Winners of the 2015 AGFUND International Prize announced

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Abu Dhabi, UAE: His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, UAE, and Her Majesty Queen Sofia of Spain honoured winners of the 2016 AGFUND International Prize for Pioneering Development Projects at a grand award ceremony held last evening in Abu Dhabi.

The event was held as part of closing ceremony of the 18th edition of the Microcredit Summit, which was held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Vice Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council. It was attended by His Excellency Hussain Al Nowais, Chairman of Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, Nasser Bakr al-Kahtani, CEO of AGFUND, high level government officials, representatives of the local and international organisations, development experts, diplomats and media representatives.

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An interview with Larry Reed

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>> An interview with Larry Reed, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign by Miranda Beshara

The first Microcredit Summit was held in 1997 and called for a nine-year campaign to reach 100 million of the world’s poorest families. In 2005, the Campaign was re-launched until 2015. In 2016, where does the Microcredit Summit Campaign stand and how does the future look like?

At the Halifax Global Summit in 2006, the microfinance community set two new goals for the Campaign. First, to reach 175 million of the world’s poorest families with microfinance and, second, to see 100 million of the world’s poorest families move out of extreme poverty. Our latest numbers, from 2014, show we still have a lot of work to do to reach those goals. Much of the growth of microfinance in recent years has been with families that are not living in extreme poverty. We have focused our attention on the types of finance that reaches to the poorest families, and helps them limit vulnerabilities and take advantage of opportunities.

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Research on Ecuador’s digital platform to be featured at 18th Microcredit Summit

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The Microcredit Summit Campaign, as part of its 6 Pathways, is helping to highlight ways that digital platforms are helping to expand financial inclusion, especially for the extreme poor. We are pleased to share with you this Executive Summary of their research.

At the 18th Microcredit Summit this research will be included in the breakout session “The Digital Revolution and Financial Inclusion.” We hope to see you there!


>> Authored by Jorge Moncayo and Marcos Reis.

Financial systems have a vital role in national economies. They provide savings, credit, payment, and risk management products to society. In this sense, inclusive financial systems — those with a high share of individuals and firms that use financial services — are especially likely to benefit poor people and other disadvantaged groups. On the contrary, poor people must rely on their limited savings to invest in their education or become entrepreneurs. In addition, small enterprises must rely on their limited earnings to pursue promising growth opportunities (Demirguc-Kunt and Klapper, 2012).

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18th Microcredit Summit update: Dates extended at no extra cost

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Responding to intense demand for more sessions, we have decided to extend the days of the 18th Microcredit Summit at no extra charge!
We have some exciting developments with the Summit agenda to share with everyone. Responding to intense demand for more sessions, we have decided to extend the days of the 18th Microcredit Summit at no extra charge!

The new dates will be Monday, March 14th to Thursday, March 17th, so please be sure to plan your travel dates to be in attendance for the Welcome Ceremony, which will now take place in the morning of March 14th. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you, but we hope the program will make it worth your while.

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Implementing national financial inclusion mandates in the Arab region

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MCS+KF+AGFUND+AMF+18MCSummit logos longBeth Rhyne’s recent review of the Davos report “Guidance on the application of the core principles for effective banking supervision to the regulation and supervision of institutions relevant to financial inclusion” articulately and clearly present some of the chief benefits of the Davos meeting as well as outline some of the important work that still largely remains in context of framing regulations to support achieving full financial inclusion.

The Campaign, like the Center for Financial Inclusion, has a mission that focuses on ensuring that as financial inclusion strategies are developed become the prime means of moving forward the global agenda to end poverty, that these strategies are sure to include those who are among the hardest to reach populations. This will take a mix of new and innovative programs as well as, as Beth Rightly phrased it, a reinvention of how regulatory frameworks facilitate those programs.

At the 18th Microcredit Summit, the Campaign is organizing, in partnership with the Arab Monetary Fund (AMF) and the Arab Gulf Fund for Development (AGFUND), a special meeting of Governors of central banks throughout the Arab region to discuss recent progress in achieving this redefined shape and meeting their financial inclusion mandates. With participation from key stakeholders like GIZ, CGAP, and others, we will be facilitating a deep discussion on the importance of many of the key issues that Beth has raised. Learn more about this side event, called “Implementing National Financial Inclusion Mandates.”

