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Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, addressing leaders in government, banking, mobile communications, and international development at the Global Savings Forum to discuss how to build a new kind of financial infrastructure to bring savings to the poor.

Building a Community to Bring Savings to the Poor

December 16, 2010

I may have my bias as the host of last month’s Global Savings Forum here in Seattle, but I think it’s fair to say that I wasn’t the only one who felt a new, exciting energy at the gathering.

We at the foundation, as well our partners and others who attended, got the sense that we’ve reached a critical moment, that perhaps the day when people living on less than $2 a day have access to a wide range of financial services, including savings, is not so far in the distance.

Probably the best thing about the forum was the free and honest exchange of ideas that took place. We had some amazing speakers and panelists, and some fantastic audience participation, including highly charged question and answer sessions. I think it’s safe to say that this was the first time that so many key players from such a variety of industries were together in the same room, discussing a shared goal of providing the poor access to savings, and speaking honestly about the hurdles to getting there.
 
Yes, we had plenty of discussion about those hurdles we face—from the challenging economics for banks, to developing the right services and products that meet the needs of the poor, and delivering those right to their “doorsteps.” But even with all of these challenges, people identified viable solutions that are working right now. 

It was interesting to see that the overwhelming majority of forum participants—a solid 85 percent— believe that savings is more important than microcredit. But what really impressed me was just how optimistic the group was about actually being able to mobilize savings for the poor in a reasonable amount of time.

Also at the forum, Melinda Gates announced a foundation commitment of $500 million over the next five years to support partners and projects that will improve access to savings accounts and other financial services among the poor. That includes six new grants worth $40 million to organizations such as the World Savings Bank Institute, the World Bank, and Vodacom. Our commitment builds on years of work, listening to grantees, and research.

The foundation is trying to build a community around the issue of savings, because we know that it’s going to take a wide variety of partners—from banks to telcos to regulators to academics—to finally “crack the savings nut.” Sure, the foundation plays a big role in looking for ways to solve this problem, but when it comes right down to it, without the hard work of partners and grantees, this cannot be done.

And believe me, we’re fully engaged. In fact, last week I gave a keynote address at the launch of the G20 Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion, which world leaders formed to help countries implement financial inclusion infrastructure and practices, and strengthen data collection and measurement. I am very encouraged to see the global community list financial inclusion as one of the main pillars in its development agenda.

The poor want safe, affordable places to save. Partnerships and momentum are growing. The solutions are there. Together, we can help the poor build the financial security they need so they can lead healthy, productive lives.  

 
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