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Interview: A life’s work to alleviate poverty

               Spotlight on PHB Consultant Henry Clarke Kisembo

Henry (right) at a diary cooperative in Western Uganda

“Inside me is a goal to improve livelihoods in poor communities,” said PHB Development consultant Henry Clarke Kisembo, “Growing up in a humble family in Uganda influenced how I see the world for those in poor rural communities as well as struggling slum-dwellers in cities.”

Now with two PhDs and 18 years of experience in areas including business development, agriculture-finance, DFS and value chain development, Henry is Co-Director of the PHB Academy and a member of the PHB management team. He shared some of his experiences, current activities and what drives him to work within a social enterprise for financial inclusion such as PHB Development.

Can you describe some challenges in your current work?

I’m the project manager in measuring the benefits of digital finance vs. cash with dairy and other agriculture value chains in Uganda. This initiative is funded by Financial Sector Deepening Uganda (FSDU), and we are collaborating with banks, telecom companies, farming communities, and financial institutions to establish a value proposition for all involved. Digitization is a challenge: farmers don’t like fees that are often high on mobile money transactions – compared to what they were paying at banks. Right now farmers are cashing out when they are paid and the process stops there, so uptake with mobile money has been slow…so far.

What are you doing to address this situation?

There are some promising aspects with agent banking, with low charges such as 0.5% that can make the process more feasible. PHB was contracted by the Uganda Banker’s Association (UBA) to develop the national curriculum on agent banking, and I’ve been the Lead Author and trainer for a number of banks and agents.

I like agent banking because it’s like taking bankers out of their offices to assist people in areas that otherwise would not be reached. Why should people in cities be the only ones to benefit from financial services offerings? Actually, 85% of the population who are unbanked live in rural areas, and ultimately we’re aiming for the entire ecosystem – all players – to embrace the mobile financial services.

“I’ve been doing what I can to combat poverty since I was a kid.”

When did PHB become involved in this process?

The real kick-off for Agent Banking was in December 2017 when we initiated training with Opportunity Bank Uganda (OBUL) and FINCA International. We supported OBUL in rethinking their business strategy to incorporate DFS.  Word spread of what was happening and then before we knew it, we were contracted to develop the Agent Banking National Curriculum; then pilot testing the curriculum with a select number of banks including Stanbic, Barclays, and Housing Finance Bank.

With all that’s taking place, how do you see the future of Agent banking in Uganda?

Agent banking offers a gateway for financial inclusion, and people can save funds, access credit, and make payments from their homes at affordable rates, without travelling to a bank office. PHB Development is realizing objectives of financial inclusion through working partnerships with UNCDF, UBA, The Agent Banking Company, and FSDU.

What was your path to where you are now? And what drives you in the financial inclusion sector?

I’ve been doing what I can to combat poverty since I was a kid. I literally jumped into the work force at 20 years old, often in programs with women, youth, farmers, telecoms and banks. I see it as a holistic approach to making a sustainable change in a good way.

I was raised in what you could call a slum area. After completing high school, I earned my BS in political science and economics, then I dove into a Master’s program in public administration and management, because it was clear that most interventions for development are project-based.

I’ve worked in rural areas for organizations that link local communities to business and access to finance for the poor.  Other experiences include with MTN in Uganda and an EU project that collaborated with telecoms and NGOs in Kenya. I headed after to South Sudan with the International Rescue Committee to link institutional capacities and access to financial markets.  And in Rwanda, I worked with youth and women in microfinance, agriculture and business development.

I first joined PHB in 2016 to digitize and develop agri-value chains financing, then was happy to come aboard in an active and management capacity in early 2017. I’m looking forward to the future with PHB, and differences we can all make through innovation, a human approach, and hard work.

4 July 2018

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