The Beginnings of the Banking with the Poor Network: FDC's First Initiative
The poor in developing countries, especially those without adequate access to productive land or paid employment, support themselves with a myriad of “self-employed” activities in trade, services, crafts and petty manufactures, as well as in agriculture. But they lack access to the financial services needed to support and grow their individual enterprise activities. This lack of access to financial products and services is a crucial obstacle to self-help by the poor.
In 1990, FDC’s Board of Governors initiated FDC’s first program, Banking with the Poor (BWTP), for the purpose of exploring, demonstrating and publicising the scope for increased access to financial services for the poor on a sound commercial basis. This unique regional project was formally initiated at an Asian regional meeting in May of 1991 in Manila. Through the BWTP project, FDC enlisted leading banks, microfinance institutions and non-government organisations (NGOs) from eight Asian countries, namely Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as participants in the project.
BWTP represents the first time such a significant international dialogue between banks and NGOs had ever occurred.
The BWTP project was intended to demonstrate the efficacy of linkages between commercial banks on the one hand, and NGOs providing services to the poor on the other, as a means for extending financial services to the poor on a sustainable basis. Since then, the BWTP Network has continued to grow and has become Asia’s largest regional network of financial inclusion stakeholders.
Over the years, BWTP evolved from an action research and advocacy program into an association of diverse but like-minded inclusive finance stakeholders keen to improve the quality of life of the poor by facilitating access to financial services through linkages between financial sector institutions and NGOs.
Throughout its history the Network has produced seminal research including:
Additional research and publications produced by the Network has targeted member needs and has explored opportunities and innovation in areas such as remittances, ICT, e-banking, risk and disaster management, post-conflict situations, financial innovation for the poor, and renewable energy.
In more recent years, the BWTP Network has focused on furthering its platform for cooperation and peer learning, developing capacity building tools, conducting technical assistance exchanges, and providing operating support to members. Outreach, dissemination and information sharing has been achieved through various means, including workshops, seminars and conferences and one-on-one technical exchanges between members.
The BWTP Network has often been at the forefront of thinking in the microfinance industry – from early identification of the bankability of the poor, to the encouragement of linkages with commercial banks, to efforts to bring a broad-base of stakeholders together under one umbrella, to a focus on financial inclusion, the BWTP Network has been making meaningful contributions to the millions of clients served by its members in Asia as well as to the microfinance community more broadly.