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Book review: Reimagining Financial Inclusion, by Erlijn Sie

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Published: 1 November 2021

Erlijn Sie’s spirited call to arms seeks to address the financial blockages experienced by the majority on this planet, with a series of stories from inspirational game-changers.

Book Reimagining Financial Inclusion
In her book, Erlijn Sie keeps coming back to how original desk-based models had to be ‘reverse engineered’ to meet the needs of the people in developing countries they are seeking to reach. Erlijn Sie

“We live in a strange world in which you cannot live your life without money, but the majority of the people in the world do not have access to it,” so Erlijn Sie bemoans. But she also assures us “it can change.”

She has given us a spirited and inspirational account of what a lot of bright people are doing about it. And you can help. Be under no misapprehension: “This book aims to inspire you to contribute to transitioning to a world in which we all have access to the money we need.”

Sie is well qualified on this subject. She has over thirty years of experience working with multinationals and social ventures. She is the co-founder of Microcredits for Mothers and Credits for Communities, and was the managing director of the Banking with the Poor Network, a network of some 30 national policy institutions, commercial banks and NGO’s. She knows her stuff.


As if that weren’t enough, Sie calls on a distinguished cast of change-makers. Experts like Willy Foote, founder of Root Capital which offers agricultural enterprises a growth path into the formal financial system. Sie writes the group has “reached a cumulative 2.3 million farmers which impacted the lives of 10 million family members in the world’s most vulnerable communities.”

There’s also Shivani Siroya, the founder of Tala who is “on a mission to expand access to financial products” and Hamse Warfa, co-founder of BanQu offering “an economic identity platform for refugees and people in extreme poverty.”

I particularly enjoyed discovering the ‘Solar Sisters’ of Tanzania and Nigeria. “5,000 micro-entrepreneurs distributing and selling solar devices…(who) reach 1.8 million people, of which 75% live in rural, off-grid communities.”

Founder Katherine Lucey talks of each woman being a social entrepreneur making a difference. She knows “that children in their community won’t have burns, having studied too close to the lamp.”

Where are the common threads?

Wonderful. In seeking to find common threads that link the divergent businesses, Sie talks of ‘Five Levers’. This is less convincing, and the language confusing.

‘Changing the Rules’ is clear enough, but what do other levers like ‘Daily life as the playground’ or ‘Play as a group’ actually mean? It would seem different things at different times.

To add to the confusion, the author then talks of ‘The Five P’s’ which are positively Orwellian. Things like ‘People at the heart of it’ and ‘Place is at the doorstep’.

And just when you’ve digested those, there’s the ‘Five Cs’ – “Committed, Connected, Collective, Collaborative and covering the Chain.” So much Kumbaya. By this time, the reader might be better seeking his/her own common themes.

Two key takeaways

I would suggest two. The two real takeaways are the importance of new technologies, and being ‘bottom-up led’.

Remember the old saw ‘Know your customer’. Sie keeps coming back to how original desk-based models had to be ‘reverse engineered’ to meet the needs of the people they are seeking to reach. ACRE Africa is helping insure small farmers. As CEO George Kuria says, “it’s going to the ground, it’s sitting down with the farmers, finding what’s important to them.”

I would suggest the other unifying theme is the impact of new technologies on every business model. The smartphone is often key. Tala uses data on smartphones to give a reliable assessment on otherwise excluded financial actors ‘an alternative identity check’. Mpesa has introduced a mobile-phone-based money transfer service that has reached and improved inclusion for millions.

And when discussing how Gojek, the ‘super App’ is demonstrating a pathway to financial inclusion through the local gig economies, Sie observes “we’re witnessing a massive replication and rise of similar platform models.”

Rappi in Latin America, Grab in Southeast Asia, and insurer Ping An in China: as Sie states “the exciting part starts when the impact of these apps and platforms trickles down to lower-income people.”

Quite. I’d forget the ‘Five Levers’, the ‘Five Ps’ and the ‘Three Cs’. Advancing inclusion is all about the ‘One T’: Technology.

Grasping this matters. As Sie concludes, “the call to action in this book is not to ignore what is going on, and not to look away. Just look into another direction.” I came away from this book concluding that the direction is digitalisation.

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