By Anna Gincherman, Partner at ConsumerCentrix, and Jean Bosco Iyacu, Director of Programs at Access to Finance Rwanda (AFR)

With 148,092 registered Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in Rwanda representing 99.7 percent of the businesses according to the Integrated Business Enterprise Survey (2017) by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR), this sector plays a pivotal role in the country’s socio-economic development. However, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, this key driver of growth for Rwanda became imperiled as MSMEs across the country faced disruptions in the supply chain, demand and economic uncertainty.

To support entrepreneurs in Rwanda struggling in their time of need,  Access to Finance Rwanda (AFR) partnered with ConsumerCentriX and Rwanda Private Sector Federation on the SME Response Clinic. The platform was launched on May 3rd, a little over a month after Rwanda entered lockdown.

The goal of the digital platform is to address information asymmetry through the establishment of a centralized location for MSMEs to learn about the new policies, regulations, support structures and product innovations developing in response to the crisis and essential financial advice and business training. For all articles, simple language and a straightforward tone is used, and content is made available in both English and Kinyarwanda (the only local language that is used by all Rwandans).

However, as we all know, a website alone is not enough to drive traffic. To increase outreach, a Facebook page and Twitter account and campaign were launched the same week as the website. An Instagram profile was created a few weeks later.  Since the launch of these channels, content promoting the website has been viewed on Social Media 4,032,652 times.

Beginning with no followers and an ambitious goal of becoming the go-to site for entrepreneurs in Rwanda during Covid-19 meant investing in advertisements. The promotional strategy differed by channel. For Twitter, the SME Response Clinic originally partnered with influencers on a campaign before switching to a strictly organic promotional strategy. For Facebook, there is a heavy focus on article promotions by directly targeting small and medium business owners. In addition to driving traffic to web articles, the content and advertisement strategy evolved as results proved Facebook to be a popular channel for amassing video and live event views.

As the platform grew so did the list of partners. The SME Response Clinic joined forces with the Association of Microfinance Institutions in Rwanda, New Faces New Voices Rwanda, African Management Institute, Argidius Foundation, Rwanda Bankers’ Association, and Tustawi. These partnerships ensure that the content on the website reflects diverse perspectives. Partners also play a critical role in promoting web content to their external audiences.

Through these partnerships, three Facebook live webinars were organized focusing on the banking and microfinance sectors response to the Covid-19 pandemic and on how the Economic Recovery Fund and other relief measures put in place by the Government of Rwanda would benefit women entrepreneurs during and post Covid-19 pandemic.


Key Takeaways

The last ten weeks have been a period of intense testing and optimizing. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Content in Kinyarwanda is critical to reach the target audience. It performs better than content in English for most topics, particularly for articles on government measures and articles on the banking and microfinance sectors’ responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Women need to be explicitly targeted in order to ensure gender parity. At present, 48 percent of visitors are women despite an initial gender gap that heavily skewed toward men visitors. Achieving gender parity with traffic views meant actively creating pieces of content for women entrepreneurs and targeting them specifically on Facebook. Given the additional challenges many women entrepreneurs face in general and how they have been disproportionately affected as a result of Covid-19, this demonstrates the platform’s value by offering much-needed support for women entrepreneurs.
  • Social media channels are effective ways to market the SME Response Clinic, with Facebook yielding the best results by far accounting for 64 percent of all referral traffic and reaches over 170,000 users per month. The SME Response Clinic is active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and uses both organic and paid advertising to promote content. While the Twitter campaign yielded higher levels of impressions, Facebook proved to be significantly more cost-effective when it came to engagements and website clicks.
  • Video is essential for keeping users engaged with the content. Data from Facebook suggests that people are more likely to watch an entire video then click on an article and a recent survey on the SME Clinic conducted also revealed that users are twice as likely to prefer content in a video or animation format than in a written article format.
  • Web traffic and social media performance is very closely correlated to the publication of new content and event promotion. Weekly reviews of visitors and views indicate that it is critical to post new content and promote events as often as possible to drive visits to the portal.  
  • Strong partnerships are key to the platform’s success in that they bring perspectives of their members and constituents to inform content development. Also, they are vital in supporting outreach by sending targeted information via SMS and WhatsApp to their networks.

While the lockdown has slowly been lifted, the economic consequences of the pandemic can still be felt by micro, small, and medium enterprises across Rwanda. These key takeaways will continue to inform the content and promotional strategy for SME Response Clinic as the platform continues to provide information and resources for entrepreneurs in Rwanda coming to terms with the new normal.