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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, CFI
A couple months ago we announced a new program coming out of the Center for Financial Inclusion and Accion designed to produce actionable research for the microfinance and financial inclusion industry. We’ve been busy since, overwhelmed by the positive response we had to our announcement, and torn between many high-quality research proposals.
In recent days we selected four fellows to carry out research that we think will have an influence on the future of financial inclusion. Without further adieu, I would like to introduce you to…
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> Posted by Andrew Fixler, Freelance Journalist
Indian financial inclusion advocates enjoyed a brief victory lap and an international spotlight in January, and they are poised to move into 2015 with a renewed push. On January 20, Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was presented with a Guinness World Record for the fastest financial inclusion roll-out in history, the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY). In one week, between 23 and 29 August 2014, 18,096,130 bank accounts were opened through this national inclusion strategy. Since that date the number has grown to over 123 million across the country. During his January 25 joint address with Prime Minister Modi, President Obama commended Indian leadership’s commitment to prioritize financial inclusion for all Indian citizens, and pledged American support.
In a January 27 press release, USAID affirmed Obama’s pledge, and announced its intention to partner with over 20 Indian, U.S., and international organizations with the support of the World Economic Forum (WEF) to work alongside the Indian government “to expand the ability of Indian consumers and businesses to participate in the formal economy.”
> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI
Last week global leaders across industries gathered in the tiny mountain town of Davos, Switzerland for the 2015 World Economic Forum (WEF). (Though you probably already knew that, given the annual event’s ever-swelling stature and press.) The WEF fosters strategic dialogues in the hopes of developing ideas, insights, and partnerships around the most pressing issues and transformations reshaping our world. This year’s WEF included sessions from Jack Ma of Alibaba on the future of commerce, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on global responsibilities in a digital age, IMF Director Christine Lagarde on global monetary policy, former Israeli President Shimon Peres on political affairs affecting the region, and Bill Gates on sustainable future development. Of course we were following the topic of financial inclusion, and the action that got underway made it a week worth noting. Here’s a snapshot of some of the financial inclusion happenings at Davos.
In the “Inclusive Growth in a Digital Age” session held on Wednesday, a panel, which included MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga, considered how our age of digitization can confront income and wealth inequality, support investments in education and work-based training, and address vulnerable employment. Among the points of discussion was mobile phone penetration leveraged for financial services access. A full video recording of the session is available, here.
> Posted by Kaj Malden, Project Manager, PlaNet Finance China
Poor rural women in China face challenges not dissimilar to poor rural women in other developing countries. Many are homemakers and child rearers, with much of their work tied to the home, offering little social or professional mobility. However, there are some dynamics in China that make women’s conditions somewhat different. The Communist Revolution of 1949 promulgated an ideology that favored gender equality and claimed women “hold up half the sky” (半边天). According to a recent study by the World Economic Forum, gender inequality is more apparent in the developed economies of Japan and Italy than in China. Modern China’s One-Child Policy, however, leads to a cultural view that “values males and belittles females” (重男轻女). The fact that China’s gender ratio skews towards males may support this view and suggest that parents favor males. Additionally, China’s massive urbanization continues to create large flows of migrant workers, posing other challenges for women. Husbands often find work in neighboring provinces or eastern coastal cities, leaving their wives to manage the household’s finances and run the family business independently.
> Posted by Martin Burt, Executive Director, Fundación Paraguaya & Teach A Man To Fish
The following post was originally published on the World Economic Forum blog.
Until recently, this has not been easy. Now, technological innovation is helping us achieve things that were once impossible, and the effects are far-reaching.
At Fundación Paraguaya, we have developed a methodology called Poverty Stoplight. To assess levels of poverty, we show people a series of three photographs and ask them to choose the one that best describes their situation. We do this in each of 50 “critical indicators,” such as access to water, levels of nutrition, dental care, and so on. These pictures are color-coded to represent degrees of poverty: red is critical, yellow is poor, and green is non-poor.
> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI
The World Economic Forum on East Asia was held last week in Myanmar. Following the country’s recent political and economic changes, the forum was Myanmar’s first international meeting that spanned leaders from industry, government, academia, and civil society. The three themes of this year’s gathering were Inspiring Inclusion Transformation, Realizing Regional Integration, and Scaling Regional Solutions for Global Resilience. A few of the forum’s sessions focused directly on financial inclusion. These included Moving from a Cash to a Banked Economy, and From Social Protection to Financial Inclusion. Video recordings of these, as well as all of the forum’s sessions, can be found here.
Myanmar today may be the nearest country in the world to a cash-only economy. Only 10 percent of the population has access to formal financial services, though if this year is any indication, changes to the country’s financial services and economic landscapes are coming, and rapidly.
This past September MasterCard became the first international payments network to issue a license to a Myanmar bank, enabling Co-Operative Bank Ltd. (one of the country’s largest banks) to offer MasterCard-branded cards to its customers. Since September, similar licenses have been issued to four more banks, and the ensuing five bank network of ATMs, currently totaling 140 facilities, now accept MasterCard payment cards. Beyond this new service opportunity for many of Myanmar’s banked, the development allows tourists and business travelers in the country to withdraw local currency using international MasterCard cards. 2012 was a record-breaking tourism year for Myanmar, as over one million visited the country. New point-of-sale merchant terminals for cashless payments are also in the works. With its first MasterCard terminal opening this past September, the payments company is working with in-country banks to roll out upwards of 500 terminals at restaurants, hotels, and other retail outlets by the end of the year.