AFI launching regional initiative to increase financial inclusion in Pacific Islands

Eliki Boletawa

Successful, evidence-based financial inclusion policies implemented across the Pacific Islands are helping to extend basic financial services to people living in one of the most unbanked areas of the world. Obstacles such as low population density, challenging geography and high delivery costs are being overcome in individual nations due in large part to the lessons learned and knowledge shared among the seven central banks from the region that comprise the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) Pacific Islands Working Group (PIWG).

PIRI members: Banco Central de Timor-Leste, Bank of Papua New Guinea, Central Bank of Samoa, Central Bank of Solomon Islands, National Reserve Bank of Tonga, Reserve Bank of Fiji and Reserve Bank of Vanuatu.

Since its inception in 2009, PIWG has covered financial inclusion policy issues ranging from digital financial services, consumer protection and financial education, data and financial integrity, access to broader financial services, microinsurance and building strategies for financial inclusion. Members have met as a group 13 times, developed 21 policy reforms to advance financial inclusion, created six knowledge products, conducted four peer reviews, and supported three training and capacity building events. Six members have also made measurable commitments under the Maya Declaration to help unlock the economic and social potential of their unbanked citizens through financial inclusion.

Members of PIRI at the 2014 Global Policy Forum in Trinidad and Tobago.

Members of PIRI at the 2014 Global Policy Forum in Trinidad and Tobago.

These efforts to scale up financial inclusion in the Pacific Islands have been recognized on both a regional and global level. The Reserve Bank of Fiji (RBF) received the AFI Maya Declaration Award in 2013, while Mr. Denton Rarawa, Governor at the Central Bank of the Solomon Islands (CBSI), recently received the Australian High Commissioner’s International Women’s Day Award on behalf of the National Financial Inclusion Taskforce for their work in improving access to financial services for women in the Solomon Islands. These type of achievements and recognition represent an honor shared by all the institutions taking part in PIWG, and further reflect the benefits gained from a regional approach to peer learning and knowledge sharing on financial inclusion.

Similar to the African Mobile Phone Financial Services Policy Initiative (AMPI), the lessons learned and shared by PIWG have been emulated and adopted by other members within the AFI Network. Many around the world have benefitted from their work in the Pacific. As the first and only regional working group in the AFI Network, it was announced at the 2014 Global Policy Forum (GPF) that it was time for PIWG to become a regional initiative—as opposed to a temporary working group—tasked to create conditions that lead to the financial empowerment of all Pacific Islanders.

This official transformation of the Pacific Islands Working Group to the Pacific Island Regional Initiative (PIRI) grants its members the continuity required to better address the unique constraints to the expansion of financial inclusion in the Pacific, and is a long-term opportunity for these institutions to share a common vision while working to ensure financial services are widely accessed in the region. It also recognizes the high-level representation by the governors of these seven member institutions, and provides a platform where the region can convene to discuss global financial inclusion innovation and strategies, creating tools that can be tailored to other island nations.

PIRI’s first inaugural meeting, along with the launch of its new logo, will take place in Dili, Timor-Leste on 6-8 May 2015. It is here the momentum of the group’s previous successes in advancing a successful financial inclusion agenda will continue to build to new, higher levels. Members will take their first, formal steps together as an official regional initiative to work on how to best integrate supportive financial inclusion policies that allow for a larger and more enabling framework of regulations—important initial steps that possess the potential to benefit all members across the broader AFI Network.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eliki Boletawa is the Head of Policy Programs & Regional Initiatives at the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI). Follow Eliki on Twitter: @pasifika_eb.

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