Building a network of digital financial services experts in Samoa and beyond

August 7, 2020

By Alex Reddaway

When Carmenita Solaese Lepou, an analyst in the Financial Inclusion team at the Central Bank of Samoa in Apia, heard that her application for the Reuben James Summerlin Annual Scholarship was successful she was delighted but apprehensive. She was fairly new to financial inclusion and returning to work after her maternity leave. “When I started I had the mindset that I would never pass any of the courses because I lack work experience. I had just had my daughter and was balancing work commitments with motherhood, and only had time to study around 11 pm”, she said. Since then she has completed various online courses, such as Digital Money, Consumer Protection, Leading Digital Money Markets, Regulation in Digital Financial Services and Mobile Money Operations and is hoping to apply for a masters in a related field once she completes the other courses for her certification.

The RJS scholarship covers tuition fees for the Chartered Digital Finance Practitioners (CDFP) Certification offered through the Digital Frontiers Institute (DFI). DFI is a non-profit founded in 2015, which is linked to Tufts University and funded by, among others, the Omidyar and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundations. The courses offer a holistic approach to learning about digital finance and ensures that students build a strong knowledge base, develop their technical skills and are brought up to date with the latest global trends in digital financial services. 

Carmenita first heard of the Reuben James Summerlin Annual Scholarship when the Governor of the Central Bank of Samoa forwarded the application details to all the Central Bank’s staff with a view to developing new technical skills within the team.

Launched in 2016, and in memory of the Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme’s (PFIP) previous programme manager Reuben James Summerlin, the scholarship honours Reuben’s passion for capacity building and education, while contributing to PFIP’s vision of enabling low-income households to gain access to good quality, affordable and sustainable financial services and financial education. It is awarded to exceptional employees from PFIP’s partner institutions to help them build their knowledge and capacity on the various aspects of digital financial inclusion.

Efforts to improve financial inclusion rates in Pacific countries, such as Samoa, have struggled to overcome the challenge of reaching small and widely dispersed populations. Access to financial services is mostly limited to urban areas with higher population density and greater wealth to justify investments in branches, agents and ATMs. And as Carmenita says; “the best way to reach people in Samoa and ensure they are financially included is through digital services”, she says. 

For Carmenita the strength of the course was its international focus. She emphasized the usefulness of learning about “different digital finance areas and strategies how they operate in other countries and also learning about cutting-edge advances in digital financial services.” While these technologies may currently not be relevant to the Pacific context, building technical expertise through the scholarship will help to lay the groundwork for eventual implementation.

Carmenita looks forward to putting what she has learned into practice, guiding her colleagues on some of the more technical aspects of digital finance as well as supporting the development of innovative solutions to promote financial inclusion in Samoa. In doing so she hopes to continue to tap into the community of practitioners from the DFI that supported her through her studies. “I love how I am able to learn from other students who have a wide range of experience in implementing new approaches to address some of the same challenges as we have in Samoa”, she says. She will remain connected with her fellow students and consults them on a regular basis.