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Harnessing the Power of Volunteerism to Empower Youth and Women in Rural and Urban Areas (Update on 15 May 2015).

Our idea is about tapping into the potential of youth to empower their communities on financial literacy and creating opportunities.

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Who does this idea benefit, who are the main players and what's in it for them?

Our idea is about tapping into the God-given potential of youth volunteers to empower other youth aged between 16 and 24 in urban areas in Kinshasa and small holders in rural areas neighboring Kinshasa, focusing on young girls and women, to become literate on financial matters and have the opportunity to get access to credit in order to make their livelihoods better through a better management of small businesses and social entrepreneurship.

How is your idea specifically using the power of communities to improve financial opportunities and resources?

The initiative will harness the power youth volunteers to empower their communities towards financial inclusion through training and creating opportunities for bettering their livelihoods. The first step towards achieving this will be to partner with financial institutions like FINCA International, and UN specialized agencies, like UNCDF, which will provide us with the necessary tools to organize a training of trainers.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We will conduct surveys in schools, churches, universities, and a neighboring small town near Kinshasa, to determine the needs for young people, small business holders, and young girls and women, for financial inclusion. The second step will be to organize a training of trainers, in partnership with FINCA and UNCDF. We will select a group of youth volunteers from among the Bridge volunteers, and train them on financial literacy as well as methods of financial inclusion.

What skills, input or guidance might you be seeking from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

We might be seeking guidance from the OpenIDEO community on the right research questions to ask to our users during our surveys, and better refine our idea.

This idea emerged from:

  • An organization

Harnessing the Power of Volunteerism to Bridge the Financial Literacy and Opportunity Gap for Young and Women in Urban and Rural Areas

Our idea is about tapping into the God-given potential of youth volunteers to empower other youth aged between 16 and 24, focusing on young girls and women, in urban areas in Kinshasa and small holders in rural areas neighboring Kinshasa to empower community members to organize themselves in village savings and loan associations (VSLA), and help them to become literate on financial matters and have the opportunity to get access to credit in order to make their livelihoods better through a better management of small businesses and social entrepreneurship.

The first step towards achieving this will be to partner with financial institutions like FINCA International, and UN specialized agencies, like the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), which will provide us with the necessary tools to organize a training of trainers. We already have the human resources capacity to implement the ideas, as the trainers will mostly come from among the youth volunteers of the Bridge Initiative, a non-profit organization based in Kinshasa and whose mission is to ‘promote volunteerism and social entrepreneurship as pathways to decent work for youth’. Since February 2015, we have recruited over 50 young people, and we started training them on career and leadership skills, financial management and accounting. We are also building partnerships with key stakeholders. Our first stipend-based volunteer placements are scheduled to start in May 2015. We are seeking more partnerships with academic institutions, Embassies, other nonprofits, the public and the private sectors. We believe that partnerships are a great way to make a greater impact in our society, especially in terms of financial inclusion of marginalized populations.

The second step will be to organize a training of trainers, in partnership with FINCA and UNCDF. We will select a group of youth volunteers from among the Bridge volunteers, and train them on community development and sound methods of financial inclusion. Some of them are already willing and able to receive a special financial literacy training, and start making a difference in their community. 

Once these young people will have gained sound knowledge on financial management, which leads us to the third step, they will be placed on volunteer projects in schools, villages, churches, and universities where their main activities will be to teach other young people, especially young girls and women, on saving habits, how to open a bank account, how to build their confidence in financial institutions and use financial services, and assist them in starting small businesses or implementing small projects with a social impact. At the end of this activity, communities should be able to create and manage their credit unions, which will expand financial inclusion to people who need it the most in our community.

The implementation of this idea will have the following results: 1) financial inclusion in terms increased financial knowledge and services for young people and, small holders and entrepreneurs in various areas of work, including small businesses and ICT in urban areas, and agriculture, farming, clean and renewable energy in rural areas, as well as access to credit; and 2) inclusion into the labor market in terms of increased work experience and project management skills for the Bridge youth volunteers.

We hope to receive feedback from the OpenIDEO community in refining this idea, and we are keen to implement it in order to make a difference in our communities.

Update No. 1 (13 May 2015): Harnessing the Power of Volunteerism to Bridge the Financial and Opportunity Gap for Youth and Women in Rural and Urban Areas

Once again we thank OpenIDEO for selecting this idea to the Refinement Phase. As mentioned earlier, our idea is a program that tackles the problem of financial inclusion of youth and women in rural and urban areas.

