Enhancing Socio-Economic Empowerment through Financial Inclusion Initiatives: A Case Study of Rwanda Union of the Blind
1David Nyambane and 2Thamar Bakunzibake
1Faculty of Business Administration, Kampala International University Western Campus Uganda.
2Faculty of Business Administration of Mount Kenya University Kenya.
The research defines financial inclusion as the process of making sure vulnerable groups, like low-income individuals and the less privileged, have access to financial services and reasonable credit when they need it, at an affordable cost. This study focused on enhancing financial inclusion and socio-economic empowerment among individuals with disabilities in the Rwanda Union of the Blind. Using a descriptive and correlation research design, the researcher employed two primary data collection methods: questionnaires and interviews with structured questions for the respondents. The study involved 2400 members of the Rwanda Union of the Blind, with a sample size of 96 visually impaired individuals selected using the Yamane formula. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used for data analysis, with Pearson’s correlation coefficient used to establish relationships between variables. The study’s findings highlighted a 43% positive impact of financial inclusion on the socio-economic empowerment of people with visual impairment. Some respondents, particularly those who accessed loans from banks, acknowledged that financial services enabled them to excel in economic activities. Nevertheless, most respondents faced challenges due to discrimination and the absence of collateral, especially among disabled youth, hindering their access to finance. To achieve full financial inclusion, the study recommended that Microfinance Institutions or Banks should ensure equal opportunities and access to credit and financial services for individuals with disabilities. This can be achieved by providing information in formats accessible to them and making service points physically accessible. The government should promote awareness and involvement of visually impaired individuals in income-generating activities. Additionally, it was suggested that people with visual impairment should be encouraged to confidently apply for financial services.
Keywords: Financial inclusion, Visual impairment, Socioeconomic empowerment, Financial services, People with disabilities.
World nations view financial inclusion as a prerequisite for sustainable economic growth, achieving inclusive growth, and one of the key drivers to the attainment of world nations’ development agenda and targets . Financial inclusion refers to a process of ensuring access to appropriate financial products and services needed by all sections of society in general and vulnerable groups at an affordable cost fairly and transparently by mainstream institutional players . Vulnerable groups mostly targeted in financial inclusion comprise not only a poor portion of the population and traditionally marginalized groups like women, but people with disabilities as well. The latter, despite their potential, have been traditionally excluded from accessing finance due to their perceived inability to do good business. Also, given their lack of employability skills (caused by limited education or training) and their lack of collaterals, most financial institutions are reluctant to include them in their clientele . An estimated 1 billion PWDs in the world  are not homogeneous groups; they do have the common experience of exclusion and discrimination. Socio-economic empowerment in this study denotes an ongoing process, which enables an individual to fulfil and be accountable for his or her duties and responsibilities by providing them with the resources, opportunities, knowledge, and skills, needed to increase their capacity to determine their future and fully participate in community life . Business activities inclusion, employment opportunities, income and improvement of people’s lives are key indicators of Socio-economic empowerment. Previous researchers have hence testified how countries with higher degrees of financial inclusion tend to post higher economic growth.  in his view, countries with a higher number of branches and deposits of commercial banks and higher number of bank branches per 100,000 adults and more deposit accounts per 1000 adults are observed in high-income countries than countries in low and middle-income countries. He further said that financial inclusion, especially when viewed in the context of overall economic inclusion can improve the financial status and standards of living of the poor and the vulnerable class of the society. He added that access to basic financial services would lead to increased economic activities and employment opportunities for rural households. In Rwanda, like other developing nations where people with disabilities (PWDs) rank top among the poor and most vulnerable to socio-economic shocks and catastrophic crises, above and beyond facing all kinds of barriers and discriminations, this section of the society requires physical rehabilitation before becoming economically active. The majority require accommodation including improved infrastructure concerning accessibility standards as well as modified information and services to suit their specific impairments. More than 50 national-level policy-making and regulatory bodies publicly committed to financial inclusion strategies for their countries by 2013, . Despite Financial inclusion being a major component of inclusive development, Africa has been lagging behind other continents with less than one adult out of four with access to an account at a formal financial institution . As to account penetration, for instance, AfDB indicates that overall 23% of adults in Africa have an account at a formal financial institution.
