs have launched legally registered associations for digital finance professionals (Uganda, Zambia and Senegal) and seven more are going through the process to register an association or group in 2020 (Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Ghana and Kenya). These associations bring opportunities for their financial stability, bringing opportunities to generate their own revenue from membership, sponsorship or opportunities such offering consultancy. The associations can leverage their collective expertise and network to become national think tanks to influence financial inclusion and national policy, driving change and impact at a country-wide level.
The associations/alumni groups held four conferences in 2019. In Zambia there was a debate around interoperability and the national switch, while Uganda’s event discussed regulation and Innovation in driving financial inclusion. Rwanda’s session was focused on products serving the low-income population, and Senegal’s was a general assembly to vote in the association’s management team.
The associations/alumni have also achieved/influenced the following:
- The Mozambique Fintech Association (officially to be launched in February 2020) mentored 6 Mozambican start-ups who represented the country at an IT global fair in Bucharest. Representatives from the association are being asked to speak at fintech events, and there is interest from organisations including Visa to join the association when it is launched.
- The Association of Digital Finance Professionals (ADFP) in Zambia has been endorsed by the Bank of Zambia, FSD Zambia and Zambia Information & Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA). They are discussing collaborations with UNCDF and ZICTA and have delivered successful training sessions for several organisations to build capacity. The ADFP developed a sustainability plan and will join the Payments Association of Zambia in their office space. They have been invited by the central bank to join a working group to look at growing the National Financial Switch.
- The Digital Frontiers Association (DFA) in Uganda have supported staff at the Ministry of ICT in the country’s digitalisation strategy and held an event bringing fintech start-ups and senior managers from financial institutions together to discuss how to pitch and collaboration. They also invited MPs to a debate regarding the mobile money taxation and its implication, and subsequently this tax has been reduced. The DFA collaborated with FSDU and the Fintech Association to host a joint conference in Kampala and raise their profile within the industry.
- The alumni in Bangladesh will formalise legally next year into an association and have created social media pages and are debating issues share and running webinars to increase interest and engage people for the launch.
CoPs and the other bodies growing out of CoPs are seen as hugely useful, with the potential to play a really valuable role in developing a profession and accelerating change at a country-wide level.