Situational analysis

Women and Youth in Rural and Urban Areas

Studies reveal that 3.4 billion people, corresponding to about 46 percent of the global population, were living in rural areas in 2014 (UNDESA). Africa is mostly rural with nearly 48% of its population living in urban areas. Women and youth represent a great part of this population. In the DRC, the situation is the same, though accurate statistical data is not available.  For this reason, Bridge Initiative is planning to make its ‘Youth Employment Research Center’ (YERC) operational soon. This center will collaborate with ILO to gather evidence that will inform the policy and decision-making when it comes to youth employment, women empowerment and financial inclusion of these two population groups, but that is another subject that will be further discussed at a later stage. This explains our choice of the two population groups for the intervention of our program.

Piloting the Program

As demonstrated by facts, most women and youth in rural and urban areas do not have access to financial services, decent employment and credit because of their low income or lack of skills and opportunity. Most of them do not even have a bank account to start with. The pilot phase of the program will be implemented by our 50 youth volunteers aged between 18 and 35. These youth volunteers have already been trained on social entrepreneurship and financial management. A further training of trainers will be conducted with the collaboration of FINCA and UNCDF. We have learnt more about how these services could be delivered to our target population through village savings and loan associations and credit unions. 

Our Model: Linking Financial Literacy and Mobile Banking to Achieve Financial Inclusion of Youth and Women

From the feedback received so far from FINCA, youth volunteers will design a training program targeted specifically to women and youth. The training program will be delivered through PowerPoint slides and other channels, and will have a component on Mobile Banking. Because mobile phones work in rural areas in DRC as well, they are ideal for helping communities to not only enhance their financial literacy, but also to manage funds and savings and loan accounts through mobile banking.

The training program aims at increasing the financial literacy and skills of women and other youth in rural and urban areas. The target populations that will benefit from the program will be (1) a group of women in the rural area of Kimpese, and (2) a group of young boys in the urban area in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.  The mission of our program is to facilitate the financial inclusion of these targeted populations by empowering them to be actors of the betterment of their own livelihoods. The Bridge Initiative will bridge the skills and opportunity gap not only for youth in urban areas, but also for women in rural areas.

Youth social entrepreneurship

After the training the youth volunteers will work as social entrepreneurs in selected communities in Kinshasa and Kimpese. If the program is successful and sustainable, which we hope it will be, it will be implemented country-wide, with the help of sponsors and funders. Youth volunteers are also going to call for donation of books from universities and the government, and will manage a library in Kinshasa to help other youth to become literate on financial matters. As a result, youth will have invested in their future financial stability by gaining skills on project management and will also become more employable.

Women Empowerment

Women in rural areas will be empowered through agricultural and non-agricultural activities that will be carried out to improve their livelihoods. We are thinking of adapting the Barefoot College Model to empower women to be providers of solar energy to the community. Youth volunteers will implement this program locally.


Right now we are in the process of prototyping the idea of ‘harnessing the power of youth volunteerism and community services to bridge the financial literacy gap for youth and women in rural and urban areas’, improve their livelihoods and facilitate their financial inclusion. The financial literacy program will include the following components, as suggested by youth volunteers in the brainstorming session:

  1. Learning  Methods of Job Creation in agricultural and non-agricultural activities.
  2. Acquiring  Sound Savings habits
  3. Organizing  a Village Savings and Loan Association in Kimpese;
  4. Helping the community to Use Mobile Banking to easily access to financial services and manage their money.

With the collaboration of some of the 50 youth volunteers, we decided to target two groups of people: (1) a group of women aged 18-35 in the rural area of Kimpese, and (2) a group of youth in the urban area of Kinshasa aged 15-17. This category of youth is labelled as ‘child labourers’ and not in school, and they do not have access to financial services nor do they own a mobile phone. Most of them are ‘mobile shoe polishers’, and earn their living following pedestrians in the city of Kinshasa and asking them to polish their shoes.

