Digital Technologies and Financial Inclusion: Enablers for Gender Equality
Wednesday, 3 May 2023,
4:30 pm - 6:00 pm
Songdo Convensia, Room 104-106
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Digital technologies have proved vital to strengthen financial inclusion—increasing last mile reach, facilitating access to finance, and enabling businesses to engage more markets. However, digital technologies also present new challenges for ensuring that vulnerable groups, particularly women and girls, are not left further behind.
This session examined how digital technologies can enable women’s financial inclusion, and assessed different global approaches, tools, and experiences. It brought together leading industry and development experts for a high-level discussion covering digital literacy, gender data, gender lens in design, data protection, women’s leadership, and partnerships.
The panel assessed gendered challenges to digital financial inclusion. Melle Groenestege and Wendy Teleki highlighted key gender constraints, such as women’s lower digital literacy and financial autonomy that inhibit access to and use of digital technologies. The panel agreed that digital tools do not need to be designed specifically for women to have a gender impact, although it is a “nice to have”: applying a gender lens means tracking client use and responding appropriately to ensure equity. Lisette Cipriano shared an example from an ADB-supported digital ID initiative in Papua New Guinea, which achieved positive spillovers for women’s economic empowerment.
The lack of sex-disaggregated data was identified as a key barrier for investing in tools, services, and women entrepreneurs. Markets are often unable to report on performance data on women and women entrepreneurs’ use of digital financial technologies, raising issues on accountability and transparency. Wendy Teleki shared the WeFinance Code, a new pilot initiative that bridges these gender data gaps more systematically.
A spotlight on the lack of gender diversity revealed how women continue to be in the minority, especially in decision-making. A notable exception was GCash, which has reached gender parity in its senior management. Pebbles Sy noted the importance of encouraging more girls to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields to build a stronger pipeline, while Melle Groenestege highlighted the value of intentionality—“The gender gap is not going to close on its own. We need to be very intentional about it. It starts with having the right champions in your organizations and making sure that it’s high on the agenda and that there’s some ownership at senior level within companies.”
Partnerships that incentivize change in favor of greater equality were seen as a key driver to transform the finance sector. Gender-responsive policy environments enable mobile operators and financial service providers “to strengthen their technical agility to connect mobile banking services, scale up their services, and help more women,” said Lisette Cipriano.
Lisette Cipriano is passionate about digital financial services and its positive impact on poverty alleviation. Her expertise is in payments, card acquiring and issuing, and alternative payment methods, having worked across continents and with M-Pesa, a mobile phone-based money transfer service at Vodafone Group. She focuses on ADB projects that involve new technologies for financial inclusion such as digital ID, cloud technology, and central bank digital currencies. She recently piloted a digital bank ID in the remote areas of Papua New Guinea.
Melle Tiel Groenestege
Melle Tiel Groenestege works on policies and advocacy campaigns that address barriers to mobile internet adoption, expand mobile broadband coverage in rural areas, and bridge the digital gender divide. Prior to joining the GSM Association, Mr. Groenestege was responsible for government relations and digital public policy issues at VEON, a telecommunications provider for emerging markets. He also worked at the International Telecommunications Union on corporate strategy, focusing on the role of digital technologies in advancing the UN Sustainable Development Agenda.
Pebbles Sy is responsible for technology, customer experience management, and operations at GCash, a Philippine mobile wallet, mobile payments, and branchless banking service. Ms. Sy has more than 20 years of experience in the information and telecommunications industry, with a deep background in product and platform management, program management, and product development. Prior to her current role, she was the chief information officer at Globe Telecom in the Philippines, where she led its IT transformation and delivered a re-energized IT strategy and landscape that enabled Globe to quickly adapt to the fast-changing digital economy.
Wendy Teleki is head of the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) Secretariat, which is housed in the World Bank Group. The Secretariat is responsible for supporting the We-Fi Governing Committee in the allocation and supervision of We-Fi funding as well as communications, advocacy, and learning focused on strengthening opportunities for women entrepreneurs. Prior to her current role, Ms. Teleki worked with the International Finance Corporation, leading numerous activities and initiatives focused on small and medium enterprise development in emerging markets around the world.
Sharanjit Leyl has spent 18 years with BBC World News, covering business and politics, anchoring from its Asia bureau and from London's Broadcasting House. A national of Singapore, she has produced and presented BBC documentaries on TV and radio about her city and was commended as best news presenter at the Asian TV Awards. Ms. Leyl now regularly moderates high-level debates for the United Nations, ADB, World Bank, and other multilateral and financial institutions.