Chamas are popular in Kenya, with more than 65 percent of the 6 out of 10 Kenyans participating in at least three such savings group. Unlike banks, chamas are social savings groups that allow members to contribute a certain amount of money monthly, take loans at low interest rates, earn dividends, and invest in assets such as real estate. To put another way, chamas drive home the saying: “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”
However, chamas are not perfect. These financially-oriented groups often grapple with various challenges such as loans that go unpaid, lack of knowledge on the most viable investments to make, and poor record keeping systems. ChamaPesa, a blockchain startup started in Kenya, is set to help chamas keep their records in a much more effective way.
Effective Record Keeping Systems with Blockchain Technology
The blockchain is a decentralised digital ledger technology that verifies transactions by consensus. Blockchain technology is based on trust where users are free from third parties and where every transaction is accessible by anyone.
ChamaPesa has designed a blockchain-based mobile app which is at the alpha testing phase. The team behind ChamaPesa has been working with chamas for two years.
According to George, a field agent from Asili Development Fund who has worked with chamas for ten years, an app for chamas is greatly required. “This is something that has been on our minds for awhile,” he says.
The kind of chamas that George works with keeps paper records dating as far back as the beginning of the century. One cannot help but think of mole-eaten and dusty records whose ink has faded with time! What’s more, these records are susceptible to loss, misplacement, duplication, and manipulation. Additionally, it is embarrassing to approach a potential investor with records that are unclear, disorganized, and barely legible.
Fortunately, ChamaPesa provides a platform for distributed record-sharing. These records are kept digitally, securely, and openly. That means that chamas can approach investors and make pitches that are supported by well-kept, clear, and trustworthy records.
How Does The Chamapesa App Work?
The ChamaPesa app has been designed around the current structures of chamas and it allows members to access “the same set of records since the blockchain keeps a copy of each.” That means that members who are not present at a monthly meeting can get involved remotely.
Furthermore, the ChamaPesa app offers a social media experience where members can create profiles with avatars and form chamas with friends or family. The ChamaPesa app is designed for both local and global chamas.
“Chamas can grow massively and scale to unprecedented levels by leveraging technology that allows them to do what they do best,” Michael Kimani, ChamaPesa’s Kenyan team leader says.
ChamaPesa to Digitally Attract the Youth to Chamas
George believes that an app for chamas will help young people become more enthusiastic about joining chamas thanks to messaging and selfie-uploading features. In his opinion, young people under the age of 25 niether take chamas nor saving seriously.
“As soon as they earn, it is spent. They believe in the YOLO (You Only Live Once) motto and have little incentive to save. [On the other hand, the few that are chama members] do not particularly enjoy regular meetings in person.”
Going forward, ChamaPesa hopes to make chamas as commonplace as banks, and perhaps even more effective than Kenyan banks as the latter are yet to transition into blockchain technology.