User Scenario of a 15-year old boy in the urban area of Kinshasa

A volunteer approached a young man named Gloire, conducted a structured interview in Lingala, and came up with the following information and user scenario:

Gloire is 15 years old. He is a ‘shoe polisher’ working in the municipality of Limete. He wakes up every day at 4.00 am and travels 25 kilometers from Masina to Gombe, downtown Kinshasa. He spends his day walking after people to beg them to polish their shoes. Making shoes shine is like a passion for him, yet he does not have nice shoes because he can’t afford them. He earns 8000 Congolese francs average per day (almost 8$). Some he merely earns 3000 Congolese francs (almost 3$) on ‘unlucky days’. We have concluded that if we empower young people like him to save at least 1 dollar a day, they will be able to accumulate more or less than 300 dollars in a year, which they have never achieved in the past. Moreover, we will empower these young people to organize credit unions that will be managed by a youth volunteer in collaboration with FINCA International.  After a year of strict follow-up of the program, all of these young people will be able to open a bank account and start thinking of going back to school with their savings, or buying an automatic shoe polisher (worth 180$ in China) to make their work and lives easier and more manageable.

User Scenario of a 24-year old young woman in the rural area of Kimpese

Another youth volunteer has gathered feedback from, Matondo, a young woman in the rural town of Kimpese. Many other women like Matondo, mostly small farm holders, earn their living through agriculture.  We have come up with the following user experience scenario:

Like many other young women in the DRC, Soraya is a smallholder farmer who lives in Kimpese, a rural area near Kinshasa. She grows vegetable crops. She is 24, and has 7 kids including twins. Her husband has no job, so she is the one providing for the family. She could not go to school because her father preferred to send her brother to school instead. So she got married at the age of 16. She is basically illiterate, does not have access to the market to deliver her crops nor does she have a bank account because of her low income. Banks are reluctant to give her credit because of her low income.

The Bridge Initiative signs a memorandum of understanding with UNCDF and SNV ( to collaborate on the financial empowerment project. SNV works with smallholder farmers, pastoralists and forest-dependent communities to provide innovative, market-based solutions to questions on market access and value chains, food security and sustainable production, thus contributing to equitable economic development. Also, SNV works to provide innovative, market-based solutions to these problems; contributing to equitable economic development and making markets work effectively for the rural poor.

User Experience

Armando, David and Therese, three youth volunteers from the Bridge Initiative, graduated from University of Kinshasa respectively in Economics, Financial Management. They own a truck and decide to travel to Kimpese to empower women farmers like Soraya. There is a real problem of distrust among community members in Kimpese, as they had faced cases of frauds in the attempt to organize village savings loan associations in the past. So the challenge for our youth volunteers is to rebuild the trust in the communities in training young women and forming associations. Our three youth volunteers have been trained on community services, leadership and social entrepreneurship. They are now part of the project on financial inclusion of poor communities.  Armando is the project leader, and David and Therese acts as training officers.

They form a team, with the support of SNV, and travel by route to Kimpese with their truck. They get in touch with Soraya, identify other young women farmers, understand their needs and conduct training with other young 200 women farmers in Kimpese, help them organize themselves into village saving loan associations, and draft a code of conduct and regulations for them. The women pay small fees for participating to the training. The training includes basic literacy (reading and writing) and financial literacy, as most of these women are illiterate. They are taught to open savings accounts and use mobile banking to manage finances. Armando and David also organize ‘election’ of the president of women association based on specific criteria. Furthermore, Therese provides a specific training on family planning to help women like Soraya limit the number of children in order improve their lives. Eventually, they help women farmers deliver their products to Kinshasa city by transporting the products using their truck at affordable transportation fees, for a better access to local markets.

Criteria for success

The following are criteria for success:

1. Commitment of youth volunteers to successfully implement the program;

2. Sound financial management of the program if funded.

3. Commitment from all stakeholders, including key partners and the government;

How would this program stand out?

The program will stand out from other programs for the following reasons:

  • It  will be implemented by youth, who bring more energy and motivation to its  implementation;
  • It  will go the ‘extra mile’ by not only improving the livelihoods of communities  but also in implementing sustainable solutions and facilitating financial  inclusion of two different categories of communities: youth and women;
  • It  will harness the power of youth volunteerism and provide opportunities for  youth to gain skills and experience by being change agents in their communities  on one hand, and achieving financial inclusion of women in rural areas on the  other hand;
  • It  will increase the chances of youth to access to decent work through the  accumulation of a richer experience and higher organizational and project  management skills;
  • It  has an inclusive approach and will have a social impact not only in terms  of  financial inclusion of communities,  but also in terms of youth employment and women empowerment.

Financial sustainability

This program will work with mobile service providers like Vodacom, Airtel, Tigo and Orange, which are the top service providers in the DRC. These service providers will provide Bridge Initiative and its youth volunteers with the incentives to ‘market’ their services to rural communities. These services will provide affordable mobile phones and internet services. Also, the youth trainers who will have benefitted from the training-of-the trainer program will receive a small fee from community members for the training provided. The larger the community will be, the higher the income will be. Bridge Initiative will make sure that the training fees are as affordable as possible, for example 1 dollar per session per participant over a period from 3 to 6 months. 75% of the total income will go to the youth volunteer and 25% to the Bridge Initiative.

