Heleza: a mobile app revolutionising financial inclusion for women in Eswatini

Categories : Blog


Author: Digital Frontiers Institute

Operating in the Kingdom of Eswatini for over 30 years, Imbita Swaziland Women’s Finance Trust has been at the forefront of addressing economic and socio-economic challenges faced by women in the country through bridging the gap that exists between banks and the unbanked, as access to finance in developing countries remains a challenge especially for the underprivileged.

The idea of Heleza came about as a response to USAID’s call, in partnership with Grameen foundation, American Bar association and MTN Foundation Eswatini, to develop an innovative Fintech product that could address the challenges faced by the underprivileged in communities which would ensure financial inclusion.

A call for interested institutions was made in the local newspaper and Imbita applied and won USD50,000 to use for the development and implementation of a platform. MTN Fintech was approached during the application process to tap into MTN Mobile Money, and they agreed to partner with Imbita and further pledged a sum of E200,000 through MTN Foundation to develop an application for Imbita that would integrate with Imbita Management Information System (MAMBU).

Imbita took advantage of this call to ensure effective delivery of its products and services to their clients through technology. Imbita clients are located throughout the country, and they must travel to the nearest bank or mobile money agent to deposit savings, loan repayments and funeral insurance premiums. The clients have to come to the Local Membership Committee (these are Imbita decentralisation structures where the clients meet monthly) meeting to get a loan application form and update their savings cards and get their loan balances from Imbita officers who visit them monthly.

This call further presented an opportunity for Imbita to develop a USSD application that would ensure that clients are able to save, repay loans, pay funeral premiums, get their savings and loans balances on their cell phones wherever they are and at the comfort of their homes. Clients need to have money in their mobile money to be able to transact. The good thing about this app is that it does not require a smartphone, as even smaller phones that most senior citizens have, is able to use Heleza.

Heleza is a USSD platform (*9108#) that allows for members to have real time access to Imbita services. This game changer has allowed for Imbita products to be digitalised, thus making finance more accessible to members and allowing for a wider reach of Imbita services beyond its current portfolio.

The name Heleza means to move fast which is a true interpretation of what Heleza does. In the past, members needed to visit the office or local meeting points to be able to access services. This meant incurring of expenses on travelling as well as loss on income from their income generating activities on time spent travelling to nearest touch. Factors such as unforeseen weather conditions posed a challenge in service provision as some local meeting points are unsheltered. Through this platform, members are able to save, access loans, enquire on savings balances, launch enquiries on the platform, repay loans, apply for savings withdrawal, receive their savings statement, sign up for other Imbita services and non-members are able to register to be Imbita members in real time from anywhere in the country without needing to visit the office. Members are also able to avert the risk of theft by not physically carrying large sums of cash. Its user friendliness ensures that members can easily utilise the platform with very little assistance.

Through the launch of the platform in October 2022, we have been able to reach over 37,000 members inclusive of self-help groups which boast over 30,000 members through extensive education sessions with members. The uptake of the product has been successful, we have been able to experience over 90,000 sessions with the platform from members in a single month. As we continue to develop the platform, we aim to further broaden the services offered and ensure a hundred per cent participation on Heleza by members.

Heleza has indeed proven that regardless of their literacy levels, micro entrepreneurs with low-income status are indeed ready if supported and nurtured, to tap into the advantages that technology is bringing to them. This further shows the positive role that technology plays in enhancing effective delivery of financial services for all to ensure true inclusion. We are indeed moving at an amazingly fast and smooth pace, siya Heleza!


By Sbongile Mthembu Shongwe

Chief Executive Officer at Imbita Swaziland Women’s Finance Trust

DFI Community Member


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