#tbt: Digital Transactions for Products the Poor Can Afford

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The promise of mobile technology infographic: how it works
Rodger Voorhies, director of financial services for the poor at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the United States, talked to Larry Reed, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, for the 2013 State of the Campaign Report.

Larry Reed: What opportunities do you see for digital transactions making a difference in the lives of the very poor?

Rodger Voorhies: Like most of us, poor people live their lives through a lot of different kinds of financial connections, and payments are really the connective tissue that hold those financial transactions together. Unless we can figure out ways to help poor people transact in a way that is profitable for them and profitable for providers, we’re really not going to see large-scale financial inclusion take place.

Now, one of the most exciting things that’s going on for us is the ability of mobile money to reach down into really poor households, and so right now in a country like Tanzania 47 percent of households have a mobile money user. An exciting bit of that is not so much, okay, there’s one person in the household sending money to friends, but it might open up all kinds of innovations that before were previously unavailable.

So, let’s think about savings, because we know savings have a big impact on poor people. Well, it’s really hard to save, and poor people have to take a lot of self-control and we expect a lot of self-discipline out of them if they’re going to be able to save. If I can actually begin to transact digitally and I had defaulted into commitments accounts and savings accounts for school fees or whatever the mental maps are that work for me, I think we can see large scale inclusion that actually has a big development impact. And we know that the empirical evidence around these pieces work, so we know commitment accounts work, but poor people just don’t have a way to get those commitment accounts.

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Partnering in New Approaches to Old Challenges

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Partnerships against Poverty Summit Banner with logos

Partnerships against Poverty: Why, When, & How to Partner
Date: 
Wednesday, October 9th 

Time: 11:30 – 1:00 PM

Effective partnerships generate synergies between organizations that each supply unique skills, perspectives and resources to devise new ways of approaching old challenges, providing needed products and services on a much wider scale.

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Nicholas Luff, Senior Associate, The Partnering Initiative

The plenary “Partnerships against Poverty: When, Why and How to Partner” centered on the guiding principle for the 2013 Partnerships against Poverty Summit, exploring the manner in which partnerships can be developed, negotiated, leveraged, and managed between actors that come from different sectors while highlighting some of the best practices in the field. This cornerstone session set up the framework for the rest of the Summit agenda to follow.

Nicholas Luff of The Partnering Initiative, serving as the session’s moderator and multi-stakeholder partnership builder, began the session by stressing the characteristics of good partnerships.

He described these strategic relationships as an “engaging two-way dialogue, which moves beyond mere contractual interactions towards transformative missions among value-adding knowledge sharers.” Collaborations founded in this spirit hold great potential for catalyzing the next wave of movement out of extreme poverty.

Rodger Voorhies, director of the Financial Services for the Poor Initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation emphasized the dire need for cutting-edge partnerships in the financial inclusion field. He stressed that “2.5 billion people are currently left out of access to financial services.”

In order to combat this trend, Voorhies advised that “we need to substantially increase access and that will require new kinds of partnerships, new kinds of innovation and new kinds of thinking…We are at the forefront—at a cusp—of rattling changes using technology and new ways of delivering services.” Voorhies discussed the potential of digital services coupled with transformative partnerships to form the next great paradigm shift in helping practitioners reach into untapped communities and leverage their impact.

Bringing a concrete example of a successful cross-sector partnership, Richard Leftley, CEO of MicroEnsure, engaged the audience by showcasing his own company’s collaboration with mobile service providers, which facilitated an expansion of MicroEnsure’s client base.

Leftley summarized the process that MicroEnsure underwent in its quest for a fruitful partnership, describing the challenges associated with being a small, young company and providing a product (i.e., microinsurance) that at the time was relatively unknown. He echoed Luff by pointing out that “a shared sense of necessity where each partner brings something to the table” is vital in developing and negotiating successful relationships with other actors.

Watch the full video of this plenary

On the whole, the plenary displayed a clear sense of optimism for the road ahead by highlighting the manner in which partnerships can create opportunities for people living in poverty where no single actor could provide the multitude of services needed by the poor on their own. Each of the speakers acknowledged that opportunities for collaboration are widening and stakeholder engagement is at an all-time high, making it a perfect time to engage in deep dialogue and work together on the collective mission to eradicate extreme poverty in the near future.