We encourage you to read her assessment on where Davos has brought the regulatory sector and what roads and challenges lie ahead for it. Furthermore, if the topic really grabs you, the Davos report is open for public comment until March 31, 2016.

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Create lasting change at the 18th Microcredit Summit

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The 2015 State of the Campaign Report underscores the challenge microfinance faces in realizing its original goal — to alleviate poverty by providing quality microfinance services to the poorest segments of society. In it, we make the case for the scale-up of financial services “pathways” that can advance the end of extreme poverty with prescriptive actions for financial service providers, government policymakers, and others. These “Six Pathways,” which you can read all about in the report, will be featured throughout our 18th Microcredit Summit.

Financial inclusion is “the first step” in achieving the World Bank’s twin goals by “giving people the tools to get out of poverty [by 2030] and into shared prosperity,” as explained by Alfonso García Mora at the 17th Microcredit Summit in Mexico. Participants will engage in a thoughtful discussion around effective ways to reach the most vulnerable and marginalized and the microfinance services and financial inclusion strategies that promote inclusive, sustainable economic growth and social empowerment that helps improve their lives.

Join us in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., on March 14-17, 2016, for another great microfinance conference!

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New report calls for scale-up of financial services “pathways” to help end extreme poverty

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The Microcredit Summit Campaign released our 17th annual survey of the global microfinance industry Wednesday at the Inclusive Finance India Summit held in New Delhi, India. Larry Reed featured the publication, Mapping Pathways out of Poverty: The State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report, 2015, in his presentation on Wednesday to attendees of India’s premier financial inclusion conference.

What does the 2015 report say about the data?
According to our annual survey, the global microfinance community reached 211 million borrowers as of December 31, 2013, and 114 million of them were living in extreme poverty (households living on less than $1.90 per day, PPP).

What this means is that, while the microfinance community provided loans to the most clients since we began tracking this number in 1997, the number of poorest clients fell for the third straight year. This is concerning.

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Where’s the Map? Another sneak peek!

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John Snow mapped out London's cholera epidemic in the 1850s. This helped my make connections between seemingly unrelated unrelated
“A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected.”
— Reif Larsen, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

How does BRAC, the world’s largest non-governmental organization (NGO), develop pathways out of poverty for the poorest people in a village? They begin with a map. As you see in the photo on the cover of this report, they bring the village together and start drawing maps in the dirt, identifying each household, market, business, and place of worship. They then ask the help of the community to identify the poorest households, marking each one on the map. Their work begins with those households.

This painstaking, household-by-household approach of identifying the excluded and locating them within their community and context represents the next step that we need to take to achieve a new set of ambitious global development goals.

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Sneak peek of the 2015 State of the Campaign Report

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The map on the right illustrates the prevalence of below $1.90 per day poverty in rural areas. Source: Adapted from World Bank Data (online), 2015, "Rural Population (% of total population)," http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.RUR.TOTL.ZS; and ibid., "Poverty gap at $1.90 a day (PPP 2011) (%)," http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.GAPS.
The World Bank and the United Nations have both set their sights on ending extreme poverty by the year 2030. The Bank has also set a concomitant target of universal financial access by 2020 as a major contributor to ending extreme poverty. Our assessment, after reviewing the contributions that microfinance institutions and other financial providers have made toward these two goals, is this: if financial services are meant to play an important part in bringing an end to extreme poverty, we will not come close to reaching it.

Microfinance has demonstrated the viability of providing financial services to people in poverty and technological advances have drastically reduced the cost of providing financial services. But, we still do not see widespread adoption of financial services among the largest groups of those that still need to be reached: those living in extreme poverty.

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Insufficient and greatly uneven progress on the maternal health MDG

Millennium Development Goals: 2015 Progress Chart
Published articles to date: Introduction | MDG 1 | MDG 2 | MDG 3 | MDG 4

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The United Nations recently issued The Millennium Development Goals Report, 2015, the latest assessment of progress towards the eight MDGs. In short, they have had mixed results. This article is part of a blog series reflecting on the MDGs and the U.N. report. These are produced in partnership with our colleagues at RESULTS, a grassroots advocacy organization. They are lobbying for bipartisan legislation in the Senate that can impact the lives of mothers and children worldwide. (See the Fact Sheet.)


