In an interview with Melinda French Gates in the July/August issue of Smithsonian, the co-chair of the world’s largest philanthropic organization discusses what can be done and what is being done about global poverty and health.
As part of the $22.7 billion the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given to development, education and health programs, Melinda Gates identifies certain strategies that have immense impact on poverty, including investment in agriculture and access to financial services, especially savings accounts.
She highlights Opportunity International‘s work in these areas:
…[A]ccess to financial services can empower people, especially women, and build up families and entire communities. At the Gates Foundation, we are particularly interested in the potential of small-scale savings accounts to improve poor people’s lives. When people have reliable access to savings, they don’t risk total destitution if there’s a death in the family or a bad crop.
In January, I visited some villages being served by Opportunity International Bank ofMalawi to see how savings impact people on the ground. It’s building inexpensive bank branches—one was made out of three shipping containers—and setting up kiosks in shopping centers and post offices. It also operates seven trucks that bring banks to remote places, which is important since 85 percent of Malawians live in rural areas. I saw people waiting in an hour-long line to make an average deposit of about 200 Kwacha, or $1.40. That’s how much demand there is for savings in poor communities!
Expanding financial access to the most economically marginalized people, the Gates Foundation and the MasterCard Foundation partnered with Opportunity earlier this year for a $16 million program to expand financial access to 1.4 million people in sub-Saharan Africa and develop a strategic model to help 90,000 smallholder farmers increase their chances of success. To reach clients in rural areas, Opportunity deploys a range of cost-effective delivery channels, including satellite branches, kiosks, mobile vans, ATMs and point-of-sale devices to expand the number of banking outlets.
In the interview, Gates also highlights the impact of technology. In Kenya, for instance, nearly nine million people are using mobile phones to transfer money. As innovative and safe financial services like these become more available, she says, “financial security will be within reach for millions of families in the developing world. They will have the ability to save for emergencies, pay for health care for their families, start a business or send their children to school.”
To read the full interview with Melinda French Gates in Smithsonian, click here.