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Netherlands Trust Fund (NTF IV) Uganda project closed but still alive.

Being proactive, seeking out opportunities rather than waiting for them to come to you, tends to deliver just rewards. The success of the Financial Technology Service Providers Association (FITSPA) of Uganda is partly due to this attitude.

Four years ago, the Dutch government launched the Netherlands Trust Fund IV (NTF IV) project.

Described as an Export Sector Competitiveness Programme, it was based on a partnership between the Dutch Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries (CBI) and the Geneva based International Trade Centre (ITC). CBI is affiliated to the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Dutch government provided funding while the ITC implemented the project in a group of selected countries. Uganda was fortunate enough to be chosen, specifically to assist in the area of IT-enabled services that can support exports.

Zianah Muddu, Engagement Partner of the Financial Technology Service Providers’ Association (FITSPA) recalls her first interaction and experience with the NTFIV project “The project implementers were looking for Ugandan organizations and companies with the grit to scale up their operations and in doing so become more competitive on a bigger stage. FITSPA met the criteria so I made follow-up inquiries. At the time, many Ugandans were still unsure of the possibilities associated with financial technology (fintech) yet this was a budding industry that could strengthen linkages with other existing business sectors, to simplify and add-value to their operations. After some due diligence, NTF IV agreed to support FITSPA activities and have been doing so for the past four years. In the interlude, the visibility of our members has steadily increased. The technical support has also helped to unlock both local and international opportunities previously missed. Another invaluable aspect of this assistance has involved appropriate mentoring to attract potential investors to Uganda’s growing fintech ecosystem.”

One the first start-ups to benefit was Akellobanker, this digital platform was launched by Jean Onyait to provide agricultural inputs and services on credit to improve farmers’ productivity.

Onyait said, “We joined NTF-IV in 2017 with just three people on our team. Now we are 58 and growing. We operated in only one region and have scaled up to three more. Our tech team, which was just one person, is now made up of six people. NTF-IV hand held us and helped build our capacity to not only run a sustainable business, but also to manage our team more efficiently.”

He said the consultants provided capacity-building training, business diagnostic checks and funded trips to meet similar startup leaders in other countries, besides connecting him with investors.

“The outcome of all this support has been evident with the Covid-19 outbreak. We have weathered all the shocks that came and yet managed to expand our marketing which increased the uptake of our services by 45%.”

Allan Rwakatungu of Xente, an e-commerce and financial services business said, the NTF IV project paid the expenses for them to travel to the UK and meet their partners, investors and potential clients. As a result of that trip, Xente is now in a position to grow, not only in Uganda but across Africa.

Together with technical input from ITC, the Dutch donors have been a major reason behind FITSPA’s rapid growth. From its nascent stages in 2017, the Association has now established itself as an increasingly high-profile presence in Uganda with a membership of vital enablers.

Starting out with just seven founding members, today the Association can boast of 160-plus members and still counting who have bought into the importance of forming synergies.

FITSPA is governed by a pool of passionate, skilled, talented, exposed professionals with experience in technology, banking, telecom, legal and investment who make the Board of Directors and oversee the day-to-day activities of the secretariat.

It is currently, chaired by Peter Kawumi. Other members include Gerald Begumisa, Eric Kamau, Allan Rwakatungu, Brian Kalule, Josephine Olok, Henry Kevin Wava and Dr. Mawanda J. Haruna.

They say, all good things must come to an end, but in this particular case the knowhow, exposure and positive experiences will stay with us and carry us forward. As FITSPA, we are forever grateful and indebted to our donors and consultants for their confidence and trust during the past four years.

Recently on Zoom, during a farewell breakfast, Zianah Muddu, who was the major lead on discussions with the project was only given one minute to speak. However, she felt she could not do justice to what the NTF IV project has done in lifting the profile of Uganda’s innovation ecosystem. Listed below are the highlights of major areas in which the project made a great contribution to FITSPA.

In 2018, the NTF IV project supported local fintechs to participate in the Nigeria Fintech Festival. Being a result-based organisation, the Fund gave FITSPA and the participating fintechs specific targets to achieve, for instance which Nigerian fintechs to speak with, investors, partners and so forth. Being proactive and determined not to let our donors down, the following were achieved:

1. Uganda was elected to a seat on the committee set up the Africa Fintech Network.

2. Uganda won the bid and was selected to host the second Africa Fintech Festival held in Kampala during November 2019.  By all accounts, it turned out to be a great success, especially with the help of Martin Labbe and his team of consultants.

In 2019, they stepped in to sponsor another set of fintechs for the UK-Uganda Fintech Convention to expose our members to various British investors.

Then in 2020, they went ahead to sponsor the FITSPA Fintech Symposium. On Wednesday 16th September 2020, stakeholders in the financial services sector converged at the Kampala Serena Conference Center to discuss the implementation of the National Payment Systems Act that was passed on July 29, 2020.

FITSPA has nothing but appreciation and praise for everybody behind the NTF IV project as it was specific to Uganda. We would like to thank all the consultants, in particular Martin Labbe, John Ndabarasa and Richard Okuti. We hope that we can still form even synergies like this in the near future for the greater good of the Ugandan fintech ecosystem.

The NTFIV project set the Fintech Ecosystem in Uganda on a positive growth trajectory, it was highly viable, impactful, and a critical stepping stone.

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