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UNCDF/DCA: Digital Financial Services Ecosystem Mapping


Sector: Financial Services

Client: DanChurchAid (DCA)

Funder: United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF)

Executor: Asigma Advisory

Key Focus: Mapping the Digital Financial Services (DFS) ecosystem in Bidibidi refugee settlement and developing sustainable business cases to support digitized cash based interventions.

World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) have made a strategic decision to transition from material aid support to cash-based transfers. This is driven by the increasing cost of delivering food and material aid wth close to US$12 Million being spent monthly on food distribution alone.

In 2017, UNCDF partnered with DanChurchAid and Airtel to test the feasibility of making digital payments to refugees in one of the World’s Biggest Refugee Settlement – BidiBidi, Uganda. UNCDF supported Airtel, the provider selected for the project, with technical assistance and a grant. During the pilot, DanChurchAid successfully made digital payments to over 15,000 refugees in eight installments.

In order to successfully make digital payments, there is need for collaboration with private sector players. As such it is necessary for the collaboration to make business sense for private sector players involved in distribution of the payments. This necessitated the development of a viable business case that supports the transition to digital payments.

Areas such as Bidibidi present challenges as a result of the large size, low incomes and low mobile phone penetration, these challenges had to be addressed through strategies developed. Sustainability was also a key consideration due to the importance of building the Digital Financial Service Ecosystem and having the developmental effects sustained in the long term.


  1. To establish the financial lives of refugees and host community.
  2.  To establish if there are financial products and services that would accelerate transition to sustainable livelihoods. 
  3. To establish if there is trust in the existing digital delivery of financial services by Financial Service Providers (FSPs). 
  4. To establish the key barriers to accessing financial services channels at affordable costs and link them to broader financial services.
  5. To engage key stakeholders and establish if any additional research and data is needed in the country to address the key barriers to financial services.
  6.  To establish the type of capacity building, at the regulatory level, that is needed to engage with the policymakers to address barriers to accessing DFS. 
  7.  To establish the type of payment and financial infrastructure needed to support digital payment innovation in Bidibidi Settlement and surrounding host community.
  8. To identify projects that can be piloted to enhance digital payments.
  9. To develop business cases that support digitization of cash based interventions.


  1. Our approach was data centric, we mapped out the entire DFS ecosystem in Bidibidi with emphasis on the following pillars: Customers, Policy and Regulation, Distribution, Infrastructure, Providers, and Payments & Products.
  2. In depth interviews were held with regulators.
  3. Interviews were conducted with developmental agencies such as DanChurchAid, Mercy Corps, World Food Programme, Norwegian Refugee Council, Action Against Hunger, and International Rescue Committee and OXFAM. 
  4.  Interviews and focus group discussions were held with refugees and the host community.
  5.  Interviews were conducted with mobile money agents throughout the settlement and host community.
  6.  Interviews were conducted with providers such as Airtel and regional distributor working on their behalf.
  7. Situational Analysis: Prior to developing a business case for Airtel’s distributor, it was important to understand the current business model to ascertain why it is not working.
  8. Business Strategy: Based on the data collected, business cases and strategies were developed to ensure viability for the distributor. Key considerations were up-scaling the volume of digital payments being made, necessary operational expenses to disburse such volumes and sustainability.
  9. Financial Feasibility Assessment: A financial model was developed to evaluate the financial feasibility of each business case. This was aimed at determining a financially feasible business case that can support a high volume of payments disbursed through mobile money whilst remaining sustainable as the volume of payments from development agencies decline.


  1. Digital Financial Services Ecosytem report that was shared with several development agencies and that is available on global humanitarian information portal, ReliefWeb.
  2. Research findings presented to key stakeholders including the technical cash working group that disburses cash based interventions to refugees and host community within Uganda.
  3. A financial model was developed allowing assessment of the financial feasibility of the three business cases.
  4. A sustainable business case was developed and shared with key stakeholders such as UNCDF, DCA and Airtel.
  5. A key finding from the business case development was that livelihood interventions are necessary  to create market systems that will support the sustainability of the business case. This is because economic growth and activity boost mobile money usage and transactions thus increasing the sustainability of the business case even as humanitarian aid in the area declines.