CARE Tanzania

Chomoka is a financial independence mobile app for women in rural communities serving +20k users across 5 countries.


CARE is a long-time global leader in the movement to end poverty. With over 70 years of experience, CARE has helped 80 million people around the world with projects that work to save lives, alleviate poverty, and achieve social justice. Their projects focus on creating and supporting opportunities for empowerment among women and girls, as gender inequality and poverty are closely connected.

In 1991, CARE introduced an effort that revolutionized how low-income women in rural areas achieve financial independence. CARE’s Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) initiative provides a simple and secure system for communities without access to formal financial institutions - like banks - to save money, receive loans, and obtain emergency insurance. 

Out of CARE’s 7.6+ million VSLA members worldwide, 81% are women. Their community-centered saving model empowers members to develop their financial skills, reclaim access to resources, and generate income. For most women in VSLAs, financial independence means paying for health care, buying nutritious food for themselves and their families, going to school, and starting or expanding a business. As more women are financially empowered, they invest in improving the health and resilience of their families and their greater communities. 

The Problem

User Research technology testing

Each VSLA chapter consists of a self-managed group of 20-30 individuals that meet on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Three group members are nominated as key Each VSLA chapter consists of a self-managed group of 20-30 individuals who meet weekly or bi-weekly. Three group members are nominated as key holders, securing the group’s money box. All transactions are recorded in a paper ledger. The ledger is a single document that tracks all of the group’s critical information - savings, lendings, and repayments.

For over 25 years, CARE’s VSLA model has created opportunities for women to gain financial independence on a global scale. As groups matured and technology advanced, however, CARE recognized the need to transition the VSLA model from informal financial support to a formal, institutionally recognized financial service. To win the support of banks and other formal institutions, CARE needed to update the paper ledger to a mobile app, allowing groups to safely, accurately, and efficiently record each member’s financial activities. Digitizing the VSLA model would also provide folks located in rural communities with the necessary services to achieve financial independence.  

As one of the oldest and largest global humanitarian aid organizations, CARE is incredibly skilled at the work they do on the ground. They recognized, however, that they needed to launch a digital-first project successfully.

The Approach

"To begin meetings, the Chomoka app requires three pin numbers from elected group members – similar to the three keys traditionally used to unlock lockboxes. "

— Zach Berke, Founder & Managing Partner

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CARE initially hired Exygy to audit the existing Chomoka app and make recommendations. Beginning with a technical audit of Chomoka’s system, our team gave a first assessment of the state of Chomoka, followed by outlined recommendations on how to restructure the project team, project plan, and application architecture to achieve a successful MVP launch. After giving recommendations for future work to the CARE team, we continued to provide support and expertise - beginning to put those recommendations into practice.

Building a Global, Agile Team 

Our team provided CARE with comprehensive project management support. We assisted in developing a plan for the Agile development of Chomoka that included a 20-week product roadmap, consisting of ten sprints and followed by three months of support. We staffed a global team with in-house, San Francisco-based project management and technical architecture. We also added two mobile engineers to the team from our expert partner network in Spain and Kosovo. CARE’s primary Chomoka team leader, based in Tanzania, worked closely alongside our scrum team. Over the course of our work together, CARE hired a Project Manager in Tanzania, and Exygy helped recruit, vet, and train a Tanzanian team in Agile design and development practices.

Through our collaboration, Exygy significantly increased CARE’s capacity to rapidly and successfully build and improve products and services and to adopt Agile and human centered best-practices. We believe that the best way to adopt these practices is by working alongside our team - immersed in our culture and daily routines.

“One of Exygy’s most important contributions to Chomoka was how they set us up to continue working effectively after our engagement was over. From training us on how to use SCRUM methodologies to finding us the right local tech partner to continue our work, they helped us upskill and build sustainability.”  — Karen Vandergaag, Chomoka Product Manager


To begin meetings, the Chomoka app requires three pin numbers from elected group members - similar to the three keys traditionally used to unlock lockboxes.

Unique SMS Challenges

Many of Chomoka’s end-users are VSLA members residing in rural and peri-urban environments without internet access. Our engineering team developed a unique protocol based on SMS messaging to address this unique challenge. 

Marking member attendance is one of the multiple features on this unique SMS system.

We built custom communication protocols, and developed custom server infrastructure to integrate with the SMS system and providers in Tanzania. The system backs up each member’s data, allowing CARE to conduct analytics on the app’s use and communicate that data to banking partners at the request of Chomoka users.

“Exygy helped us create a process of documenting things and laying out the logic before implementation. This has helped us from building things that wouldn’t have made sense. They’ve taught us to think full circle about a problem before we implement a solution.” — Karen Vandergaag, Chomoka Product Manager. 

We also helped select a set of affordable, region-appropriate Android devices that range from 40-50 USD to deploy to CARE’s users, and ensured that testing was focused on these devices.

The Impact

For the 1.7 billion adults who don’t have a bank account, digitizing VSLAs has the potential to rapidly build financial inclusivity in some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. Low-income women have historically been denied agency within formal financial institutions. By digitally tracking activities that were previously recorded on paper, Chomoka demonstrates to banks that group members are reliable, dependable, and credit-worthy. With credit scores, group members qualify for the benefits that financial institutions offer - including access to loans. 

community centered technology
“Before Chomoka, loan record-keeping could take more than two hours. Now we can finish everything in half an hour.” - Damien, Chomoka Agent

Chomoka Scales to Five Countries during COVID-19

We’re proud to share that in 2021, Chomoka has expanded from Tanzania to include four additional countries: Côte d'Ivoire, Uganda, Rwanda, Ghana, and is currently piloting in Kenya. To date, over 940 VSLA groups have registered, representing 20k savings group members across the continent. As Chomoka scales across cultures, the platform continues to add translation capacity, including five languages in Uganda.

We know that the rapid development in 2021 is just beginning. Outside of CARE’s programs, 15 million people are participating in alternative VSLA groups supported by governments and NGOs. Chomoka’s technology has the potential to support these groups, as well.

Since the spread of COVID-19, Chomoka has been re-purposed to enable VSLAs to operate remotely given social distancing restrictions. CARE has also leveraged Chomoka’s existing marketplace to make public COVID announcements and disperse pandemic related information efficiently. Through Chomoka, CARE also now offers new services, including e-vouchers, health and GBV support services messaging, information on accessing agricultural inputs and financial products/services, and information on how and where to access hygiene and essential food items. In the future, Chomoka will expand from a digitized ledger, to playing a more significant role in the relationship between financial institutions and low-income women.

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Exygy provided the direction and expertise that took our efforts to the next level – ensuring that each Chomoka user will receive a quality, well-built product. Through working closely with Exygy, our team is now prepared to be a digital first organization. Exygy’s work will help us bring financial inclusion to millions of VSLA members world-wide."

— Mark Malhotra, Innovation Team, CARE Tanzania

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