A Ugandan Refugee Camp Hosts Potential for Financial Inclusion

Original source: Center for Financial Inclusion 

Newly arrived South Sudanese refugees at the Bidi Bidi camp have few resources, but mobile money and agent banking are among several potential vehicles for financial inclusion. Lauren Hendricks of the Grameen Foundation recently spent time at the Bidi Bidi camp. Below are her reflections.

The Bidi Bidi refugee camp, in northwestern Uganda, is the largest refugee settlement in the country, and the second-largest refugee camp in the world, hosting 220,000 refugees who have fled the devastation and humanitarian crisis of the protracted civil war in South Sudan. In contrast to long-established refugee settlements elsewhere in the country, the inhabitants of Bidi Bidi are newcomers: all of them have arrived since the 2016 “July Crisis” in South Sudan.

Because of the long-term stability, favorable policy and social environment, and freedom of movement in Uganda, the majority of refugees in more established camps are either already engaging in small businesses or would like to start one (a recent World Bank study cited that 72 percent of refugees are operating some sort of micro or agri-business.) But at Bidi Bidi, the relationships and arrangements among people that create an active economy have not had time to develop, and economic activity remains low. These refugees arrived with literally just the clothes on their back and the few assets they could carry, and are to a greater extent than most refugees in Uganda, still struggling to establish themselves and supplement the limited support NGOs and the UN can provide.

However, there is a potential game changer: mobile phones and mobile money are widely available, and they hold enormous potential for generating economic activity. Grameen Foundation is working with GSMA (the association of mobile network operators) to develop ways to increase financial inclusion among the refugees. In my visit to Bidi Bidi to consider how mobile money could help kick start the camp economy activity, I found many possibilities.

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