The Asia Pacific Financial Inclusion Summit 2017 was held in Hanoi in March, bringing together over 450 key stakeholders, thought leaders, and practitioners to further the financial inclusion agenda in the region. Ms. Brandee McHale, President of the Citi Foundation, a co-organizer of the Summit, shares her views on financial inclusion in Vietnam.
■ Financial inclusion is a relatively young topic in Vietnam. How would you describe financial inclusion and its role in Vietnam’s economy?
Financial inclusion is about greater access to financial products, services, and capital to low-income communities and individuals. This access is empowering. It allows people to build financial assets, enables entrepreneurs to grow or launch businesses that create jobs, and helps community-based organizations to strengthen and transform communities. But it’s not just about access - we must also help people establish financial plans that will help them through times of both economic prosperity and instability.
■ What is your view of financial inclusion in Asia-Pacific and in Vietnam?
You can get a good sense of the interest around financial inclusion in Asia-Pacific and in Vietnam just by looking at the interest in this year’s Summit. Attendance exceeded our expectations. And we had a mix of stakeholders at the Summit, from financial service providers and microfinance institutions to policy makers, NGOs and community leaders. Financial inclusion is a priority in many Asia-Pacific countries, including Vietnam. At this year’s Summit, we were fortunate to have with us the Official Host of the Summit, Deputy Governor of the State Bank of Vietnam, Ms. Nguyen Thi Hong, whose agency has been a driving force for financial inclusion in the country.
■ This year’s Summit’s theme was “Advancing Financial Inclusion in a Digital Age”. How has financial inclusion evolved in the digital age and what changes are we likely to see?
Technology can help be an equalizer and a lever to build momentum and scale around financial inclusion efforts. We know the world is changing more rapidly than ever before and technology is playing a greater role in our daily lives, connecting us in newer, faster, more creative, and more efficient ways. With increasing access to digital financial products, more people are able to join the financial mainstream. And against this rapidly evolving backdrop there is a need to balance new innovative technological advances and creative partnerships with policy that will continue to not only drive financial inclusion for low-income populations but also protect vulnerable populations.
■ Can you briefly introduce Citi Foundation and its mission?
The Citi Foundation’s mission is to promote economic progress and improve the lives of people in low-income communities around the world. We invest in efforts that increase financial inclusion, catalyze job opportunities for youth, and reimagine approaches to building economically vibrant cities. The Citi Foundation makes philanthropic investments in 80 countries around the world.
■ Can you tell us about the programs is has implemented in Vietnam, including, more specifically, the Foundation’s plan for Vietnam in 2017?
Over the last ten years, the Citi Foundation has invested nearly $2 million in programs that promote economic progress in Vietnam. For example, we have been working with Save the Children to implement training and educational programs for migrant youth in vocational schools in the cities of Hai Phong and Can Tho.
This partnership is enabling over 600 young people to improve their self-confidence, communications, and professional skills to better prepare them for employment. Another example is our work with the Microfinance and Development Center. Through this partnership, we are empowering over 360 youth across six outskirt districts and one district of Hanoi with the skills and knowledge - including entrepreneurship - to get a job or start an income generating business.
We are also specifically proud that the Citi Foundation’s signature financial inclusion program, the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards (CMA), has been implemented in partnership with the Vietnam Microfinance Working Group since 2007.
The CMA raises awareness and shares best practices in the field of financial inclusion by convening microfinance practitioners, government representatives, policy makers, donors and investors. In addition, through the awards, we have been able to recognize the creative and impactful work that micro-entrepreneurs (including youth) are leading as well as the innovative work and practices of microfinance institutions around the country.
In 2017, we look forward to continuing to partner and work with leading community organizations in Vietnam to advance the economic progress of young people and communities around the country.