>>Authored by Marion Cosquer and Sabina Rogers

MDG 5: Improve maternal health

Target 5.A: Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio

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Click to enlarge. Source: The Millennium Development Goals Report, 2015

In 1990, 380 pregnant women were dying for every 100,000 live births. As of 2013, the global maternal mortality ratio has decreased by 45 percent to 210 women per 100,000 live births. The highest gains were seen in South and Southeast Asia with a 64 percent and 57 percent reduction, respectively. Developing regions overall achieved a 46 percent reduction. Maternal survival has been aided by a one-third increase in childbirth attendance by skilled health personnel. Thus, the news in the U.N. Millennium Development Goals Report for MDG 5 is promising.

Nonetheless, progress towards improving maternal health so far falls far short of the targets set under MDG 5 and has lagged far behind the other MDGs. Additionally, global figures tend to mask regional inequalities. For example, there were 510 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in sub-Saharan Africa compared to 190 in South Asia and 140 in Southeast Asia.

Progress in raising the proportion of births delivered with skilled personnel has been modest over the last 15 years, reflecting the lack of universal access to care. Indeed, one in four babies still being delivered without skilled personnel and wide disparities are found among regions. For example, there is a 52 percent spread between the largest rural/urban disparity across regions:

  • In Central Africa, 32 percent of births were attended by skilled personnel compared to 84 percent in urban areas.
  • In East Asia, there is no difference between urban and rural areas.

Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia pull down the developing region average. Overall, 56 percent of births in rural areas are attended by skilled health personnel compared to 87 percent of births in urban areas.

From The Millennium Development Goals Report, 2015

Click to enlarge. Source: The Millennium Development Goals Report, 2015

Target 5.B: Achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health
After 25 years of slow progress, only half of pregnant women in developing regions receive the minimum of four antenatal care visits recommended by the World Health Organization. Once more, coverage levels in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia trail the other regions. Sub-Saharan Africa has barely increased from 47 percent to 49 percent of pregnant women; South Asia has the lowest coverage at 36 percent (though it increased from 23 percent). Moreover, despite having doubled contraceptive use [1] in sub-Saharan Africa from 13 to 28 percent, sub-Saharan Africa still trails all other regions.

From The Millennium Development Goals Report, 2015

Click to enlarge. Source: The Millennium Development Goals Report, 2015

Proven health-care interventions can prevent or manage the complications that cause maternal deaths, such as hemorrhage, infections, and high blood pressure. These complications are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, accounting for 86 percent of all deaths worldwide in 2013. Use of contraceptives also contributes to maternal health by reducing unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and maternal deaths.

The report tells us that contraceptive use has risen in all regions and 90 percent of users were using effective contraceptive methods. However, the unmet need is still high (24-25 percent) in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceana. Other developing regions hover around 11-14 percent unmet need, and the overall use in those regions is significantly higher than in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceana.

The adolescent birth rate shows a mixed story. While the global rate for developing regions has fallen by half (from 34 to 17 births per 1000 girls), it hides poor progress in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. Indeed, in three regions (Southeast Asia, the Caucasus and Central Asia, and North Africa), some of the gains in the adolescent birth rate from 2000 reversed in 2015. Moreover, progress in East Asia was stagnant over the last 15 years.

The report calls for urgently needed intensified efforts to delay childbearing and prevent unintended pregnancies among adolescents. By increasing opportunities to go to school and for paid employment, we would see an overall improved maternal and child health as well as reduced poverty, greater gender equality, and women’s empowerment.

Maternal health in the post-2015 development agenda

The new Global Goals for Sustainable Development, which are set to be approved at the Sustainable Development Summit September 25 to 27, encompasses a broader, more ambitious and inclusive health goal. Goal 3 seeks to “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” Indeed, it seeks to reduce the global mortality ratio to fewer than 70 deaths per 100,000 live births. Under Goal 3, countries will agree to ensure, by 2030, universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programs — for which the microfinance sector can be a key partner.

The report concludes on the inequalities in data availability on maternal health among and within regions. The lack of data is a key factor contributing to the unfinished MDG agenda, hampering efforts to establish priorities on national, regional, and global health. In the post-2015 period, it is imperative to have better and more data, especially concerning registration of births and deaths, in order to set adequate policy priorities, target resources more efficiently, and measure improvements.

