Two Ugandan analysts from the Financial Sector Deepening (FSD) programme in Uganda write on the need for more human centered product development approaches in the design and delivery of financial services for rural Ugandans, especially the rural poor. One of their suggestions caught my attention in particular:
(iii) Third, to increase the introduction of new game changing solutions by financial institutions the government needs to put in place policies, laws and regulations that allow for new business models and approaches to financial delivery.
Innovative regulatory approaches like “sandboxes”, where startups are allowed to conduct live experiments in a controlled environment, have demonstrated success in developed markets. Regulators can therefore play a crucial role in being financial inclusion catalysts.
The late C.K. Prahalad, guru of serving the poor profitably, first mooted the concept of an innovation sandbox back in 2006, and the essence of his concept has remained an integral part of my own work ever since.
This approach could be called an innovation “sandbox” because it involves fairly complex, free-form exploration and even playful experimentation (the sand, with its flowing, shifting boundaries) within extremely fixed specified constraints (the walls, straight and rigid, that box in the sand).
The value of this approach is keenly felt at the bottom-of-the-pyramid market, but any industry, in any locale, can generate similar breakthroughs by creating a similar context for itself.
What Jimmy Ebong and Joseph Lutwama, the co-authors of the original article linked above, are mooting, however, is an extrapolation of the concept, where the regulatory and policy framework forms the boundaries of the “sandbox” within which various financial services pilots can be tested in the real world.
Committed and forward thinking governments can make the difference overnight for the ‘wicked problem’ of financial inclusion of the rural poor, inspiring innovative human centered solutions to citizen service delivery where its most sorely needed – the resource constrained and inadequate infrastructural operating environments of rural Africa.
Note: “Mooting” is a favourite word of East African newsmedia, meaning the specialised application of the art of persuasive advocacy.