Key partners

The key partners in this program will be the following:

  1. SNV (the Netherlands Development Organization): we have just signed a Memorandum of Understanding with SNV to implement projects on Agriculture, Water and Sanitation and Renewable Energy;
  2. UNDCF: we want to learn more on how best the funding can benefit youth and women
  3. FINCA: we want to collaborate with FINCA to help deliver its financial services to communities through youth volunteers;
  4. Barefoot Solar Engineers: we are thinking of adapting their business model to the Congolese context.
  5. Mobile service providers like VODACOM, Airtel, Tigo and Orange.


Every human endeavor is not without challenges. We foresee the following challenges in the implementation phase:

  • Acceptance for youth in urban areas to move to rural areas to implement this project: this is a hard decision for a young person to make, especially if they are used to live in town;
  • Trust from the community: At first the women we are target may not easily accept the idea of organizing a village savings and loan association;

This list is not exhaustive. I hope to receive feedback from the OpenIDEO community during this Refinement Phase of the Challenge. I look forward to hearing your comments and insights for the implementation of this program.

Thank you!

Update No. 2 (15 May 2015): User Experience - Youth Volunteers in Action!

The following sections highlight youth volunteers at work and how this this idea is turned into action.

First Things First: Signing MOUs with key partners: SNV, FINCA, UNCDF

A  memorandum of understanding has been signed since 6 May 2015 between the Bridge Initiative and SNV. The purpose of the  collaboration to be governed by the Memorandum of Understanding is to undertake  programs and activities that engage youth volunteers and serve to promote and  generate great awareness of the contributions of the work of SNV with and  through youth volunteers and the value of volunteer action to society. SNV implements projects in the area of agriculture, renewable energy, and water and sanitation, to alleviate poverty in communities.

Bridge now approaches FINCA and UNCDF to sign another MOU to implement the project. MOUs are signed, and the program is now ready to kick-off.

Youth Volunteer Action in Rural Areas: the Case of A Rural Small Holder Woman in Kimpese

Like many other young women in the DRC, Soraya is a smallholder farmer who lives in Kimpese, a rural area near Kinshasa. She grows vegetable crops. She is 24, and has 7 kids including twins. Her husband has no job, so she is the one providing for the family. She could not go to school because her father preferred to send her brother to school instead. So she got married at the age of 16. She is basically illiterate, does not have access to the market to deliver her crops nor does she have a bank account because of her low income. Banks are reluctant to give her credit because of her low income.

Bridge  starts the Y4RW (Youth4RuralWomen) pilot  project in collaboration with SNV, and engages 20 recent graduate youth  volunteers who empower women in the rural area of Kimpese to become financially  stable through agricultural and non-agricultural activities. A group of 10  youth volunteers focuses on agricultural training activities, and another group  of 10 focuses on training rural women to install solar panels and become providers  of clean energy. They thus increase their income and open bank accounts. This  allows rural women to thrive instead of surviving.

Selection of Youth Volunteers to Implement the Y4RW Project

After  a careful selection process of youth volunteers, Ben, 24, and Tania, 25, recent  graduates from University of Kinshasa, have been accepted for volunteer  assignments with SNV to implement the Y4RW  Project, an agricultural project in Kimpese to empower women through  agricultural and non-agricultural activities. 

Ben and Tania respectively studied  agronomy and civil engineering at University and are two of the best youth  volunteers in this area of specialty at the Bridge Initiative. They just signed  their letters of commitment, and are ready for their first deployment to the field  as Project Officers.

Partnering with FINCA

Bridge  Initiative partners with FINCA to expand its services to remote areas, such as Kimpese.  FINCA has a subsidiary office in the DRC since 2003, which delivers financial  services to nearly 223,589 people, but has only 16 service outlets in the whole  country, which is as big as 2,345,000 kilometre squares. The traditional way of  granting loans is through the filing of applications. Sometimes beneficiaries  are not informed that these services are available. Instead of waiting for the  women to physically come and submit a loan application to FINCA, we partner  with FINCA to reach out to the communities, inform them about the availability  of these services, determine their eligibility for a loan, train them to  enhance their financial stability and inclusion, and deliver the financial  services directly to them, and follow-up with the payment of loans.

