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Inclusive Finance: The HBS Experience

By: Kevin Amateshe 18 May 2017

I recently had the opportunity to attend an Executive Education Program: Strategic Leadership in Inclusive Finance, Harvard Business School (HBS). Being at HBS was mind blowing to say the least. I can swear I would have been an astronaut had I studied in a similar environment as a freshman at the university. I could go on and on about the memorable experience… 

Inclusive finance or financial inclusion has been a trending topic of discussion for a while now. It touches on ways and means of addressing the bottom of the pyramid – also referred to as the underserved. The case studies presented at the program offered both complex and simple approaches to achieving financial inclusion. One thing stood out in all the case studies: You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Measure wrong, manage wrong. 

I fondly remember one of the engaging sessions where industry experts could not agree on what financial inclusion really is. Based on the varied definitions that were brought to the floor, I drew the following conclusions:

• Financial inclusion has varied definitions depending on the stage of financial evolution one is in.

• Financial inclusion has to start with access. It is all about providing financial access to a service that was not accessible before, innovatively – and preferably in a simple way. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

• Once you have provided access, the next step is to build on to that. How then does one understand the target’s behavior? Their environment? Their needs? What exactly they want and their lives as a whole? To better drive financial inclusion, digital financial services should strive to replicate what people already do informally in everyday life. 

There is no one-size-fits-all definition for financial inclusion. Similarly, there is no silver bullet to it. 

One of the very accomplished professors gave an interesting analogy. He asked that we picture being sent out on a rescue boat to the sinking Titanic. You rescue a few people and get them onto the boat but instead of rescuing more people, you start asking the people already on the boat if they need extra blankets, either black or white coffee, and so on. With this analogy, the professor explained that financial inclusion is not about how many people get financially included but about how many people remain financially excluded. 

Interestingly though, I left HBS with more right questions and very interesting answers to questions I had at the start of the program. In my experience within the digital financial services industry, I have always been very keen to come up with a solution that would help enable financial access to those that need it the most. The right time is about to present itself for me to achieve this dream together with others that share the same views. I cannot wait for a perfect time as there is never a perfect time. Instead, I can make use of the key building blocks that I already have and then boldly move forward in my journey to advance financial inclusion. It is better to try and fail than to never try at all. 

Thank you HBS for the great opportunity to learn, and a very wonderful experience!

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.