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> Posted by Center Staff

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Can you confidently speak to the financial inclusion of persons with disabilities (PwDs)? How about the proportion of PwDs that live below the poverty line? …The prevalence of disabilities?

The financial and economic hardships of PwDs don’t get much mainstream attention. You, if you’re like most, don’t know that in the United States, for example, about one-fifth of the population (roughly 60 million) has a disability, PwDs are twice as likely to use informal financial services like payday lenders and check cashers, the unemployment rate for PwDs is more than double the national average, and about one-third of adult PwDs live in poverty. These statistics are severe. Not to mention, current demographic shifts will result in larger older adult populations and position the incidence of disability, and the magnitude of these unmet inclusion needs, to grow.

Last week the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a mainstream U.S. financial player, announced an initiative that will work in concert with financial empowerment and disability organizations to tackle these pressing issues.

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> Posted by Joshua Goldstein, Principal Director for Economic Citizenship & Disability Inclusion, CFI

I spent the first two hours of the conference in a speed dating exercise called First Connections, where delegates had five minutes to give each other their elevator pitches before moving chairs to meet the next delegate. I recognize that common perceptions of this sort of activity perceive it as always awkward and often a waste of time. In this case, however, my speed dating was at the annual Skoll World Forum, and its value was indicative of the diverse connections needed to solve the complex challenges of my work on disability inclusion, and of those attending the Forum.

The Skoll World Forum, held in Oxford, England, brings together social entrepreneurs, as well as funders, politicians, media, and others who, in Founder Jeff Skoll’s words, are committed to “solving the world’s most pressing problems.” I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in the 11th annual Forum, based on my contribution to a global civil rights struggle to end discrimination against persons with disabilities. My scope of work within this ambitious movement has been developing a set of tools and trainings with my colleagues at the Center for Financial Inclusion to make microfinance institutions and other financial service providers disability inclusive. Along with facilitating the industry’s integration of these tools and trainings, we’re working with in-country stakeholders to develop disability inclusion plans in Ecuador, India, Paraguay, and elsewhere. But achieving disability inclusion in financial services requires more than financial services providers. It also requires the involvement of technology providers, telcos, government officials, educators, community groups, and other actors.

Over 1,000 people from 60 countries gathered to share their ideas and innovations at Skoll. The hope of event organizers is that such a high-level convening of disparate leaders will produce new collaborations and lead to new innovations. And when I say disparate, I mean disparate. I crossed paths with Eli Williamson, Co-Founder of Leave No Veteran Behind, an organization providing educational and employment assistance to veterans facing hardship, as well as Chris Underhill, MBE, Founder of the global mental health organization Basic Needs, and Mabel van Oranje, Chair of Girls Not Brides, which combats child marriage.

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> Posted by Fernando Botelho, Founder, F123 Consulting

Microfinance institutions (MFIs) may not be aware of tools and resources at their disposal that can make it easier for them to work with persons with disabilities (PWDs) as clients or staff. A new tool launched a few weeks ago attempts to close this gap, “Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Microfinance through Organizational Learning and the Strategic Use of Low-Cost Technologies.” This tool is part of the Framework for Disability Inclusion toolkit produced by CFI through work with Fundación Paraguaya and others.

Need help? (Braille translation)

Need help? (Braille translation)

The new tool provides concrete guidance for selecting appropriate technologies, forming partnerships with disability-related organizations, and incorporating disability inclusion throughout an organization. It was developed by myself and my organization, F123 Consulting, inspired by our work with the staff of Fundación Paraguaya, to make their organization more disability inclusive.

For example, free and open source assistive technologies can be used by organizations that have an interest in ensuring that operational and financial viability are maintained. In that regard, it’s important to take advantage of the many available low-cost, high performing technologies, and to adapt instead of replace existing processes whenever possible. Managers don’t have to roll their eyes and fret about cost. Small modifications to already existing systems can often make MFIs accessible to staff and clients with disabilities. And the best part is that some of these modifications are free!

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> Posted by Pina D’Intino, Senior Manager, Scotiabank

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. Accordingly, this blog series will spotlight financial inclusion efforts around the globe, share insights coming out of the creation of a roadmap to full financial inclusion, and highlight findings from research on the “invisible market.”

In 1998, I unexpectedly lost my sight as a result of a medical complication. One of the first things that struck me was the impact this disability had on my day-to-day living, including my ability to independently and confidentially access and conduct my banking. Thankfully, I was still employed and could continue to save and invest towards the purchase of a home and ultimately plan for retirement. However, this proved to be much more difficult than I imagined.

Today, 15 years later, and after acquiring sufficient skills to use a screen reader, I am able to access my retail accounts for basic banking but am still unable to effectively use tools with my screen reader that will allow me to estimate the cost of purchasing a home or what my mortgage would be, nor am I able to independently use simple investment or trade tools that would allow my savings to grow. All this despite the evolving technical enablers and my digital literacy increasing.

As more and more branches are moving towards self-service tools, it has become harder to meet in person with a financial advisor. And yet, I cannot independently access information that would allow me to make informed decisions, cannot independently conduct or monitor my investments, and need someone to read to me the complex and lengthy application forms that I need to complete. Furthermore, if I go to a branch with someone else, at times, the staff will not allow me to include the person in the conversation unless a proxy or power of attorney is on file for them to disclose any personal information. At other times, they will speak to the person who comes with me, rather than speaking to me directly. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff 

The U.N.’s Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ict) is conducting a survey for financial services providers on the practices of their institutions in implementing services that are accessible for older persons and persons with disabilities (PWDs).

