Educate! is a vibrant US-based non-profit that teaches African youth to be leaders and entrepreneurs who drive long-term sustainable development. To realize this mission, Educate! provides 16-20 year old youth within Ugandan schools with a practical and relevant model of education, comprised of a leadership and entrepreneurship course, interactive teaching, intensive mentorship, experience starting an enterprise, and access to out of school networks and resources. It also means traveling throughout the country to recruit schools to adopt their innovative programming. Every school term, Educate! makes a recruitment trip, in which 20 of their former program participants travel throughout the country to work with schools during this process.
Remote Field Operations
When we met Educate!, they were making cash payments to their recruitment staff, and other beneficiaries in the field: Educate! has teachers, scholarship recipients and programs incorporated in 50 schools across 3 regions in Uganda and they were using cash disbursements to support all of their operations. Field officers and recruiters were required to return to the main office in Kampala every two weeks in order to get paid and get the money they’d need for project efforts for the next two weeks.
A visit to the main office entailed a long ride (sometimes up to 12 hours!) on a crowded bus into the city, navigating the teeming Kampala streets on foot, waiting in line at the office for four hours, and then spending the better part of an hour filling out requisition forms with the Cash Officer. And that was if they were lucky – sometimes the main office would run out of cash (which they had to get from the bank beforehand) and some field officers would have to wait a whole extra day to get the money they needed to keep teaching and recruiting. Educate! would pay the bus fare for these trips, pay for meals and accommodation while the staff were in Kampala, and also pay a daily travel allowance, or per-diem to each staff member. Once the cash was in hand, field officers would have to carry it back through the city, back on the bus, and back to their post.
The Cost of Cash
Needless to say, these cash payments were inconvenient and unsafe, and cost Educate! valuable time they could have otherwise spent furthering their mission. When asked what she would do with the extra day, Susan Tusabe, an Educate! recruiter responded, “There are so many things I could do; I could schedule meetings, schedule lessons. I would dedicate it to being in the office and spending more time with the schools and students. I have never held class on a Monday for that reason [traveling for cash].”
Every two weeks, one to two entire days that could have been devoted to teaching, planning, or holding meetings was tied up with what should be a simple process – getting paid. And it wasn’t just the field staff feeling this strain; the main office staff was overwhelmed too. To distribute cash, Connie, Educate!’s cash officer, has to fulfill all requests on Mondays when the recruiters are in the office. This requires the recruiters to queue up until Connie can spend one-on-one time with them checking their requisition forms for errors and eventually releasing funds to them. Connie estimates that she spends an average of 40 minutes per recruiter checking over their paperwork. As a result, all other responsibilities Connie has, such as working with quickbooks, costing, and preparing for audits, is put on hold until all the recruiters are paid.
Scaling with mobile payments – more than just technology
As Educate! grew to reach more schools and more students, they realized cash payments were not a scalable way to continue to run their operations. When Educate! and Beyonic met, Educate! saw an early version of the Funds-To-Phones solution. It not only had the ability to make payments to mobile, but it allowed Educate! to track these payments per employee, and to mimic their requisition-to-approval-to-payment process. Over a period of 8 weeks, Educate! and Beyonic agreed to implement the solution within their programs. Beyonic approached the engagement as a co-design project. From previous experience, Beyonic knew that such a solution isn’t simply dropped into place. For it to be successful, old processes that had been created to manage cash had to be re-thought. Would the requisition forms remain the same? Should approval lead times be revised? New processes had to be created and put in place: Were all recipients registered to accept mobile payments? How should the withdrawal fees be handled? Should payments be withdrawn at once, or could final vendors and recipients be paid in cash as well? Were they on the same networks?
Additionally, all stakeholders had to understand how the new system worked, and what its value was. They had to take ownership of the new solution and feel free to give creative feedback. Did they all know what mobile money was? Did they have any concerns that needed to be addressed? Beyonic met various stakeholders weekly, including the financial manager, the IT support person, representatives from the field staff, and the accountants. These meetings were designed to collect feedback, share learnings and address concerns. Beyonic altered the system based on the feedback from Educate! For example, the authorization rules (similar to a maker-checker model) where made more flexible, to allow optional checkers, and different authorization tiers: the country director didn’t want to have to approve every little payment, but wanted to know about larger payments. Another example is that Beyonic had originally built in payment scheduling controls, which Educate! didn’t use, and so wanted the option to turn them off for their account. Over the pilot period, Beyonic released new versions of the platform every couple of weeks. (Even after the pilot, Beyonic continues to adhere to a monthly release cycle, which means the platform continues to evolve.)
“Going to the office and the money not being there is not an issue.”
The new system changed the way Educate! operated. Rather than having to physically come into the office to submit requisition forms and receive two weeks’ worth of cash, recruiters submitted their requisition forms via email and Educate! sent the money directly to their MTN mobile money accounts. As a result the recruiters were able to stay in-field longer and devote more time and energy to their projects. The recruiters were happy to not have to come into the central office to receive funds. Now, Emmanuel Ngobi says, “Going to the office and the money not being there is not an issue. I can withdraw anywhere around me and withdraw just what I need. There is also no risk of losing all my money.” He also mentioned that since mobile money agents are everywhere (17,889 at last count), the time spent getting cash has plummeted from an entire day at minimum to one hour at the maximum. Susan Tsabe agrees, “It is much faster and I don’t have to spend a lot of time like before, waiting for money… If we send the requisition form on Wednesday, we can receive the money by Monday. It only takes 5-10 minutes… I can hold Monday meetings now!” Educate!’s management was pleased too. Diana, a project manager, says “We don’t run out of money anymore. We feel more confident putting money on Beyonic’s platform than we do withdrawing cash from the bank.” With this confidence, Educate! was able to keep money flowing smoothly to the recruiters in the field.
Switching to mobile money led to greater security, less time spent managing cash payments and paperwork, and an increase in time their recruiters spent in the field. As a result Educate! had their most successful recruitment yet. Angelica Towne, Educate!’s country director for Uganda, mentioned, “During this recruitment period we went from 50 schools to 156 schools, and Beyonic’s Funds to Phones service played a key role in our growth.” Educate is now rolling the solution out across its programs and using it to pay not only field staff, but mentors and scholarship recipients.
At Beyonic we are proud to have helped Educate! increase their reach and impact on education in Uganda and drive internal social development, and hope to work with many more great companies.