In order to build on the successes of the MDGs and achieve Goal 3 of the SDGs, the 18th Microcredit Summit will focus on integrated health and microfinance as one of the six pathways out of poverty. Empowerment of women — which can help reduce maternal mortality more quickly and efficiently — will also be an important theme.


Footnote

[1] “Contraceptive use” is defined concerning women aged 15-49, married or in union, who are using any method of contraception

Campaign to host workshop with World Bank Annual Meeting in Peru

Attending the World Bank meeting in Peru? Join our workshop, “6 Financial Inclusion Pathways to End Extreme Poverty – What Role Can You Play?”

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Are you attending the 2015 Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund in Lima, Peru? Join us at the Civil Society Policy Forum* for a workshop to explore how microfinance and financial inclusion can contribute to the fight against extreme poverty.

The Microcredit Summit Campaign will host a workshop at the Forum at the World Bank Annual Meeting in Lima from October 6-9. The Forum promotes substantive dialogue and an exchange of views between Bank/Fund staff, civil society organizations (CSO), government officials, academics, and other stakeholders.

6 Financial Inclusion Pathways to End Extreme Poverty

What Role Can You Play?

As the 2014 Global Findex has shown, important progress toward universal financial access is evident. However, there has been much less progress for groups commonly considered to be among the most excluded or hardest-to-reach. Ensuring that these groups are not left out of the march toward universal financial access in the coming four years, intentionality in our approach will be essential as will be a clear framework for actors to coordinate their efforts.

The Campaign is highlighting six pathways that have shown positive outcomes for reaching and including the hardest-to-reach groups especially when delivered in an integrated manner. This lens can offer helpful ways to view opportunities where investment can accelerate progress in including the most excluded, hardest-to-reach populations by 2020.

Session Objective

We will show how the Universal Financial Access by 2020 (UFA2020) campaign links with ending extreme poverty by 2030. In breakout groups, participants will brainstorm how organizations like theirs (CSOs, in Bank-speak) can contribute to financial inclusion pathways to end extreme poverty.

Speakers

  • Larry Reed, Director, Microcredit Summit Campaign
  • Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor for the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion and leads the Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign
  • Martin Spahr, Senior Operations Officer at the International Finance Corporation
  • Carolina Trivelli, Economist, CGAP

Date

October 8, 4-5:30 PM

Contact Jesse Marsden for more information.

* Note that registration for the Forum is closed. You can see the full Forum agenda here.


The 2015 Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group (WBG) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) will be held on October 9 – 11 in Lima, Peru. The Civil Society Policy Forum, a program of events including policy sessions for civil society organizations (CSOs), will be held from October 6 – 9, 2015.

Imprimir

Some Annual Meeting sessions will be livestreamed. Find out how to watch.

The registration platform for CSO representatives interested in attending the Civil Society Policy Forum is now closed. We will be processing registration requests that were received within the last few days and will be notifying applicants on the status of their request. This process can take a couple of weeks and so we ask for your patience. As previously published, no new registration request will be entertained.

#tbt: 2011 workshop paper on microfinance for remote, hard-to-reach areas

#Tbt_18

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In 2011, we commissioned more than 40 papers to accompany the workshops and plenaries organized at our Global Microcredit Summit 2011. This week’s #ThrowbackThursday is a great opportunity to review the wealth of knowledge generated by the Summit. Listen to the audio recording from the workshop here.


What is the Cutting Edge for Microfinance in Remote, Hard to Reach Areas?

Authors: Anne Hastings and Steven Werlin

Introduction

Maximizing access to financial services in remote rural areas requires us to face a range of challenges that demand, in turn, a range of solutions. The problem is no more uniform than the regions that the services need to get to or the nature of the services required.

Access is not an end in itself but merely an important means towards progress for rural families and the communities they inhabit. That means that there are two sides to the question of access. On one hand, we must ask: what are the most effective ways to deliver financial services to especially hard-to-reach areas. Getting standard financial services to some areas presents significant challenges. On the other, there are distinct products and services that can help families living in remote rural areas in important ways. In other words, there is both a question of delivery of services and a separate question of the design of those services. In this paper, we have chosen to focus almost exclusively on the delivery of services.

