WSJ Financial Inclusion Challenge 2015: Meet Winners

Recently, the Wall Street Journal invited nonprofit and for-profit enterprises around the world to submit short video proposals that showcased their solutions to the problems of financial access for the poor and after scrutinizing dozens of entries, an independent panel of judges assessed the entries in three categories: technology; education; and operational effectiveness.

Here’s the full list of winners of each category, the People’s Choice Winner that got the most viewer votes and the overall winner of ‘The Financial Inclusion Challenge.’

For a full set of official competition rules, click here.



Shanghai F-road Commercial Services

Using innovative mobile technology, this company is making mobile banking more accessible to China’s remote rural regions

Shanghai F-road Commercial Services helps banks provide customers with mobile banking services through secured smart chips called SIM-overlay cards. This service works on more than 95% of phones in the market, regardless of the mobile network operator or handset manufacturer, the company says. The service is particularly helpful in China’s rural villages because it works on low-end phones by using SMS channels that can reach areas with weak data signals. Financial Inclusion Challenge judge Michael Schlein wrote, “F-road’s focus on rural areas addresses an often overlooked issue in financial inclusion – bringing financial services to lower-population areas farther away from urban centers.”



Telenor Pakistan

One of the country’s first mobile banking programs makes financial services available to millions

Telenor Pakistan has provided telecommunication services in Pakistan since 2005. The carrier collaborated with Tameer Micro Finance Bank in 2009 to launch a mobile banking service called Easypaisa. It has more than 60,000 retail outlets across Pakistan and offers financial services including saving programs and health insurance to about six million people. Financial Inclusion Challenge judge Vipin Sharma said the company has a sustainable and scalable model that allows it to offer a wide variety of products. The mobile banking service isn’t limited to Telenor subscribers – a huge benefit for residents of Pakistan, where the mobile penetration rate is more than 70%, but only 15% of the population has a bank account.




One of the world’s first crowdfunding platforms for microfinance

Kiva is a nonprofit organization with a mission to alleviate poverty and expand economic opportunity. Since the U.S.-based group started in 2005, Kiva and its global community of lenders has crowdfunded more than $705 million in microloans to more than 1.6 million entrepreneurs in 86 countries, all the while maintaining a 98% repayment rate. In 2013, the group received a $3 million Google Impact Award to launch a program, called Kiva Labs, for environmental and development projects. “Kiva is another example of a paradigm shift in microfinance,” wrote Challenge judge Vijay Mahajan. “It has spawned a number of copycats but continues to be No 1.”


Going to School

From words to pictures, this organization believes in storytelling that delivers financial knowledge to Indian children

Going to School is a nonprofit group based in New Delhi that teaches entrepreneurial skills to low-income children in India through books and moving pictures. Founded in 2005, Going to School has published several children’s books and short films, and is working toward a 15-minute, twice-weekly radio show on financial literacy for poor youth in four Indian cities: Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Chennai. “I actually really love this idea,” wrote Financial Inclusion Challenge judge David Kim. “It’d be great to see this concept go beyond financial literacy and also showcase different career options and opportunities for people to explore.”



Rural development from Bangladesh to the rest of the world

BRAC began as a rural development organization in a remote Bangladeshi village in 1972 and now operates in 10 countries in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. In October 2013, it launched its BRAC health loan, one of its most notable offerings, to respond to the lack of affordable health care and health-care financing. The program identifies certified health-care providers in local areas whom clients can be referred to at a discounted rate. As of April 2015, BRAC health loans have been issued to nearly 3,000 households. Financial Inclusion Challenge judge Chetna Sinha praised BRAC’s unique model for being able to work in the most remote areas of Bangladesh.


Ekphatthana Microfinance Institution

Reaching children in rural Laos to teach them how to access finance for their futures

Ekphatthana Microfinance Institution (EMI) is one of the first licensed microfinance institutions in Laos. One of its notable offerings is the Smart Kid Savers education program, which teaches children in the capital of Vientiane about basic financial concepts, and sets them up with real savings accounts to deposit and withdraw money, with parental authorization. EMI wants to expand this program to schools in northern and southern Laos. Financial Inclusion Challenge judge Vijay Mahajan said EMI, “links financial education with savings mobilization. Those savings are in turn used to give loans, and that makes the whole model more sustainable than stand-alone financial-education programs.”



Mercy Corps

The global aid agency is now helping farmers access financial services

Mercy Corps, founded in 1979 as Save the Refugee Fund, has provided $2.8 billion in assistance to 177 million people in more than 100 countries. The global humanitarian agency and its Agri-Fin mobile program are now working with smallholder farmers in Indonesia to improve their productivity with technology and provide better access to financial services.



Bridging the gap to financial services for Bangladesh’s low-income individuals

bKash, founded in 2010, provides a financial service in Bangladesh that allows people to send and receive money and make retail purchases via mobile phones. With more than half of Bangladeshis owning mobile phones but not having access to mainstream financial services, bKash strives to connect the country’s millions of individuals in remote areas to a more inclusive financial system.

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