Rwanda’s development policy is guided by Vision 2020 and aims at transforming the country into a middle-income nation, with a target to achieve 90% formal inclusion by 2020 . According to this survey, access to finance by adults has risen from 48 per cent to 72 per cent in the years 2008 to 2012 respectively. And, overall exclusion rates dropped from 52 to 28 per cent during the same period. Despite this development, however, some disabled persons still consider begging as their way of earning a livelihood while Rwanda intends to see every citizen engaged in productive activities to become self-reliant through financial inclusion . Many are poor or become poorer due to their disability, and face particular barriers to health, education and social services . People with disabilities were stipulated among the groups, like women and youth, that were significantly underserved in the financial sector . As part of the financial inclusion drive, MIGEPROF and MYICT in collaboration with the Business Development Fund (BDF) provide a 50%-75% widened range of total risk coverage on a fixed asset or investment loans of loss on a defaulting loan for women and youth entrepreneurs. Through this program, MIPROF and MYICT aim to create a sound, enabling financial environment for women and youth and encourage lending institutions to provide credit to women and youth who would otherwise not be fully qualified for approval under the normal Credit underwriting guidelines. This, as a result, expands the ability of women and young entrepreneurs to pursue economic opportunities invest additional capital and grow their businesses. Of particular focus was to facilitate financial inclusion and access to financial facilities for women and youth. On their side, however, people with disabilities were left out with no specific backing to become involved in sustainable entrepreneurial activities. It’s against this background that this study attempts to determine whether financial inclusion contributes to raising people with disabilities’ welfare status and to highlight the need to do so.
The research findings indicated that people with visual impairment did not adequately get access to financial services especially loan facilities because of discrimination and accessibility barriers. Regular discrimination, taking the forms of negative attitudes, social exclusion, and lack of economic opportunities, has long been an integral part of the lives of PWDs. MFIs have not put much effort into serving people with visual impairment. Disability-friendly policies are absent at the operation level in most Banks and MFIs and, therefore, few people with disabilities are mainstreamed into the microfinance programs. Although some people with visual impairment make every possible effort to meet all the conditions for getting a loan, loan officers are likely to discriminate against them in the cycle of information dissemination, selection, etc. Likewise, the top management of MFIs has not been interested in serving this vulnerable group due to the transaction cost, negative mindset, and lack of understanding among others. People with visual impairment can be economically sustainable if they get the necessary finance with some training and other technical support. Should they get involved in the financial system, people with visual impairment can generate savings and gain the ability to contribute to the betterment of their economic status, enhance social respect and increase peer relationships. Concerning the relationship between the variables, the study revealed that financial inclusion empowers people with visual impairment only at 0.43, which is not adequate hence requiring further improvement.
Based on study findings, the following recommendations could help to effectively attain and enhance PWDs’ empowerment process: To start with, MFIs or Banks should ensure that PWDs have equal chances and access to credit and financial services through information adapted to their needs in proper format and making points of services accessible. Raising awareness and making people with visual impairment active in income-generating activities could be the best idea for empowerment. Economic rehabilitation begins when integration happens by blending social protection and necessary resources for income generation. A few changes in credit design and disabled-friendly policies could reduce discrimination and increase the financial inclusion of this group. Simply providing loans, savings or insurance services is not enough; MFIs need to offer a credit-plus approach, recruit and train disability-friendly staff, change the mindset of decision-makers, and most importantly, develop their confidence to serve this group. Apart from this, MFIs could develop strategic partnerships with Disabled People’s Organizations. It is also urgent to improve the skill set, knowledge base and attitudes of people with disabilities. Furthermore, microfinance institutions should keep focus on the ability of these people who want to become economically active. Due to the lack of insurance funds for PWDs, collaterals need to be simplified as this section of the population lacks assets and this puts them at a disadvantage position and deprives them of accessing financial services. Disabled women and youth are particularly vulnerable. The overall procedures for accessing financial services need to be simplified for this group.
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CITE AS: David Nyambane and Thamar Bakunzibake (2023). Enhancing Socio-Economic Empowerment through Financial Inclusion Initiatives: A Case Study of Rwanda Union of the Blind. IDOSR JOURNAL OF CURRENT ISSUES IN ARTS AND HUMANITIES 9(2):57-74. https://doi.org/10.59298/IDOSRJCIAH/2023/4.3.3300