A Better World - