Before the COVID-19 pandemic changed our world, people like Laal Kumari Singh in rural India faced significant challenges to building a secure future. Laal relies on her cattle rearing business to feed her family, but she has struggled to access the financial tools she needs to save, grow, and protect herself from unexpected emergencies.

Sub-K, an innovative microfinance enterprise in India, uses a digitally-enabled model and a large network of agents to reach underserved people in rural communities and connect them to banks. Before Laal became a client of Sub-K, her milk business owned five cows. Now, thanks to Sub-K’s efforts to serve her rural community, her herd of cows, calves, and buffaloes has grown to nearly 40, producing 30 to 40 liters of milk for her to sell each day. Because of Laal’s success, she’s been able to support her three kids: two sons and one daughter.

Millions of small business owners like Laal operate in India and around the world, each working hard to support their families and answer a need in their communities. When these enterprises thrive, so do the families and communities that depend on them. But amid the global economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19, these businesses are struggling to access capital and maintain operations, while the financial service providers who support them face a serious credit crunch of their own.

Accion is a global nonprofit dedicated to creating a financially inclusive world. Today, we’re harnessing the power of digital technology to achieve that goal as we find, fund, and grow companies like Sub-K that are finding new ways to reach the underserved. Ultimately, we seek to support the three billion people who are left out or poorly served by the global financial system, and who are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic.

As Sub-K’s success shows, advances in digital technology will be key to reaching underserved populations as we confront unprecedented and evolving challenges. While Sub-K is a more established partner of Accion’s, our seed-stage investing initiative Venture Lab partners with innovative fintech startups around the world.

Venture Lab’s portfolio companies have provided us with the means to harness emerging fintech trends in a sustainable, scalable way. Its partners have found new ways to protect millions of people with insurance for the first time; helped more consumers and businesses make quick, safe, digital payments; and pioneered ways to lend tens of millions to small businesses and their customers.

Pintek, a partner of Accion’s in Indonesia, is a financial technology startup aiming to democratize access to education in Indonesia through affordable and flexible credit for schools and students. Indonesia’s public universities have limited capacity, so Pintek helps the many low- and middle- income families in Indonesia who turn to private schools for education, but often struggle to afford tuition.

To help students and schools facing disruptions to learning due the pandemic, Pintek has partnered with edtech platforms and school management systems to help schools access financing for these products and develop their online learning capabilities. Pintek has also maintained active conversations with their customers, sending out surveys to understand their needs and how Pintek can assist. Pintek is also taking this time to improve internal processes and systems and upgrade their technology.

This progress has helped build financial resilience at a time when it’s vitally important. And if we build resilience now, we can ensure that future challenges – like natural disasters and other shocks arising from climate change – don’t devastate the global economy or push underserved populations deeper into poverty.

These pioneering startups also offer new ways to meet the UN’s sustainable development goals to help fight poverty, empower women and girls, and provide access to a good education. The sustainable development goals were important before the pandemic—achieving them is going to be more complex and more urgent.

Investing in these companies and their innovations can provide us with powerful new tools to create a safer, more equitable world.

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Manashi tends to her rice crops in Odisha, India
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