a longer version of this blog post is available on the MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative platform
With Google Trends data showing that searches for the word “blockchain” have exponentially increased, we may be entering the peak of the hype cycle for blockchain and distributed ledger technology.
But here’s the thing: the blockchain is a major breakthrough. That’s because its decentralized approach to verifying changes in important information addresses the centuries-old problem of trust, a social resource that is all too often in short supply, especially amid the current era’s rampant concerns over the security of valuable data. It turns out that fixing that can be a boon for financial inclusion and other basic services delivery, helping to achieve the global objectives laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Sorting out hype from reality may depend on how well we identify where institutions that have until now played a role in mediating trust between people are falling short, especially in the key area of money. Deploying the blockchain in those settings to generate secure, decentralized trust could achieve great strides in inclusion and innovation.
What do we mean by decentralized trust? The concept is unfamiliar in part because its converse -- centralized trust – is something that we often take for granted, at least while it’s working. But if we look at the history of transactions since the early barter systems to modern-day digital money exchanges, we can see how different trust protocols for keeping track of our exchanges of value have evolved and how, in each case, centralizing trust within particular institutions has periodically caused problems.
As strategies for dealing with this challenge evolved and as the complexity and frequency of transactions grew, different trust bearers emerged. We went from relying on the memory and discretion of tribal leaders, to central governments issuing currencies in the form of precious metals, to commercial banks acting as trusted intermediaries and issuing their own bank notes, to central banks managing a hybrid system in which sovereign fiat banknotes circulate alongside a debt/credit form of money managed by regulated banks and internal ledgers.
I recently attended an SME Conference in Jordan around SME Finance and Employment – extremely important issues in a troubled region. All participants agree that much more needs to be done to address the lack of jobs in the region and to increase financial access at all levels, to individuals, households and small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs).
despite being a middle income region.
Only 4% of unbanked adults in the Middle East say that they don’t have an account because they don't need one. In other words, it is clear there is widespread unmet demand for financial services.
A person living in the Middle East is less likely to have a bank account than is a low-income person living in Africa or South Asia, and significantly less likely than a person living in Latin America, Eastern Europe or East Asia from comparable middle income country or region. This poses a dilemma – why?
How many bank accounts do you have? One, two or more? For people in developed countries, a bank account is a fact of everyday life. A constant presence. Something that is pivotal to your home, your work and your family. But imagine if you didn’t have one. How would you be paid? How could you pay for your rent or mortgage, your food, utility bills, and so on?
Imagine having to skip work every month to travel to the city center just to pay your electricity bill or your child’s school fee? Would you not worry if your income relied on remittances and you were unable to pay rent because they were tied up in a network of agents? And wouldn't it frustrate you if you didn’t have a say in how your salary was spent or invested?
Having a bank account could help in all of these situations. Most of us probably have auto-pay set up so we don't need to worry about our monthly bill payments or money transfers. But the conveniences we take for granted are out of reach for the world's 1.1 billion women who lack an account. According to World Bank’s Global Findex database, men in developing countries are 9 percentage points more likely than women to own an account. The gap is largest in South Asia, where only 37 percent of women have an account compared with 55 percent of men.
Women entrepreneurs in Ethiopia are disadvantaged from the start. They have less access to the finance, networks, and education which help their male counterparts advance. They face regular discrimination and harassment from society--sometimes even from their own families and communities. The challenges a woman entrepreneur in Ethiopia faces in growing her business are overwhelming.
In updating the Findex database on financial inclusion over the 2014 calendar year, I had the pleasure of traveling with Gallup, Inc., to pilot our expanded questionnaire. We visited people’s homes and asked them to describe to us how they save, borrow, make payments, and manage their risk.
A man who lives in a small home in a Kolkata slum with his wife, children, and parents works as a driver, and is paid directly to a bank account that was opened for him by his employer. With great pride, he told us that every month he leaves a balance in his account, which he believes is a safe place to save for his children’s education.
Islamic finance is growing in countries like Malaysia (Credit: Asian Development Bank, Flickr Creative Commons)
Over the last three decades, the concepts of Islamic finance have captured the attention of researchers. One of the core principles of Islamic finance is the prohibition of interest and debt-based financing. Instead, economic agents are encouraged to engage in financial instruments of risk-sharing rather than risk transfer. Although the principles of Islamic finance go back several centuries, its practice in modern financial markets became recognized only in the 1980s, and began to represent a meaningful share of global financial activity only around the beginning of this century. The growth of this market has been driven by the high demand for Islamic financial products, as well as the increasing liquidity in Gulf region due to high oil revenues. Table 1 shows the growth trend in Islamic finance for the banking sectors by different regions, with estimates of total Islamic banking assets reaching $1.8 trillion by the end of 2013. Figure 1 shows how the growth of the Islamic financial sector in 2006–10 period surpassed the growth of conventional financial sector in all segments of the market, ranging from commercial banking, investment banking, and fund management to insurance in several Muslim-majority countries.
Do men and women use financial services differently? This is the question we set out to answer when we conducted six country studies on gender finance in sub- Saharan Africa.
The purpose of our study was twofold. First, we wanted to explore the reasons behind differences in usage of financial products. Second, based on these underlying reasons, we wanted to formulate workable intervention strategies that we could recommend as gender-sensitive financial sector policy approaches for policymakers and stakeholders. The countries we studied included Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia. Based on 50 to 75 interviews per country with individuals from both urban and rural areas, we analysed how and why men and women are using credit, savings and insurance products.
On October 23, Nigeria joined a fast-growing list of countries making headline commitments to financial inclusion targets and actions,by launching a new Financial Inclusion Strategy.
A total of 35 countries have now made commitments through the ‘Maya Declaration’ of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (a global network of financial regulators), including 19 as recently as September 2012. 17 countries committed in June 2012 to targets, actions, and coordination platforms through the new G20 Financial Inclusion Peer Learning Program. These new commitments and targets could have a significant impact in advancing financial inclusion, if the challenges in meeting them can be overcome.
Empowering women entrepreneurs is good for development and business. Tune in to World Bank Live on October 11, 2012 10:30 a.m JST. to hear Liberia President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and World Bank Group President Jim Kim talk #womenbiz at this year's Annual Meetings.
Research has shown that gender equality makes good business sense, and is key to promoting economic growth. But women continue to be excluded from the economic sphere. This is certainly the case in Egypt, which could use an economic boost in a time of transition—especially as millions of families that rely on the slumping tourism industry are having trouble making ends meet.
Indeed, our research has found that would-be Egyptian women entrepreneurs face many obstacles. For one, being approved for financing can be a challenge for Egyptian women entrepreneurs. Businesswomen in Egypt are also disadvantaged when it comes to the cost of finance. Banks have stricter collateral requirements for loans to women entrepreneurs, which are perceived as higher-risk. Providing collateral is also an obstacle for many women who are under the guardianship of male relatives and unable to independently manage their assets.