Helen Clark: Opening speech at the “Partnerships for Digital Financial Inclusion – A Driver of Inclusive Growth” UNDP, UNCDF, and Better than Cash Alliance-hosted event

Sep 24, 2013

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator

Opening speech at the “Partnerships for Digital Financial Inclusion – A Driver of Inclusive Growth”

UNDP, UNCDF, and Better than Cash Alliance-hosted event

United Nations, New York

I welcome you to this event on “Partnerships for Digital Financial Inclusion – A Driver of Inclusive Growth” hosted by UNDP, UNCDF, and the Better than Cash Alliance  

As we can see by the excellent turnout here today, the topic for our discussion picks up on a number of themes which are important for governments, the private sector, civil society, and development partners alike.

At UNDP, our focus each and every day is on how to help countries reduce poverty and advance sustainable human development.  

For the last thirteen years, the Millennium Development Goals have been there to guide us on this journey, playing a critical role in galvanizing commitment and action towards specific global targets.

It is now only a little over two years until the 2015 target date for the MDGs, and the discussions on what will follow them - the post-2015 development agenda - are well underway.

The importance of promoting inclusive, sustainable, and equitable growth is featuring in this discussion, but often the question remains: What does that growth look like and how can it be achieved?  

One thing is certain: technology will play a critical role. The rapid spread of new information and communications technologies, and, in particular, mobile technologies, is increasingly making more services available to the world’s poor. Recent estimates by the ITU suggest that there are already close to seven billion mobile phone subscriptions around the globe, with 89 per cent mobile-cellular penetration in developing countries.

Access to mobile phones can be a game changer for the poor, particularly for those 2.5 billion adults who do not currently have access to financial services. Yet such access can contribute to poverty alleviation, development, and growth. With mobile technology, it is within reach.

UNDP has been engaged with a number of initiatives which embrace digital financial inclusion.

•    Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, UNDP's CARMEN project aimed to help Haitians rebuild their homes. In Haiti, only ten per cent of the population has access to conventional financial services, but fifty per cent do have access to mobile phones.  

Through an innovative partnership, the Government of Haiti, Digicel – a private telecommunications company, and UNDP introduced the first ever mobile money transfer mechanism to support post-disaster housing reconstruction. Through this project, Haitians could get access to funding for the materials they needed to rebuild their homes.  Thousands of people, more than half of them women, have benefitted from the programme.

•    Under India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, one hundred days of employment per year are guaranteed for rural workers. At the time of establishment in 2005, most of the programme’s beneficiaries did not have access to banking services, making payments to them difficult.  Responding to that, state governments, in partnership with UNDP, worked with local banks and mobile providers, to enable rural workers to open bank accounts and use basic mobile phones to access the funds remotely. Many millions of people have subsequently been able to access basic financial services through their phones.  

Other technologies, including, but not limited to, prepaid cards and point of sale devices, are also opening up opportunities for greater access to financial services,

•    In Fiji, for example, through the Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme, UNDP and UNCDF have supported the Department of Social Welfare to ensure that the 24,000 social welfare recipients receive their benefits on time and without the long and often costly journeys they used to make to pick up cash.  

Working in partnership with Westpac Banking Corporation, social welfare benefits are now distributed across Fiji through Westpac’s network of branches, ATMs, and point of sale devices. In the process, communities which previously didn’t have access to banking can access flexible, no-fee accounts. The Department of Social Welfare reports having more time now to spend on family visits and child protection, while also having been able to cut costs, reduce the number of ghost recipients, and cut fraud. Meanwhile, Westpac expanded its clientele by nearly fifteen per cent in the first few months of the scheme, and extended its reach in rural areas

Fiji’s government is now requiring that all communal land lease payments, which are made mostly to rural communities, must move to electronic platforms. Financial institutions, government ministries, and central banks around the region are taking an interest in these innovations in Fiji.

At UNDP we see the potential of digital technology to open up access to financial services and drive down costs. It can ensure that money reaches intended recipients in a timely, transparent, and accountable manner.

These initiatives rest on partnerships which bring together leadership, expertise, experience, and funding. In each of these cases I’ve cited, there were multiple players — including, variously, government, the private sector, development partners, and civil society organizations — who came together and made success possible.   

At UNDP, we firmly believe that by partnering together and leveraging the world’s current digital transformation, financial inclusion and inclusive growth can be significantly advanced.  

Later in this session, we will hear from leaders in this field on how they see digital technology driving greater financial inclusion.  

One exciting example of such partnerships is the Better than Cash Alliance, of which UNDP is proud to be a part.  With the financial support of founding partners, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi Group, the Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, USAID, and Visa, and with additional funding from MasterCard, the Better than Cash Alliance brings together governments, the private sector, and development organizations to promote the shift from cash to electronic payments.  

To date six countries and ten development organizations, including UNDP, have made commitments under this initiative to channel significant volumes of money through electronic payments. A number of these partners are here today, and some will share their experiences with us.

In conclusion, there are big opportunities to promote financial inclusion through new technologies, and through that to drive inclusive and sustainable growth.

I hope that today’s event will strengthen our partnerships and commitment so that we can make even more of these opportunities.

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