Jeanette Nikuze, 28, is a security guard at one of the public buildings in Kigali. She earns Rwf45,000 per month. She lives with her younger sister in Kigali. She left her home district, Huye, three years ago after failing to get a job with her high school certificate.
Although Nikuze struggles to eke out a living out of her salary in Kigali, she recently joined a pension scheme to save for her future. She saves Rwf5,000 per month, sometimes more.
She believes by the time she turns 55, legal retiring age, there will be enough funds for her to keep going.
“I don’t think it requires a lot of money. I heard the scheme on the radio and thought of starting to save. I may never get a job that offers pension savings, so it was an opportunity,” Nikuze recounts.
Nikuze is one of the nearly 1.5 million Rwandans who have joined a scheme, Ejo Heza, established in 2018 by the government to boost saving culture in the country.
Currently, only 8 percent of the labour force in Rwanda save for a pension. With this pace, over 40 percent of Rwandans who are under the age of 14 will have no financial assistance in their old age.
Since mid-2019 when workers started embracing saving culture, over Rwf22 billion in funds have been saved.
Over 76 percent of the 1.46 million active subscribers of the scheme are in an informal sector whose jobs do not save for a pension.
The active subscribers include farmers, motorcyclists, and micro-business owners. Jacques Rutsinga, Business and Operations Team Leader at EjoHeza, told Rwanda Today that the scheme gains new subscribers every day.
Between early December and January 2, around 200,000 new people had subscribed.
However, low mobile phone penetration continues to limit some beneficiaries from joining the scheme.
“We use phones to register, save and follow up on account activity. Most of the target population in rural areas do not have phones, do not know how to use them, or do not trust using them. It is a concern to our growth,” he said.
Ejo Heza saving scheme allows members to save any amount above Rwf1500 (approximately $1.45) at any time.
After a year of active saving, members are allowed to use their funds as collateral to acquire loans or get paid in advance for education and other projects.
Savings are fully accessible once the members turn 55 years old and above. Any Rwandan or foreigner living in Rwanda above the age of 16 is eligible to join the scheme.
When the scheme was established in 2018, the goal was to raise Rwf8 billion in its second year and Rwf9 billion in the third year.
The scheme targeted 200,000 people, active savers, in five years as expected in the National Strategy for Transformation (NST1).
Upon realising that despite the pandemic, the scheme had surpassed its 5-year goals in three years, the scheme revised its goals. It now targets five million people to enroll in the scheme in the next five years and raise at least Rwf10 billion every year.
“Covid-19 was a challenge because most of our members faced financial issues, but the pandemic was also a wakeup call for some. We exceeded our targets even though we could not physically reach beneficiaries. It is a positive trend,” explained Mr Rutsinga.