This has been a year of immense challenges. Our work to build a financially inclusive world has never been more difficult and more important, as low-income and underserved people around the world continue to cope with COVID-19 and a deep recession.

With this crisis far from over, taking time to reflect on what we are thankful for may seem like its own challenge. But I have never been more grateful for the dedication of Accion and our partners in supporting the most vulnerable people with the tools they need to make it through this crisis and build resilience for the future. Your support makes it possible.

The World Bank projects that the pandemic could push as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty in 2021. Small businesses are coping with a severe economic decline, and many have been forced to close. In Indonesia, for just one example, 85 percent of small businesses saw profits decline due to the pandemic, and 17 percent of small business shut down.

But our clients are showing us what it means to be resilient in these difficult times. In Colombia, Karen Yesenia Torres Villamizar found a way to keep her confectionary business open by promoting and selling her products online, with help from Accion’s interactive edtech platform, Ovante. Our advisory services team is helping more financial services providers in Latin America take advantage of Ovante and help their clients gain the skills and know-how they need to succeed in today’s increasingly digital world.

Our staff at Accion and our partners around the world have been working tirelessly to help more small business owners, families, and individuals build financial resilience. Their dedication has persisted amid far-from-normal work conditions, and untold amounts of stress and uncertainty. For that I am extremely grateful.

Despite the many challenges of 2020, we have accomplished so much this year.

Our global partnership with Mastercard has made substantial progress toward our goal of helping millions of people and small businesses fully participate in and benefit from the digital economy. In 2020, we helped our financial service provider partners leverage digital tools to respond to COVID-19, including reimagining group lending for a no-contact world, enhancing digital channels, and implementing remote customer service. For example, we helped design and launch a new digital financial services platform for Sub-K, a major microfinance institution in India.

During Financial Inclusion Week last month, the Center for Financial Inclusion unveiled a new strategy focused on the themes of mitigating and adapting to the risks of climate change, women’s financial inclusion, data risks and opportunities, and consumer protection in the digital economy. Our fully-virtual Financial Inclusion Week was a success, and convened industry leaders to discuss and learn about the most important issues facing financial inclusion today through webinars, blog posts, podcasts, and more—all still accessible through the event portal.

Throughout Accion, we helped inform the industry’s response to COVID-19 in real time by sharing the latest insights from our work with partners across the globe. Our digital publications discussed how inclusive financial service providers quickly adapted to COVID-19, strategies for crafting customer-centric financial products, and stories of hope and resilience. Accion Venture Lab hosted a new season of its podcast, VentureKast, focused on how fintechs are supporting an inclusive global recovery. We convened financial leaders around the world through a series of engaging webinars covering a range of topics, including the digital transformation of small businesses, reimagining group lending for a socially distant world, cybersecurity risks, and many more.

Inclusive Fintech 50 announced the 2020 cohort of startups driving inclusion and resilience for financially underserved people around the world. An independent panel of 35 experts from venture capital, technology, and financial services firms identified the most promising startups providing credit, insurance, savings, and other critical products to low-income households and businesses. These startups will benefit from increased visibility and connections to leading investors, including the IF50 Investors Circle, as well as their peers from the 2019 cohort.

Accion Venture Lab helped innovative fintech startups weather the crisis and continue finding ways to leverage technology to support struggling clients. For example, Field Intelligence applies AI and data analytics to help community pharmacies in Nigeria and Kenya manage inventory—and stay focused on treating an increase in customers who are avoiding hospitals. Our strategic partners at Quona Capital also announced the final close of the Accion Quona Inclusion Fund, with $203 million in commitments from an array of investors and significantly exceeding its $150 million target. The fund is investing in scalable technology companies around the world that are expanding access to financial services.

Our work in the U.S. work took major strides to help small business owners struggling with the pandemic and longtime challenges of racial injustice and inequality. Accion Opportunity Fund, the nation’s leading nonprofit small business lender, was the primary beneficiary of Small Business Live, a virtual music experience focused on supporting minority-owned small businesses, featuring performances by superstars 2 Chainz, Brandi Carlile, Brittany Howard, Leon Bridges, and Ms. Lauryn Hill. Author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott donated $15 million, the largest gift in Accion Opportunity Fund’s history, to help businesses owned by people of color, women, and immigrants. And American Express partnered with Accion Opportunity Fund to provide minority-owned businesses with increased access to capital to help them grow and thrive, as part of a $1 billion initiative to promote racial, ethnic, and gender equity for colleagues, customers, and communities.

This year also included a difficult loss for the Accion family. Accion’s founder, Joseph H. Blatchford, passed away last month at the age of 86. Joe was a courageous, charismatic leader who overcame cultural and economic differences to help disadvantaged people around the world.

Joe’s pioneering work built the foundation for Accion, without which we couldn’t find new ways to support vulnerable people around the world. I am thankful to be part of this very dedicated team, and I thank all the supporters that help Accion and our partners continue our work to build resilience in very challenging times.