Even if we limit our analysis to the question of delivery, the answers we present must vary for the various standard financial services we consider. If the issue is access to credit, we believe that one cutting edge approach to delivery continues to be a well-tried model: opening branches in underserved areas that spread their reach through traditional solidarity-group credit centers. The key to this approach remains ensuring attention to what we call the three pillars of standard solidarity-group microcredit: center attendance, 100% repayment, and proper investment of loans. We will discuss our own experience re-establishing these pillars at one rural branch as well as our new effort to shift center leadership from MFI staff to local credit center members.

Read the full paper.

Listen to the audio recording of the workshop.

Review Dr. Pant’s presentation.


Related reading

#tbt: 2011 workshop paper on financial literacy

#Tbt_18

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In 2011, we commissioned more than 40 papers to accompany the workshops and plenaries organized at our Global Microcredit Summit 2011. This week’s #ThrowbackThursday is a great opportunity to review the wealth of knowledge generated by the Summit. Listen to the audio recording from the workshop here.


Financial Literacy: A Step for Clients Towards Financial Inclusion

Authors: Monique Cohen and Candace Nelson

Introduction: Financial Education for Financial Inclusion

These are tumultuous and exciting times for microfinance, marked equally by the stunning potential of the cell phone to change the face of financial services and disturbing reports of suicides linked to over-indebtedness. Against this backdrop, a shift in the industry is taking place, drawing our attention from the financial institution back to the client. Indicators of a renewed concern for clients include research to quantify the “unbanked,” rallying calls for consumer protection, and efforts to better meet customer needs with diversified products. A key driver of this change in focus is the now widely embraced goal of “financial inclusion.” Governments of developed economies, in G20 Summit agreements, have recognized financial inclusion and consumer protection as integral to achieving financial stability and integrity. Financial access has been highlighted as a “key accelerator” to meet
the Millennium Development Goals. Key to attaining this laudable goal is financial education (World Savings Bank Institute, 2010).

Financial inclusion is a multi-dimensional, pro-client concept, encompassing better access, better products and services, and better use. Herein lies its challenge — without the third element, use, the first two are not worth much. Technological innovations are bringing both new customers, potentially including millions of unbanked cell phone owners, and new service providers — a diverse array of retail outlets, telcoms and others — into the market. Diversification of products and services has already resulted in rich, and complex, choices for consumers, especially compared to the early days of one-size-fits-all working capital loans. Yet, increased access and better choices do not automatically translate into effective use. The path from uptake (i.e., opening an account) to usage is still an uncharted course. Effective use is hampered by asymmetries of information and power between financial institutions and poor consumers, an imbalance which grows as customers are less experienced and the products they can choose are more sophisticated an imbalance which holds real potential for negative outcomes due to institutional abuses or ill informed client decisions.

Financial education is an important tool to address this imbalance and help consumers both accept and use the products to which they increasingly have access. Because it can facilitate effective product use, financial education is critical to financial inclusion. It can help clients to both to develop the skills to compare and select the best products for their needs and empower them to exercise their rights and responsibilities in the consumer protection equation. Properly designed, financial education is tailored to the client’s specific context, helping them to understand how financial instruments, formal or informal, can address their daily financial concerns, from the vagaries of daily cash flow to risk management. Its power lies in its potential to be relevant to anyone and everyone, from the person who contemplates moving savings from under the mattress to a community savings group, to the saver who tries to compare account choices offered by competing banks. As such it spans the informal and formal financial sectors, supporting clients’ access to, and more importantly, use of, diverse financial services.

Current developments in microfinance are both exciting and potentially perilous. To take advantage of the former and protect against the latter, those placing the client at the center of their efforts are embracing financial education. This paper will situate financial education in an evolving financial landscape, identify its stakeholders, and most importantly, summarize experience to date and explore how that experience is shaping the vision and agenda for its future.

Read the full paper.

Listen to the audio recording of the workshop.


Related reading

Voices from the Field: Beth Porter

Financial inclusion to end extreme poverty

“By reducing vulnerability to economic shocks and boosting job creation, financial inclusion can be a key driver of poverty reduction and economic growth and at the same time contribute to promoting greater equality,” explains Beth Porter, policy adviser for financial inclusion at UNCDF.

