The Top 10 Financial Inclusion Heroes Who are Changing the World for the Better

By Valentina Loiz

Despite the increased resources for providing financial access to the unbanked, 2.5 billion of the world’s adults still lack access to regulated financial services. In this article, the authors provide a comprehensive list of individuals who have been working on initiatives aimed at promoting financial inclusion in order to achieve economic prosperity for all.

A large number of people across the globe have restricted access to conventional financial services which are provided by banks and credit unions. In particular, 2.5 billion of the world’s adults lack access to basic financial services. Such a poor financial wellness is not just an economic and social issue in developing economies but also in developed countries, which are not immune to growing income inequalities.

Greater financial inclusion can be achieved by building innovative social enterprises and applying technology to different consumers and small businesses. Through innovative business models, products and the use of cutting edge technologies, social entrepreneurs are making significant progress in promoting financial inclusion. Here is a comprehensive list of the top 10 financial inclusion heroes globally who are contributing to this cause in big ways.

1. Muhammad Yunus

Recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, Professor Muhammad Yunus is internationally recognised as a pioneer of the micro-credit concept that uses small loans made at affordable interest rates for poverty alleviation and the empowerment of poor women. Professor Yunus has successfully blended capitalism with social mission to create the Grameen Bank, a micro-credit institution committed to providing small amounts of working capital to the impoverished people, especially women. Since its inception as an action-research project in 1976, Grameen Bank has grown to provide collateral-free loans to 7.5 million clients in more than 82,072 villages in Bangladesh and 97% of whom are women. Over the last two decades, Grameen Bank has disbursed over 6.5 billion dollars loans to the poorest of the poor, while maintaining a repayment rate consistently above 98%.

2. Connie Duckworth

Connie Duckworth is an American entrepreneur and philanthropist. She founded ARZU in 2004, and currently serves as its Chairperson and CEO. Her philanthropic work, which is very close to her heart, has been the driving factor in changing the lives of marginalised people..She has been working for women’s empowerment to create business opportunities for them. Her organisation is working for Afghan women –  helping them to learn the manufacturing process of artisan goods and providing them a platform to sell such products worldwide, which is a coherent plan towards putting them into mainstream. She recruits weavers by going house-to-house in the remotest part of Afghanistan and explains to them her business concept. Weavers are paid as per the local market rate.

Ms. Duckworth was conferred with 2012 UNICEF Chicago Humanitarian Award, and in the same year, she was honoured with the 2012 Woman Extraordinaire by Chicago International Women Associates. Wharton School Dean also awarded her a Medal in 2011, which is the school’s highest honour. In 2008, Skoll Foundation acknowledged her for Social Entrepreneurship.

3. Ann Cuisia

Ann Cuisia is an entrepreneur in the Philippines. She brings more than two decades of rich experience in banking and finance, payment and donation fields. She is the CEO and head leader of TraXion’s global project. She has been a philanthropist in her country –  helping NGOs to go digital as she has a knack for information technology. She also has led various women to find their own start-ups throughout the country. She organises workshops and lectures for small entrepreneurs to help them adopt cutting edge technology to run their businesses. Ms. Cuisia is among the very few women working for a noble cause in the Philippines. According to her, e-Wallet (a product launched by TraXion) is a revolutionary product where business organisations are given white-labelled wallets to move financial assets at zero cost through tokenisation of their local currencies. At TraXion, merchants, consumers, portals, and banks are connected in one ecosystem.

4. Vikash Das

An internationally-acclaimed social entrepreneur and sustainability expert from India, Vikash Das is known for his innovations in democratising rural non-farming sector and building sustainable impact enterprises. He is the founder of Vat Vrikshya, a social enterprise which seeks to bring about socio-economic development and inclusive growth in rural India by engaging both the community and the market.

Vat Vrikshya provides design, marketing, technical and organisational, and financial support needed to make crafts and develop allied rural industries into viable enterprises, so that they could help provide regular home-based employment to 4000 rural artisans, most of whom are women from marginalised communities. He has imparted business, financial and personality development trainings to about 23,000 tribal women across India. Vikash has been honoured with many awards and recognitions such as The Telegraph True Legend Award, Top 5 Changemakers in India by Business Today, Rashtriya Swayamsiddh Samman, and National Youth Icon, among others.

