Could isolationism reverse the gains of inclusiveness?

By Alfred Hannig

Could isolationism reverse the gains of inclusiveness?

As we begin 2017 it is worth taking a moment to reflect on some of the larger geopolitical transformations which are influencing our activities, processes and perceptions on a global scale.

The importance of open financial systems in uncertain times cannot be understated and globally, financial, economic and social inclusion has made significant progress over the last few years. However, on a larger scale we now begin to see a worrisome trend towards greater protectionism, racism and segregation, as well as political and economic disintegration. Attempts to build new walls and raise new barriers have potentially far reaching implications that threaten to undermine the complex and ambitious commitments of the global community.

To be sure, these trends have not risen out of a vacuum. There are legitimate concerns over the rising levels of inequality, and frustrations being expressed by those who still do not feel that their voices are being heard or their needs addressed. Addressing these concerns is of course part of the financial inclusion mandate. Nevertheless, there are now widespread sentiments of insecurity and instability which are pushing to slow, and potentially even reverse the progress that has been made towards global integration.

We are faced with two visions of the future. One which looks inward and sees the global community as competitors and potential threats. Another which continues to look outward, engaging and sharing as part of a global community which stands for inclusiveness.

It has therefore never been more important that those who believe in an integrated and open international community which strives for a more balanced global governance make their voices heard, and show what can be accomplished by working together.

Since 2009, the Alliance for Financial Inclusion has been a champion of cooperation, transparency, tolerance and mutual respect. Our success, and indeed our very existence, is a result of our member’s strong belief in the benefits and power of peer-to peer relationships across the global community. There are still two billion unbanked women and men living in every region of the world and in many far-flung places, for them the very idea of becoming part of the formal financial system remains little more than a dream. Being able to effectively reach these people is a task that we believe demands cooperation and collaboration at every level.

Consider for a moment the global movement towards digitization, a key element for financial inclusion efforts. The success and growth of digital financial services has contributed tremendously to the reduction of excluded people, but that success has been due in a large part, to the increasing ability of technology and information to freely move across borders and between regions. The major economies of the G7 can benefit substantially from a more engaged approach with respect to lower income countries, where some of the most substantive digital financial services innovations have evolved. Take away that interconnectivity and we could find the unbanked numbers quickly rising.

The AFI vision has always contained two important elements, a belief in the power of financial inclusion to bring billions out of poverty and a confidence that using an open model of cooperation and collaboration would lead to a dramatic acceleration of innovative, effective, efficient and smart policy solutions. While there is now a global recognition of importance of financial inclusion, we must double our efforts to ensure that the benefits of an open interconnected world are also understood.

A free flow of knowledge and productive ideas will bring us to a better future. Those who chose to hide behind walls and barriers may soon discover that they have been left far behind.  


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