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In preparation for our 18th Microcredit Summit, the Campaign conducted a Listening Tour from December 2014 through February 2015. The Listening Tour was our time to listen — and your time to speak — on the issues that the microfinance and financial inclusion sector face and served two purposes. First, it was our hope to find out how our audience (you) felt about the World Bank’s goal of eradicating poverty by 2030, and equally important, we wished to consult you in identifying the topics that were most pressing and urgent.

We collected your feedback through an online survey and organized conversations with 27 leaders in the microfinance and financial inclusion sector. We heard from them on how financial inclusion can contribute to the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and the role of microfinance in the post-2015 agenda. The results of this consultation will be reflected in the 2015 State of the Campaign Report, the 18th Microcredit Summit, and Campaign Commitments.

Below is a short excerpt from our conversation with Beth Porter, policy adviser for financial inclusion at the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) in New York.

Q: What is the role of microfinance and financial inclusion in the post-Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)/ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) era?

Beth Porter

Over the course of 2015, the Open Working Group, comprised of 30 member states, discussed the shape of the post-2015 agenda. The post-2015 agenda set out to build upon the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs, 2000-2015) and incorporate some of the broader global stewardship goals that came out of the Monterrey Consensus. To do so, they proposed a set of 17 goals and 169 targets (the MDGs had 8 goals with 10 targets each) to the UN General Assembly in September 2014 — a document which was adopted as a “zero draft.”

In 2015, member states began to consider the overarching vision for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), examine more closely the goals and targets, set forth the means of implementation, and identify indicators. While such a large number of goals and targets are certainly unwieldy, many member states want to ensure that the SDGs are truly comprehensive and feel that further whittling them down would leave out important parts of the development agenda. So the targets are being examined to ensure that they are consistent with other global agreements and commitments and that are measurable, but the targets themselves have not, to date, been opened up for major changes or reduction in number.

Financial inclusion figures prominently amongst the targets. Financial Inclusion is achieved when individuals and enterprises have access to a wide range of financial services provided responsibly and at reasonable cost by diverse and sustainable institutions in a well-regulated environment. By reducing vulnerability to economic shocks and boosting job creation, financial inclusion can be a key driver of poverty reduction and economic growth and at the same time contribute to promoting greater equality — and, indeed, it is a target in all three of these goal areas (poverty eradication, economic growth and job creation, and reducing inequality). Financial inclusion also figures as targets under goals on food security, women’s economic empowerment, health, etc. This is consistent with financial inclusion being a means to achieving broader development goals. As a result, we hope that it will continue to be embedded in the targets under the eight goals where it is mentioned.

Q: What do you think will be needed to achieve the goal of global financial inclusion by 2020 and how can this contribute to the goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030?

In regard to the link between the goals of financial inclusion by 2020 and eradicating extreme poverty by 2030, let me say that while I believe that we can go far towards providing financial access by 2020, any declaration of reaching that goal will be based largely on transactional accounts. The fastest growing part of financial inclusion is in the area of payments: people using a phone to send or receive money to/from family or friends, to receive social transfer payments from governments or development organizations, or to pay bills more conveniently. Digital channels are opening up the possibilities for a large array of products and services.

But, where there will likely still be gaps by 2020 is going beyond access to usage. Providing a payment option or opening a bank account is a starting point but not enough; people must use those payment options or accounts in order to benefit from them and to be fully included financially. To drive usage, these payment services must be designed based on client needs and preferences. Furthermore, payments are just one aspect of the kinds of products and services that people want and need. They may be the entry point, but it will be critical that other products and services such as savings, credit, and insurance are layered on the payment services.

That takes us to the link between financial inclusion and eradicating extreme poverty. I am amongst the many who believe that financial inclusion is a critical factor in addressing poverty. We all know that the causes of poverty are complex, however, and the solutions are not simple either. Financial inclusion is necessary, but not sufficient, to eradicate poverty.

One of the things that we at the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) are particularly focused on, given our mandate to work first and foremost in least developed countries (LDCs), is to look at ways that greater financial inclusion can help contribute not only to better developmental outcomes for people, but also contribute to more vibrant economies and greater availability of domestic resources.

We recognize a clear link between national financial inclusion strategies—and the ensuing implementation plans—and higher levels of financial inclusion. We believe that this in turn leads to both poverty alleviation and economic growth. As a result, we are stepping up our efforts to support the development, implementation, and monitoring of such plans through the Making Access Possible (MAP) initiative.

