The past year and a half has brought incredible difficulties to the world’s low-income and financially underserved people. Families and small businesses have dealt with — and continue to deal with — shuttered storefronts and restaurants, disrupted supply chains, reduced incomes, and unprecedented social and economic crises that cause fear about the future.
As vulnerable populations continue to struggle, it’s helpful to stop and reflect on the progress we’ve made to support them, despite massive challenges. By giving thanks for our victories, we can focus on what’s working to build a truly inclusive and resilient recovery.
I’ve never been more grateful for the dedication of Accion and our partners to supporting vulnerable people with the financial tools they need to recover, adapt, and build resilience for the future. I’m also incredibly grateful for the global progress we’ve made, together, to leverage the power of technology to respond swiftly to new challenges.
A once-in-a-lifetime chance
Thanks to this progress, we have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to create a more equitable economy and a more inclusive world. More people than ever are:
- Receiving cash digitally: Around the world, 166 countries initiated more than 400 cash transfer programs, reaching 1.1 billion people. Most governments relied on digital channels to send these funds, and now millions of people have access to digital financial tools for the first time.
- Using mobile money and digital banking: Active mobile money accounts increased 13 percent in 2020, surpassing 1.2 billion, and the monthly value of international remittances sent via mobile money exceeded $1 billion for the first time. Some researchers predict that more than half the world’s population — 4.2 billion people — will have access to digital banking by 2026, which is double the current number.
- Participating in the digital economy: Small businesses are accessing the security and opportunities of the digital economy at an encouraging rate. According to an international survey, 71 percent of small and medium size businesses said they survived the pandemic by going digital.
This progress would be impossible without the commitment and hard work of inclusive financial service providers, investors, funders, policymakers, and beyond to support the world’s most vulnerable people in a time of immense need. At Accion, we created or accelerated exciting partnerships, products, and other initiatives that are helping people get back on their feet:
- Accion responded to a White House call-to-action to help create the Partnership for Central America, which seeks to create economic security, stability, and opportunity in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. We committed to bring 400,000 new financial services to the region and, with support from Mastercard, we’ve started new work with our partner Fundación Génesis Empresarial in Guatemala to reach that goal.
- We invested in and supported innovative fintech companies that are advancing the latest trends like embedded and contextualized finance, allowing businesses of every kind to integrate financial services into their offerings — and making it easier than ever for small businesses to access the tools they need to grow.
- We accelerated the digital transformation of frontline financial service providers who are creating innovative new products and services that struggling small businesses desperately needed to recover from major disruptions caused by the pandemic and build better futures.
- With support from MetLife Foundation, we shared insights from years of work with providers in Mexico and Chile on how to develop financial products that empower clients to improve their financial health and resilience.
- We enabled our partners to leverage data and technology to close the gender divide, and empower women to grow businesses, manage their finances, and take control of their financial futures.
Great challenges remain
While we’ve made promising strides in equipping vulnerable people with the financial tools of resilience, there’s so much more work to do on our path toward a more equitable and inclusive economy.
As advanced economies focus on administering COVID-19 booster shots, vaccination rates in emerging markets remain horribly low, hovering around four percent or lower. That’s partly why the IMF has dubbed the global recovery from the pandemic “the Great Divergence.” Other research shows world economy could lose $2.3 trillion because of global disparities in vaccination rates, with emerging markets accounting for two-thirds of these losses.
The pandemic has also had especially damaging effects on women, who have experienced higher rates of job loss and are less likely to have the cash reserves needed to withstand an economic shock. The ever-rising threats of climate change also pose challenges for smallholder farmers, agricultural retailers, and many other businesses vulnerable to droughts, floods, and storms.
Together, we can find innovative solutions to these challenges and create a more resilient and inclusive world for future generations. We should be thankful for all the progress we’ve made, but we can’t lose sight of the crisis that continues to face the world’s most vulnerable people, who desperately need support to recover, adapt, and grow.