Meeting with a financial advisor at FINCA

Our  two youth volunteers make an appointment with a financial advisor of FINCA in  Kinshasa. The purpose of the appointment is to learn more about FINCA’s  financial services provided to poor communities, and determine how best they  can design a training material that will empower women in Kimpese and improve  their financial capability through agricultural and non-agricultural  activities, such as the installation of solar panel to empower old women to be providers of energy to other community members.

During  the meeting with the financial advisor, they ask specific questions such as  “What are the financial services that FINCA offers to people who earn less than  a dollar per day?”, “What are your interest rates for village savings and loan  associations?”, “How do you link the management of funds to mobile banking?”,  “How best can we work together to bring your services to communities in remote  areas?”, “How can people benefit from FINCA’s services to improve their  livelihoods?”.

Ben  and Tania get insightful feedback from the financial advisor, and design the  training material that teaches women about saving and investing. The other  component of the training curriculum includes agricultural methods to improve crops  and efficiently deliver them to the urban area of Kinshasa. The training  duration is 1 to 3 months.

Ben  and Tania approach Soraya (cited earlier), and tell her about the  project. Soraya is very interested and talks about it to a group of 20 women in  the village, and they end up forming a group of 50 women for a start.

Component of the Training

Ben  and Tania work as a team and deliver the training on groups of women on the  following topics in the local language, which they master very well:

“How to Improve Agricultural Methods in a Rural Area”

“How to Mount a Solar Panel and Distribute Energy to the Community”

“How to Open a Savings Account”

“How to Start and Organize a Village Savings and Loan Association”

“How to Use Mobile Banking to Manage Money”

“How to Write and Implement a Monthly Budget”.

Ben  and Tania draft rules and regulations and a Code of Conduct for the management  of the Village Savings and Loan Association. The groups of women elect a leader  from among them and start contributing to the association.

Mobile Banking Technology

As  each woman in the association has a cellphone, Ben and Tania oversee training  on using mobile banking to manage savings accounts and make financial  transactions and be updated on a regular basis. They contact Vodacom to design  a specific banking system adapted to the village savings and loan account where  each member of the community knows how much they save on a monthly basis, and  how the money is spent.

Youth Volunteer Action in Urban Areas: The Case of A Small Business Holder, A Woman Household Decision-Makers, and a Recent Graduate entering the Labor Market.

Alain is a small business owner. He has a successful business, but keeps his money at home. He does not trust banks. As a result, he does not have a bank account, and can't make his business sustainable.

Marie is a household decision-makers. She does not formally work. Her husband, Flory, is the breadwinner. She makes most of the decisions on how money is spent, but most of the time does not keep track of where the money goes. Sometimes her husband withdraws money without telling her, which makes it difficult for the household to thrive.

Yolly is a recent graduate who is just entering the labor market. She volunteered for six months in a partner organization, and has now found an entry-level position with an international organization. 

Bridge starts the Y4FL (Youth4FinancialLiteracy) pilot project in collaboration with UNCDF, and engages 20 recent graduate youth volunteers who empower other youth, small business holders and women household decision-makers in the urban area of Kinshasa to become financial literate through a Club of Readers.

A group of youth volunteers launch a campaign to collect 1000 books from the community, universities and schools. Charlie and Roger supervise the campaign to collect 1000 books on financial management.

They end up collecting 100 books on financial literacy in French.

A library is created. Charlie and Roger oversee the club of readers, where every week a member of the community borrows a book on financial matters and makes a presentation of what they have read and discusses with other members of the club each Saturday to promote financial literacy among the community.

The library is open to all small business owners, women household decision-makers, and youth aged between 14 and 35 in the city of Kinshasa.

At the same time, Bernard sensitizes a group of young ‘shoes polishers’ into associations and teaches them to save money and manage their future. They use the same methods of managing money through mobile banking, as explained above. With the help of other volunteers, these young men are also mentored and coached through the library and Club of Readers.

We are still refining the idea, and need more feedback from the OpenIDEO community.

I look forward to hearing from the Community again!



Join the conversation:

Photo of Norbert Opira

I am so excited finding your site, I have been struggling to improve the lives of my rural poor in Northern Uganda, by introducing Entrepreneurial skills through practical approach.
I will be willing to hear more from your organisation

Photo of Jean-Marc Mercy

Hello Norbert. Thanks for your comments. Please contact me with any questions at I will be glad to collaborate. Look forward to your feedback.

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