Meet OKO Finance: AI for Good Innovation Factory winner improving lives of farmers in Africa
Discover how artificial Intelligence (AI) and mobile technologies are improving farmers livelihoods in emerging markets. Last month, ITU’s AI for Good Innovation Factory focused on highlighting successful start-ups in the African region. OKO Finance was the outstanding winner from the African region, with a digital solution for helping farmers using artificial intelligence (AI) products, development and services.
This unique start-up uses AI to provide effective, affordable insurance to farmers that can deliver instant claim settlements. By utilizing the increasing influence of mobile technology their mission is “to help overcome income distribution insufficiencies for those who feed the world.”
OKO Finance will join AI for Good in Johannesburg, South Africa at the AI Expo Africa 2022. Including a speaking slot and exhibition in September 2022, two VIP tickets to the full show and programme, and focused advertising in one of Africa’s largest AI publications, Synapse Magazine, to highlight their winning solution for sustainable development and poverty reduction.
We spoke to Simon Schwall, CEO and co-founder of OKO Finance about his solution. Here are five things you should know about our AI for Good Innovation Factory winner:
Can you tell us about your winning solution?
Oko’ offers insurance to smallholder farmers who are exposed to weather risks, and were never offered any safety net before.
The idea emerged as I was working in Papua New Guinea for a life insurance product distributed via mobile phones. A drought hit the country and most customers suddenly stopped paying as they lost their main source of income, which came from agriculture. I realized that the tool that I was successfully using to distribute life insurance could be adapted to distribute crop insurance and change the lives of millions of vulnerable people.
I joined forces with Shehzad (co-founder and CTO) who was then working on providing micro-loans to farmers in Uganda and understood that insurance could also be the key to securing loans to farmers and unlock their full potential.
Where are you from and what regions do you work in?
We are three co-founders from different origins: India, Luxembourg and Israel. But we work in Sub-saharan Africa, more specifically in Mali and Uganda. That’s because we saw a big opportunity in the ever-growing mobile money popularity to provide this service where it was the most needed.
Watch the winning pitch here
How can your solution help to solve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals?
Oko has a double impact: On the one hand we contribute to financial inclusion, bringing insurance, access and credit to people previously deprived from these basic services. On the other hand we contribute to climate resilience. Insured farmers are able to re-start their activity thanks to the indemnity they receive automatically after suffering from a bad season.
This solution fits into the SDG 1 on no poverty, SDG 8 decent work and economic growth and SDG 13 Climate action.
For more innovative solutions, watch the upcoming Innovation Factory live, Start-ups decarbonizing agriculture and forestry sectors
What is your biggest challenge as an AI start-up?
The main fuel for AI solutions is data, and reliable data is difficult to find on the African continent. While weather data is available globally thanks to satellite technology, yield data is much rarer. We must spend a lot of energy and time collecting paper-based records from farms and cooperatives to gather the necessary data to train our models and build accurate products.
Another challenge is to explain how the product works, to rural populations who are unfamiliar with satellite data and algorithms. The words are even missing in the local languages. So we need to get creative!
Why did you join the Innovation Factory Pitching Competition and what is your target achievement at the end of this year?
We believe our solution is simple, yet powerful. So we can raise awareness about this problem and our solution quite easily in a 5-minute pitch. We hope to find partners to help us bring our insurance to more farmers in Mali and Uganda and hopefully to convince the mobile industry players to partner with us to offer this service to their customers.