To escape default, the 43-year-old entrepreneur turned to a traditional money-lending system known as a ‘gameya’ – revived with a 21st-century twist as an app.
CAIRO, Dec 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Nagat Mohamed was in dire straits. After sales at her clothes shop in Egypt’s Nile Delta plummeted, she took out a loan from a microfinance company to keep the business going – but did not earn enough to pay that back either.
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“It was a real lifesaver,” Mohamed told the Thomson Reuters Foundation over the phone.
“I could not sleep because of the debts, but finding this app saved me and my children.”
A gameya is a type of community savings pool which also functions as a peer-to-peer loan system.
Members deposit a fixed, equal amount of money into a joint pot every month. At the end of each month, one person is awarded the full amount until everyone has had their turn.
While gameyas were long organised informally and offline, they are now being offered through apps in a tech transformation that is revolutionising financing for Egypt’s cash-strapped female entrepreneurs. One in five Egyptian workers are women, according to the World Bank, many of whom run their own small businesses or home-based initiatives.
That makes it hard to get a loan from banks, which require documentation proving a fixed salary or ownership of a shop. Microlenders, meanwhile, typically impose exorbitant interest rates of up to 40%. Many online gameyas have no interest rates, and registration requirements are minimal: just uploading an ID, signing a contract in person, and providing monthly income statements.
The apps also let members pay a fee to be among the first in line for a payout, thus letting them settle old debts quickly and avoid taking on new loans with onerous interest rates. Mohamed turned to an online app called MoneyFellows to help her repay the 15,000 Egyptian pounds ($954) that she owed the microfinance company for her shop.
Many of Egypt’s women entrepreneurs turned to the gameya model during the pandemic, which hit small enterprises hard. Three-quarters reported a drop in business in 2020, and 9% had to shut down completely, according to a survey by Egypt’s Ministry of Planning.
PANDEMIC LIFELINE “Two months ago, I finally paid my loan. I’m joining another money circle to grow my business and fund my daughter’s marriage,” the mother of three said.