INTERVIEW: Accessible finance key to realizing Uganda’s potential |

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Dmitry Poshidaev Many United Nations agencies have a very specific theme: they deal with women, children, health care or other important issues. However, UNCDF can engage in a variety of thematic areas, provided there is a financial solution that can be used to address a specific challenge, ranging from education to agriculture.

UNCDF

Dmitry Pozhidaev, Head of UNCDF Office in Uganda, by UNCDF

Uganda has a lot of promise. For example, 50% of all arable land in East Africa is in Uganda; 75% of Uganda’s population are young people under the age of 30.

Thus, this potentially creates the conditions for Uganda to move towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goalsand its own development goals.

But to unlock this potential, you need to invest in building the systems that would enable the country to use this potential and, among other things, find and apply various financial solutions and ensure that there is adequate funding for these development plans.

UN news Are Ugandan small businesses struggling to access finance?

Dmitri Pozhidaev Yes. We know there are many unmet demands. The real problem is that in the context of the private sector, we are talking about very inexperienced and very rudimentary business processes and structures. They do not create enough confidence in potential financiers – such as banks and lenders – that these entities will be able to use the funds in the best possible way and service their debts.

UN news How do you manage to solve this problem in the north of the country?

Dmitry Pozhidaev In northern Uganda, we are engaged in several areas. One is to support local authorities and the public sector, particularly at district level, to find financial solutions for various public projects. These public projects may relate to adaptation to climate change, local economic development or forced displacement.

Agriculture employs about 75% of all Ugandans, so it is important to take agriculture to the next level, in terms of productivity and competitiveness.

We are also working with the private sector on digital finance and the digital economy, for smallholder farmers and village savings and loans associations to integrate them into the formal banking system and thus improve their access to finance.


Okubani Market, Yumbe, West Nile, Northern Uganda

UN News/ Conor Lennon

Okubani Market, Yumbe, West Nile, Northern Uganda

UN news You have worked with companies selling solar energy services in the North. Why?

Dmitri Pozhidaev Access to electricity is still a challenge in Uganda, and access to the electricity grid in many places is unavailable, especially in rural areas.

But even in Kampala and major cities, power cuts and interruptions in electricity supply are frequent, with multiple implications for businesses, individuals and government institutions.

Securing access to solar energy provides additional opportunities for businesses, especially micro and small businesses, and especially in rural areas. Access to electricity allows these businesses to extend their working hours as they can now work beyond daylight hours.

For individuals, this means lighting and it allows students to use electronic devices and study longer.

We work with a company providing solar panels on a pay-as-you-go system. Their customers’ payments are tracked digitally, which means they can establish a credit score, which will make it easier for them to get loans from the formal banking system.

This is very important in an economy where 90% of employment is in the informal sector: in the absence of formal registers, it is very, very difficult for someone to have access to the formal financial system.


Cathy Avako, farmer from Lumonga village, West Nile, northern Uganda.

UN News/ Conor Lennon

Cathy Avako, farmer from Lumonga village, West Nile, northern Uganda.

UN News Some of your projects involve financing for MTM and Airtel, the largest telecommunications companies in Africa. Why should they receive UN funding?

Dmitry Pozhidaev People often find this surprising. They believe that a large company can afford to expand into less traditional and riskier areas.

This is not the case even for very large financially sound companies like MTM and Airtel; Unless the viability of the business case is demonstrated to them, it is clear that they will not go into areas where they are not currently engaged.

And this was the case with the refugee camps. Telecommunications companies have serious doubts about the ability of refugees to buy the products they offer.

But, by demonstrating refugee demand and ability to pay, and facilitating with relatively small grants, we have enabled these businesses to expand into refugee camps in northern Uganda.

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