Norbert Mumba, Deputy Executive Director, AFI delivers opening remarks during AFI Virtual Public-Private Dialogue Roundtable, 31 March 2021.

31 March 2021

Spurring financial inclusion in rural areas: overcoming challenges through Public-Private collaboration

Opening Remarks by  Norbert Mumba, Deputy Executive Director, AFI


Warm greetings and welcome to everyone, I hope you are all safe and in good health, as you join us for this important webinar. 

Allow me to start by conveying my appreciation to our members and esteemed partners for taking the time to bring their important contributions to share with us. We recognize the technical and practical importance of gender inclusive financial policies and it is both timely and appropriate to be discussing the role of public-private collaboration in advancing women and girl’s financial inclusion in rural areas. This is especially important as we observe the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are having a disproportionately negative impact on women, both in terms of their ability to be economically active and their domestic care burden.

In 2020, we have seen AFI member countries mitigating the economic impact of the pandemic by developing appropriate policies and interventions to ensure business continuity, market stability and consumer protection, there is an opportunity to further integrate gender considerations into these responses as we go into 2021/2022.  

Despite overall progress there are still 1.7 billion people who are unbanked and nearly one billion of them are women living in poverty. Data shows that of the 734 million extreme poor prior to the COVID-19 crisis, 80 percent live in the rural areas. Of these, 76 percent work in agriculture, where women constitute 70% of the labour force. Poverty is most pronounced in rural areas and financial inclusion progress has been hampered by persisting social, cultural, infrastructural and regulatory barriers. This reduces women’s opportunity to be financially included and decreases their resilience to economic shocks, even though they are risk aware and are active savers.

These negative indicators act as a hardcore of multiplier effect that make reaching the last mile of the financially excluded particularly hard to achieve. Actions need to be holistic and tackle all these barriers together and not only focused on access. We need to be more innovative, more targeted with our interventions while balancing between profitability and sustainability of financial eco-system. This should be our call and also our mandate. Afterall this pandemic has demonstrated to us how financial inclusion can mitigate an otherwise volatile situation.  

Distinguished participants, as we look at the opportunities for rural financial inclusion today during our discussion, allow me to also contribute by highlighting four key pillars for your consideration.

Firstly, the need to ensure a gender-sensitive approach to Rural Financial Inclusion.Policymakers and regulators need to have a clear vision and strategy for rural financial inclusion, that is communicated through a coherent and inclusive National Financial Inclusion Strategy or other relevant policy guidance. This guidance needs to define the problem, allocate the necessary resources, and establish a coordination mechanism for stakeholders. The unique experience of rural communities and the differing needs or the various women’s segments and those of female youth need to be understood and targeted with innovative offerings.

Furthermore, regulators can work with other ministries to look at removing legal and regulatory barriers experienced by rural women, including ownership of collateral such as land and property and unfavorable terms and conditions for opening accounts where they are required to produce birth registration certification and other forms of identification documents which they are less likely to have than men.

Secondly, I want to highlight the importance of Digital Financial Services (DFS), including mobile money services and platform economies, to reliably offer an affordable, convenient, secure, and efficient two-way of supporting rural women into accessing and using formal financial services and products and engaging in supply chains to boost productivity and expand rural commerce to increase usage and quality. Though women’s mobile phone ownership is increasing each year, women’s usage of mobile phones and DFS offered through this channel is still considered low, particularly in many rural areas. There are different factors responsible and contributing to this which include poverty, digital financial literacy levels and social norms around women ownership and use of a mobile devise.

An effective example of serving a rural community is bank-led branchless banking in the Pacific which was pioneered by MiBank in Papua New Guinea in 2011. MiBank partnered with Digicel to launch the first bank-led mobile wallet in the Pacific, MiCash, which is essentially a bank account operated using a mobile phone. Seventy-five percent of MiCash accounts were opened in rural areas and 75% of the accounts were opened for new MiBank customers. This approach not only provides the benefit of promoting access to inclusive rural financial services to hard-to-reach rural customers, but also reduces operational costs and transaction costs for businesses in rural areas. However, the necessary mobile infrastructure does need to be in place for this to be effective.

The third pillar  to focus on, is the role of the policymakers and regulators in promoting an enabling institutional and policy environment that serves the diverse needs of the rural communities through inclusive policy and regulatory reforms. In doing so, policymakers and regulators have to work hand in hand with the financial service providers (FSPs) to create enabling market conditions that are favorable to women and men in the rural communities. This can be achieved by improving the availability of sex, age, and location disaggregated data either from supply-side data collected from the FSPs or demand-side data collected through national surveys, for instance. AFI has recently published a Guideline Note on Sex-Disaggregated Data Report Templates which shares practical experience and lessons learned from AFI member institutions. Systematic collection, analysis and use of this disaggregated data provides an opportunity for finetuning policy, reforming legal and regulatory frameworks to promote equitable growth and development in rural communities as well as encouraging meaningful participation in the formal economy. Additionally, financial institutions that collect, report and analyze disaggregated data will develop a more holistic picture of the business case for serving the various women’s and youth market segments in rural areas.

The fourth and final pillar  is the importance of public-private collaboration, especially around digital innovation. Deepening our engagement with both public and private sector stakeholders and fostering new alliances with like-minded players is key to foster the growth of an inclusive ecosystem for rural financial inclusion. Collaboration with a diversity of stakeholder voices such as women’s business association representatives, technology companies, financial services providers, civil society, community groups, gender experts and others can provide perceptions on the differences in rural women and men’s access and usage of financial services and build greater understanding of existing socio-cultural barriers. Such engagement at the early stages of policy development can contribute towards creating a shared vision and generating strong commitment and buy-in to the cause. Towards this end, members are encouraged to leverage AFI’s Public-Private Dialogue (PPD) platform to share experiences and lessons learnt.

We recognize that the path to a sustainable and inclusive rural financial inclusion might present several options and opportunities, particularly around the four keys areas I have highlighted – the strategic and systematic integration of a gender-sensitive approach to rural financial inclusion in national strategies, the collection and use of effective sex-disaggregated data, the right enabling policy environment and market ecosystem and finally the public-private collaboration.

It is my belief that today’s webinar will serve as a platform for us, as a collective of policymakers, regulators, industry players and other key global stakeholders, to jointly identify the most significant barriers inhibiting financial inclusion in rural areas and discuss how to overcome these barriers, through innovative policy and market actions.

I wish you all a fruitful deliberation. Thank you. 


The Gender Inclusive Finance workstream is financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and other partners.

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