Digitally and financially empowered MSMEs in Uruguay – Lesson learnt from a successful collaboration with ANDE during the COVID-19 pandemic

Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are the main sources of employment worldwide. However, access to adequate financial services is a key challenge to their development. The ILO believes that financial education is one path to support MSMEs. Our collaboration with ANDE aims to strengthen the financial knowledge and capacities of entrepreneurs in Uruguay.

Article | 25 February 2022
Financial education empowers individuals to build their financial knowledge and capacities, and it changes their attitudes towards money management. This enables them to make more informed and sustainable financial decisions.

Since 2019, the ILO has been collaborating with FINANDES, a development foundation, and the National Development Agency of Uruguay (ANDE). This collaboration aims to strengthen the financial knowledge and capacities of entrepreneurs in the country. ANDE has a mission to promote the productive development of Uruguay through business competitiveness, and it is the lead agency articulating policies and actions that contribute to the sustainable development of MSMEs in Uruguay. It is their leading role in MSME development that facilitated the ILO’s decision to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with them in 2020.

ANDE has always considered financial inclusion as one of the fundamental drivers for the development of MSMEs, and it has worked on mitigating barriers and limitations on access to finance for MSMEs on both the supply and demand sides. ANDE’s focus on financial education and financial decision-making follows a range of government studies that identified poor financial literacy as one of the main impediments inhibiting finance to MSMEs.

In Uruguay, some entrepreneurs lack the financial knowledge to access and choose financial products that serve their needs and helps their businesses thrive and grow. Even so, financial education was not largely provided in Uruguay previously. In this context, the ILO and FINANDES collaborated with ANDE to adapt the ILO’s financial education training materials to the need of MSMEs and designed digital adaptation guidelines enabling trainers to learn more about online training delivery. They also helped ANDE train a pool of 60 national trainers who can train MSMEs owners and managers. The underlying objective was to enable entrepreneurs to change their attitudes and behaviors towards better financial management of their businesses.

The collaboration with ANDE had to be adapted in the context of COVID-19, as capacity-building activities could not take place in face-to-face settings. After careful consideration, it was decided to move forward with online delivery of trainings of trainers. All partners explored and thought of new ways to deliver the training programme using the latest digital tools. This experience was a success and pushed the programme to another level of outreach, covering the entire nation, and enabling interactions and experience-sharing between regions, thus enriching the experiences of all the participants.

According to ANDE, the lessons learned will continue to enrich the financial education delivery in the future, even if health and safety restrictions no longer apply. A hybrid approach, combining virtual and classroom training, has also been tested by some trainers and it is expected to become the norm in future trainings on financial education.

Screenshot of an online training using Zoom videoconferencing and an online whiteboard.

Lessons learnt from this experience

Besides the successes with digital adaptation, leading to an increased expansion of financial education activities in Uruguay, ANDE also identified a few challenges and lessons to be considered in the future.

Participants’ digital readiness

Even with the advantages of digital training delivery, such as efficiency and cost effectiveness, a few beneficiaries mentioned they preferred to take the course in person, either because of their limited access to electronic devices or their lack of experience with these tools. Trainers have been creative to overcome these constraints and to include all types of participants. For instance, trainers have integrated one-on-one sessions with digitally less experienced participants, and they have added time to review digital tools during the training.

Virtual experiential learning

The ILO’s financial education programme uses experiential learning, interactive activities and learning-by-doing to train beneficiaries. The project faced the challenge to replicate these adult learning methodologies in a virtual setting. Even with a suite of digital tools available, translating these activities into a digital setting while still keeping a hands-on approach can be a challenge, especially with trainers and trainees not used to digital tools like Zoom, Jamboard or Wordwall. This puts a strain on participants as they must learn how to use these tools, in addition to following the course itself. Despite these challenges, these efforts have paid off and both trainers and participants have expressed their satisfaction in learning these new tools.

Screenshot of a participatory whiteboard used during an online session.
The experience has helped the ILO’s financial education programme to improve its digital training methodology and it has enabled the newly instructed trainers to deliver trainings all around Uruguay. So far, the collaboration has been a success with over 1,600 people (70 per cent of them women) reached and more than 100 trainings delivered in the span of one year.

Good practices and recommendations for the future

The outstanding results and successful adaptations in delivery were possible thanks to the unwavering support from ANDE. The following are some good practices for any public institution that would like to replicate ANDE’s journey:
  • Ensure many applicants, using strict criteria. A visible and widely disseminated call for trainers, responding to a set of selective criteria developed jointly with ANDE, ensured the application of excellent candidates. This guaranteed a sufficiently large number of applicants from which the right candidate trainers were carefully selected.
  • Focus on a well-defined target audience. One of the characteristics of the ILO financial education programme is its adaptability to a range of target groups, adequately meeting their needs and ensuring that diverse participants can relate to the contents of the training materials. In the case of this collaboration, which focused on MSMEs in Uruguay, we organized a validation workshop during the development of the training materials. This ensured that key stakeholders in the country were able to share their valuable insights about the materials. It resulted in content that reflected a deeper understanding of the specific rules and regulations, specific sets of financial products and services applicable to the Uruguayan context.
Communication campaign by ANDE to promote the financial education online course to MSMEs.
  • Actively promote the programme. Disseminating and promoting the programme made MSMEs aware of the existence of the training programme and that they could apply to it as participants. A well-rounded communications strategy is essential to promote the programme nation-wide and was successful thanks to ANDE’s efficient use of its networks.
  • A committed local partner is important. ANDE showed commitment from the first day of the collaboration and it allocated significant resources throughout process. This has been key in the success of this project. This included responsiveness to questions and issues faced by trainers, initiative in generating a database of potentially interested beneficiaries, providing trainers with professional Zoom licenses to deliver the trainings, creating tailored communication materials and a dedicated monitoring of the trainers’ activities.
  • Trainers need to be coached after their training. It is important to coach and offer follow-up support to new trainers as they replicate the trainings at the local level. It is also an essential step on the trainers’ journey towards becoming officially certified. International and regional ILO trainers provide this support and it allows them to identify their strengths and areas requiring improvement. The presence of experienced trainers also helps to boost the morale and motivation of candidate trainers.
  • Trainers need to be closely mentored and monitored. These same regional and international trainers helped to maintain the programme’s quality, key messages and methodology. This became even more important in this collaboration, as candidate trainers had to practice both with the financial education training methodology and new digital tools. Monitoring and mentoring ensured trainers were confident and that beneficiaries were properly trained throughout the trainers’ national certification process. So far, this has allowed 27 Uruguayan trainers to achieve the ILO’s Financial Education national certification status, an impressive number for a single country intervention and in 12 months’ time span.