By Dr. Nimal Fernando, Consultant, Alliance for Financial Inclusion

2017 AFI GPF at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt: Diversity and Inclusion, at the Forefront of the Pyramid

“In our world diversity is an asset”, Dr. Alfred Hannig emphasised in his interview during the 9th AFI Global Policy Forum held this September in Egypt.

The 2017 GPF’s overarching theme was “Exploring Diversity, Promoting Inclusion.”  The theme and the event itself made me reflect on a speech “Reflecting Diversity, Choosing Inclusion”, delivered by the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney on 9 February 2017 in the Courthouse of Bank of England.

According to Governor Carney, we value diversity at least for three reasons:

First, “it is the right thing to do” because a public institution should seek to reflect the public it serves.

In my view, AFI is a public institution owned and operated by its members. I could para-phrase the Governor’s statement, “AFI must reflect the diversity of its membership and the people its members are targeting to serve.” The diversity of AFI membership and more importantly the target groups of its members’, often hidden under the general terms “unserved and under-served population”, do not need additional elaboration.

Second, diversity “helps to build the trust we need to deliver our merits.”

High degree of trust is fundamental to AFI activities at a number of tiers. As a global body, it thrives on member’s trust for advancing financial inclusion in a sustainable manner without compromising conventional objectives of financial sector regulators who form the core of its membership. Trust is critical at the level of financial service providers, as well as those who translate financial inclusion policies into concrete actions that improve the lives of the financially excluded and under-served people. Trust is also crucial when dealing with a wide array of global standard setting bodies, development partners and private sector with global or regional presence.

Third , “it is well established that diversity leads to more creative thinking and reduces the risk of groupthink and bias.”

This is essential for AFI. The history of development organizations is littered with programs that failed because of biases stemming from rigid approaches and linear thinking. If one analyses the evolution of AFI, one would find the critical role that diversity of its leadership and broader membership has nurtured in its global operations and innovative ways that make it a robust force to reckon with in global development. The wide range of approaches such as peer-to-peer learning, knowledge exchange and regional initiatives such as FIARI, initiated by AFI, confirm that diversity leads to creative thinking and mitigates the risk of potential cognitive biases.

Governor Carney has also noted that to make diversity more meaningful it is essential to “choose inclusiveness….Inclusiveness unlocks the true value of an organization’s diversity; through inclusion people can realise their full potential”.

We have seen this at the 2017 GPF  much more than at any previous Global Forums. Major decisions that were made during the 2017 GPF ensured greater inclusiveness in terms of women’s representation at the AFI Board, establishing of the regional initiative for the Arab Region, including climate change as part of the AFI’s core work, reinforcing the nexus between financial inclusion and sustainable development, are just few examples.

2017 GPF showed a tremendous degree of diversity in gender, ethnicity, age of delegates and geographical representation, among other things. However, this is necessary, yet not sufficient to make diversity truly meaningful. In Governor Carney’s terminology, we also need “cognitive” diversity which shapes our perspectives – how we think about problems and solve them.

The 2017 GPF amply demonstrated a high dose of cognitive diversity. Covering the wide range of topics as part of the Forum agenda, diversity of high-profile speakers and panelists from multitude of organizations from public and private sectors, a range of global and regional development organizations, all nurtured different perspectives and innovative solutions to address emerging challenges. These were put forward in a highly professional manner while perusing AFI’s mission of “empowering policymakers to increase access to quality financial services for the poorest populations.”

Governor Carney described the crux of inclusion, as “an organization where people feel empowered, enabled and engaged in a pursuit of a common goal.” At the 2017 GPF, AFI members demonstrated a high degree of empowerment and discussed issues with confidence and authority. They showed that they have a collective capacity to make a significant progress in financial inclusion in the developing and emerging countries they represent, and are dynamically engaged in pursuing near universal financial inclusion.

I was fortunate to witness “the crux of inclusion” at this event, together with over 700 delegates. This made me optimistic about the future of financial inclusion at national, regional and global levels. I trust a vast majority of delegates felt the same way when they left Sharm El Sheikh at the end of the 2017 AFI GPF.


About 9th AFI GPF
AFI held its 9th AFI GPF Global Policy Forum in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt on 13 – 15, September 2017. Held for the first time ever in the Arab Region and co-hosted by the Central Bank of Egypt, the 2017 GPF was attended by over 700 delegates from some 93 countries consisting of financial sector regulators, policymakers, financial service providers, development partners and academics.