5. Reese Fernandez-Ruiz

Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, a social entrepreneur, is the President and Co-Founder of Rags2Riches Inc. established in 2007. Rags2Riches empowers artisans, creates eco-ethical fashion and home products, and above all, focusses on poverty alleviation in Payatas, Quezon City. Due to her philanthropic work and contributions in Rags2Riches, she appeared on Forbes’ 2015 30 Social Entrepreneurs Under 30 list, and was named a Young Laureate for the Rolex Awards for Enterprise in 2010.

Ms. Reese made links with factories and asked factory owners to give women entrepreneurs scrap materials. Before, the women working in Payatas used to get a little profit for rugs crafted from cloth and scraps foraged from the Quezon City dump site, as the middlemen controls their supplies and rug sales. Rags2Riches helps these women to sell their products directly to the retailers without any middlemen, allowing them to make good profits. Rags2Riches also ensures education in personal finance, nutrition and health insurance.

6. Jennifer Riria

Jennifer Riria is a Kenyan Microfinance   Banker   and

 Practitioner, Researcher, Philanthropist and Gender Specialist. She is the CEO of Echo Network Africa (ENA) and founding member of Kenya Women Holding and Kenya Women Finance Trust Microfinance Bank. She led KWFT for more than two decades, and changed it from an unprofitable NGO to a medium-sized bank, which aims to support women. So far, KWFT has served nearly 3 million women, and disbursed over $3 million just in 25 years since its establishment. In 2006, she was conferred with Moran of the Building Spear by Kenya’s President H.E. Mwai Kibaki for her outstanding contribution in Development. In addition, Ford Foundation honoured her “Champion of Democracy” in 2012 for her role both as a leader of the TUVUKE Initiative and Group CEO of Kenya Women Finance Trust.

7. Chetna Gala Sinha

Chetna Gala Sinha is the Founder and Chairperson of the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahkari Bank, which is a microfinance bank that lends funds to women in rural areas. She also founded the Mann Deshi Foundation. Being a renowned Indian social activist, she has been working to empower women residing in remote areas that are prone to drought by teaching entrepreneurial skills, technical know-how, providing them access to land and different means of production. The Mann Deshi Foundation also organises financial literacy classes aimed at teaching the women various tips and tricks of savings, investing, insurances and loans through modules that comprise games like Monopoly.

8. Zeinab Momany

Zeinab Momany is a social entrepreneur working with Sunergos. She established a Specific Union for Farmer Women in 2007 in Jordan, the first union of its kind in the Arab World, currently retaining around 22 women organisations and 5000 members. She is also a fellow at ASHOKA. Her special focus is on economic empowerment, women farmers’ rights in Jordan and institutional change for women farmers in the Arab World. Sakhrah Women’s Society, which was founded in 2007, has been working for small agricultural organisations to address their needs through its various initiatives. It  has been active in capacity building, empowering farming community and providing them financial support. Today, the Sakhrah Women’s Society Cooperative workforce has increased to 38 staff and 200 volunteers.

9. Atsumasa Tochisako

Atsumasa Tochisako founded MicroManos Corporation, a Microfinance International Corporation, in 2003, and served as its Chief Executive Officer and President. MicroManos creates infrastructure of financial and professional services to collectively address the needs of immigrants. Atsumasa has a long history of taking initiatives to improve the financial sector for the people living at the bottom of the society. He also has been a Chief Representative Officer of the Bank of Tokyo in its Washington, D.C. office..In his 12 years of serving at different posts in four Latin American countries such as Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama, he observed that many poor people were working hard but were unable to improve their lives due to poverty and the lack of opportunity in the country. In 2014, he introduced a new banking model in the United States by founding the Asiembra, Inc. which was aimed at providing concrete solutions for numerous long-time unsolved or unattended social and economic problems in the U.S.

10. Ziad Refai

Ziad Refai is the Executive Director of Ethmar for Islamic Finance, the first Shariah-compliant Islamic microfinance company, founded by King Hussein Foundation (KHF) in 2015. Licensed by the Central Bank of Jordan, Ethmar for Islamic Finance aims to fight poverty, unemployment and provide financial support to every segment of the society –  with special focus on people from below-the-average income class, and on licensed and household businesses. Apart from providing monetary aid, Ethmar has been an active player in improving living standards, and addressing the social problems of Jordanians. Above all, to bring every section of the society on the same page, Ethmar provides innovative financial products and solutions.

About the Author

Valentina Loiz is a senior journalist from Geneva, Valentina who has worked with some of the most globally recognised news and media outlets. She has a special interest in reporting on humanitarian issues, social innovation and financial inclusion. She has also worked with leading social entrepreneurs to help them develop profitable and scalable models for reaching poor communities and contributing to global development.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.