We have seen tremendous leverage from small amounts of “smart” overseas development assistance (ODA) and philanthropic funding used to help financial service providers (FSPs) to develop the business models that will help them meet the real needs of women and men. Such investments can help encourage private sector players move into riskier markets and demonstrate the potential of these markets to be profitable, and thereby “crowd in” domestic and South-South capital to scale up and replicate these models.

When people have convenient access to formal accounts, individuals and households of even limited means as well as micro- and small enterprises (MSMEs) will place their savings in institutions where their money is safe and accessible, as we have seen through the MicroLead initiative, amongst others. Such savings, when taken cumulatively, can then be directed into financial services that promote local markets, small-holder agriculture, MSME development, education for girls, and so on.

Q: In relation to our host region, what are the challenges and opportunities facing Africa & the Middle East in regards to microfinance and financial inclusion?

The Ebola crisis has forced a recognition that a public health crisis has many other dimensions, and one of those is related to the payments infrastructure—and, more broadly, how financial services can be relevant in the response, recovery, and rehabilitation stages in natural disasters and post-conflict situations. Given the number of countries in the region that are affected by these humanitarian crises, it is critical that governments, development organizations, and providers know when and how to use financial services to get through and beyond the crisis to secure, healthy, and productive lives. We are working on a policy guidance note on this topic, based in part on our experience supporting the Ebola response, and there are many others who are doing terrific work in this space.

An area in which Africa is leading the way globally is in mobile money. Indeed, mobile money was the major contributor to the increase of financial inclusion in Africa, according to Global FinDex. More people in Africa have phones than bank accounts. And, increasingly, mobile network operators are taking advantage of that—often in partnership with financial institutions—to offer people not only payment services, but also other products using the mobile platform. There is still much work to be done, however, to realize the promise of digital finance (i.e., mobile money and other services including the use of electronic vouchers, debit and credit cards, etc. in conjunction with ATMs, POS [point-of-sale], and other devices), but it has great potential in connecting low income and rural customers with the services that they need, not only financial services, but health, education, energy, water and many more.

We believe — and particularly at the Better Than Cash Alliance and the Mobile Money for the Poor initiative — that taking an “ecosystem approach” to digital finance will be essential to realizing that promise. Such an approach involves policymakers and regulators, the various providers of digital financial services, as well as retailers and others in the acceptance networks, and it requires the support of development partners and must take as its starting point the wants and needs and capabilities of the consumer. We are encouraged to see such approaches start to take root in a number of countries in the region.

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About the United Nations Capital Development Fund

The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) is the UN’s capital investment agency for the world’s 48 Least Developed Countries (LDCs). UNCDF uses its capital mandate to help LDCs pursue inclusive growth. UNCDF uses “smart” Official Development Assistance (ODA) to unlock and leverage public and private domestic resources; it promotes financial inclusion, including through digital finance, as a key enabler of poverty reduction and inclusive growth; and it demonstrates how localizing finance outside the capital cities can accelerate growth in local economies, promote sustainable and climate resilient infrastructure development, and empower local communities. Using capital grants, loans, and credit enhancements, UNCDF tests financial models in inclusive finance and local development finance; de-risks” the local investment space; and proves concept, paving the way for larger and more risk-averse investors to come in and scale up.

About Beth Porter

Beth Porter has over 20 years of experience in microfinance and organizational development in 30 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. As a policy adviser at the UNCDF, Beth provides policy guidance and support to the global team on financial inclusion. She previously launched and directed the YFS-Link initiative at Making Cents International to build the capabilities of financial services providers and youth-serving organizations in youth-inclusive financial services.

At Freedom from Hunger, Beth led program strategy and managed delivery of integrated microfinance services to 1.2 million women and their families in 16 countries. She has provided technical assistance and training in strategic and business planning, product design, and organizational effectiveness and operational efficiency, and is experienced in program appraisal, design and evaluation. In addition, Beth is on the boards of the SEEP Network, the Bolivian MFI CRECER, the SMART Campaign in Microfinance, Child and Youth Finance International, and was a founder of Women Advancing Microfinance (WAM)-International and past Chair of WAM-Northern California.

Visit the UNCDF website: http://www.uncdf.org/