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E-Payments in Uganda with Limited Infrastructure

2013 — By Jamie Zimmerman & Kristy Bohling

The 2005 Uganda Chronic Poverty Report argued that households in chronic poverty show a range of deficits that include deficient consumption and malnutrition, limited access to health and education, and limited voice and influence. For many of these households social exclusion reinforces their disadvantage. The report asserts that direct income support reduces the impact of key deficits affecting chronically poor households, through supplementing household purchasing power, which enables an immediate improvement in nutrition and consumption and long term investment in schooling and health.

Seeing “social transfers” as a key component of social protection the Government of Uganda has piloted the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) program, providing cash transfers to senior citizens and vulnerable families.

The ultimate objective of SAGE is to “generate evidence for national policy making” to scale the program to the national level with development partner and government support, eventually creating a fully sustainable system provided by government. SAGE leverages electronic payments to distribute payments to beneficiaries, despite Uganda’s underdeveloped financial services infrastructure outside of Kampala. The program relies on MTN, the mobile network operator (MNO) with the largest volume of mobile money transactions in Uganda, to pay recipients through MTN’s Mobile Money Unit.

This case study tracks the design and implementation of the SAGE program, highlights the experiences of various stakeholders and explains lessons learned.