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Four MSc Economics & Strategy for Business students presented an idea to improve financial literacy in Afghanistan at the Ideas to Impact Challenge. We speak to Basheer Akhtarzai about his idea.

The Gandhi Centre for Inclusive Innovation hosted the challenge at the Business School in collaboration with the Head Held High Foundation (and its subsidiary Global Action on Poverty. Seven teams from universities across England pitched an idea that will transform the lives of one million people.

Students formed teams that focused on social inclusion with one of the following themes: financial inclusion, agriculture, education & skills, digital, healthcare & sanitation and climate, water & energy.

The motivating factor was that this challenge focused on social impact, that’s where my professional affiliations have been in the past. In my home country, Afghanistan, I was working in micro-finance with initiatives working to create a social impact with a business-orientated approached. The challenge resonated with what I am interested in.
Basheer Akhtarzai
MSc Economics & Strategy for Business

From his past experience, Basheer immediately came up with the concept to do something around financial literacy in Afghanistan. However, he needed to form a team of like-minded individuals who he could develop it with.

He reached out to his classmates on the class Facebook group for applications. His main factor in forming the team was finding students who also come from countries where there is poverty and marginalisation of the poor from the social and economic sphere.

Since the idea was highly personal to him, Basheer felt that these students could better understand and relate to the concept. He formed a fantastic team with Veronika Bugaychuk from Ukraine, Martin Prenerov from Bulgaria, and Catherine Chen who hails from China.

The idea: financial literacy in Afghanistan

Basheer’s initial idea for the challenge came from his experience working in the development finance sector in Afghanistan for almost four years. He both interacted with people at the grassroots level in the communities, and the financial institutions delivering financial services to them.

He witnessed a perennial issue in the microfinance sector of Afghanistan first hand. He says:

In Afghanistan, many people do not really understand why it’s good to save, to do proper budgeting or go to a financial institution to get a loan instead of going to a loan shark who could exploit them for meagre amounts. Financial services are there and offering services. So the problem is that if the supply is there and the products are being supplied into the market, why are people not buying into those things?

This dilemma formed the basis of his idea. The team identified several causes, including the lack of financial literacy, that hinder people’s interaction with development finance institutions.

Thereafter, the team focused on coming up with a solution to dislodge this perennial obstacle of low financial literacy which will subsequently pave way for deeper and smoother penetration of financial services in Afghanistan.

They developed a model on how to improve financial literacy, using the most widely used technology in Afghanistan, the radio. Basheer says, “We saw the power of the radio in its simplicity. People don’t need to read or write, they just talk to the people. It has a really good penetration of mass society, about 33% listen on a daily basis and 50% on a weekly basis.”

In formulating the idea, Basheer found the sustainability aspect most difficult. He says: “The modules I studied during my MSc Economics & Strategy for Business really helped me to bring in that sustainability aspect and to apply the commercial/business aspect to a social venture.”

When it came to creating the business plan, Basheer gives credit to the members of his team. They collaboratively to test different business models until they found one that was sustainable and feasible in the context of the country.

The Ideas to Impact Challenge

Judging the competition was a panel of industry experts including Manisha Dahad, Global Action on Poverty, Eduardo Paperini, Collider, Francisco Gutierrez, Startupbootcamp and Jason Mitchell, Man Group.

Basheer’s team received feedback from the judges gave them valuable direction for the future. The team now know that in order to make it scalable, they need to leverage more technology. The challenge here is the lack of technology in this geographical context.

First prize was award to team Mitt Prostheses, who have created an upper limb prosthesis that tackles the issues of artificial limbs being rigid, uncomfortable to wear, time consuming to make and expensive. They received £5000 in seed funding and will attend the next annual GAP event in India where they will receive expert advice from changemakers in India, opportunities to pitch their idea to industry experts and ongoing mentoring to make their ideas a reality.

Second prize of £3000 seed funding went to team Matoha, who have designed technology to combat plastic pollution. Team Eyesee were awarded third prize of £2000 seed funding for their idea to provide better, more affordable eye care to those in developing countries.

Next steps

The best part of the challenge for Basheer was the people he connected to who have a wealth of experience in this field and offered their help and guidance. Basheer says the way forward is to interact with these people and learn from their experiences.

Basheer is attending Imperial as a Chevening Scholar. As the recipient of a Chevening Scholarship, he was one of 15 scholars from Afghanistan selected by Chevening in their aim to develop the future global leaders.

After he finishes his Master’s, he will return to his home country to utilise the skills he has learnt. Basheer wants to continue his work for the financial and economic amelioration so desperately needed in the financial sector of Afghanistan.

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Nicole Pires

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