“Do people still volunteer?” asked a bewildered bank official in the bustling city center of Kampala, Uganda. He was perplexed by Fredrick Ndiwalana’s frequent visits to the bank’s information center.
Unlike the average volunteer in Uganda – primarily foreign-born and barely out of college – Frederick is a native Ugandan with more than 15 years of financial experience working with emerging markets. When a colleague recommended Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders® (BwB) to him, he jumped at the opportunity to volunteer his skills.
“I have always wanted to volunteer. It is one of those things one cannot explain,” he says. “However, when I retired from my job as a commercial bank-product and business-development manager more than three years ago, my thinking was that I was beyond volunteering age.”
For the last three years, he has worked as a consultant for financial institutions throughout Uganda, such as Post Bank, Bank of Africa-Uganda and the Uganda Institute of Bankers, conducting project evaluations and advising clients on banking options.
As a volunteer with BwB, Frederick helped Grameen Foundation’s AppLab Money team research available banking products and identify gaps where new mobile products could potentially serve the poorest segment of society and increase financial inclusion.
Though Uganda has a robust banking sector, the high cost of financial products prohibits the poor from accessing important financial services. The AppLab Money team focuses on identifying and developing products and services to help unbanked men and women access critical financial services through their mobile phones. In Uganda, where one-third of all people own a mobile phone, these types of apps are opening the doors for change
Frederick’s research involved interviewing small business owners across Kampala – including drivers of motorcycle taxis, known as boda boda, while stuck in traffic. He found the experience to be highly rewarding. “Whereas paid consulting takes up most of my time today, my volunteer assignment on how banks in Uganda make money was special. I got to test unique ways of interviewing which I had never tested before,” he says. “But the best part was making use of my banking, research and product-development experience, with the knowledge that it would help reduce poverty somewhere, some day.”
Frederick’s findings are helping Grameen Foundation improve its apps and financial products better serve microentrepreneurs and small business owners in Uganda. As a Ugandan helping Ugandans, he epitomizes the idea that there is no typical profile for a volunteer.
Living by his personal mantra, “The more you give, the more you get,” Frederick says he would gladly volunteer again.