Older persons are the fastest growing age group globally. In 1950, 1 in 20 people worldwide was elderly. By 2050 it will be 1 in 5. PWDs are among the largest of vulnerable groups in the world. It’s estimated that about 15 percent of the global population has some sort of disability. To achieve full inclusion, it’s essential that financial services providers offer products and services that are accessible to these client segments.

The survey targets current practices of respondents’ organizations, as well as future services plans for these two client groups. Collected information will contribute to G3ict’s larger effort to design and share resources on service options for banks to effectively serve these underbanked groups.

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> Posted by Center Staff

The FI2020 Global Forum in London is fast approaching. As we get closer to October 28, keep an eye on this blog as we’ll be posting periodically to share new event developments. Today, we’re excited to announce a number of newly confirmed speakers and agenda items. Here are the new speakers:

  • Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, CEO and Group Managing Director, Access Bank Plc
  • Tilman Ehrbeck, CEO, CGAP
  • Nick Hughes, Director of Strategy, M-Kopa
  • Gregory Keough, CEO, Mobile Financial Services
  • Andrea Levere, President, CFED
  • Imelda Nicolas, Chairperson of the Commission on the Filipinos Overseas
  • Martyn Parker, Chairman, Global Partnerships, Swiss Re
  • Duvvuri Subbarao, Former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India

Other recently announced speakers include Michael Corbat, CEO of Citi, and Ajay Banga, CEO of MasterCard. For the full list of Forum speakers to-date, click here.

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> Posted by Jimena Vallejos, Project Coordinator, Fundación Paraguaya

Non-discrimination is embedded in the fifth Client Protection Principle, Fair and Respectful Treatment of Clients. A microfinance institution (MFI) may work, knowingly or not, with clients that have particular disabilities or conditions. In order for MFIs to operate without discrimination, it’s essential that they are inclusive of persons with disabilities and that they offer services that account for these clients’ unique needs. Fundación Paraguaya (FP) is an MFI that operates in Asunción, Paraguay and employs an impressive non-discrimination policy and code of ethics, fully taking into account those with disabilities and physical conditions. These documents can be viewed on the Smart Campaign website:

Fundación Paraguaya and CFI are working together on a specific project, “Non-Discrimination: Making Microfinance Institutions Disability Inclusive and Smart Campaign Certifiable,” establishing and testing guidelines for a model comprehensive non-discrimination policy. As part of the project, Thomas Meriaux and Caroline Cervera from Handicap International are currently visiting Fundación Paraguaya to provide trainings on disability inclusion for clients and employees at the MFI. We recently spoke with Thomas about his visit, and he told us about an incident that brought it all home.

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> Posted by Josh Goldstein aka Mr. Provocative

Economic inclusion for persons with disabilities (PWDs) is more possible than ever because of technological innovations that can transform the workplace, by making it accessible for persons with different kinds of disabilities. Screen reading software for the blind is just one example. Furthermore, there are some twenty-first century jobs that may perfectly fit the skill set of certain PWDs.

One recent stellar example of PWDs entering the workforce in a new way was reported by Emma Jacobs of the Financial Times on June 7. She spotlights the achievement of Thornkil Sonne, a Danish businessman (and Ashoka Fellow) who supplies autistic recruits to the IT industry and has shown that people with autism routinely demonstrate superior skills compared to their non-autistic peers. Many persons with autism (but by no means all) excel at data entry, software programming, and other technical tasks. This has persuaded SAP, the profit-driven German business software company to recruit 110 autistic employees to test its software products.

Globally, there are millions of vacant jobs in IT. So this could just be the beginning! Such employment opportunities that capitalize on the strengths of the differently-abled to such a degree that they are actually preferred candidates for certain positions in a competitive marketplace is truly extraordinary, even revolutionary, and is something we can all celebrate. But there is a dark side to technological innovations that may doom PWDs just as new opportunities and new acceptance appear on the horizon.

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> Posted by Josh Goldstein, Principal Director for Economic Citizenship & Disability Inclusion, CFI

On July 17, I addressed delegates from more than 100 countries at the United Nations on CFI’s initiative to make microfinance institutions disability-inclusive and free from discrimination, in accordance with the Smart Campaign guidelines. The Center (with Smart) is establishing guidelines for a model comprehensive nondiscrimination policy which we are now testing at the award winning MFI, Fundacion Paraguaya.

I also emphasized that government cash transfers and other social welfare measures must be designed to complement employment schemes and not have the unintended consequence of pushing persons with disabilities (PWDs) into dependency.

The occasion was the annual Conference of State Parties that monitors compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the transformative 2006 treaty that mandates equal rights and opportunities for PWDs and has now been ratified by 133 countries.

The theme of this year’s conference was identifying best practices to build “disability-inclusive” development by improving social protection and reducing poverty. The United Nations states that about 80 percent of the more than 1 billion people with disabilities around the world are of working age, and face physical, social, economic, and cultural challenges in gaining access to the building blocks of economic independence.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI

Today, people all around the world are celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities. And, whether the focus is financial or any other type of inclusion for persons with disabilities (PWDs), we here at CFI would be remiss if we didn’t join in the festivities.

The International Day has been observed since 1992, and encompasses activities around the globe. The United Nations, which functions as the principal promoter, features an online list of events being held by governments, UN agencies, organizations, and communities in Australia, Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. The impressively global – and inclusive – Day brings awareness to disability issues, acknowledges the integral role of persons with disabilities in society, and further promotes full inclusion for PWDs. The theme of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities is “Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all.”

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Credit Suisse is a founding sponsor of the Center for Financial Inclusion. The Credit Suisse Group Foundation looks to its philanthropic partners to foster research, innovation and constructive dialogue in order to spread best practices and develop new solutions for financial inclusion.


The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.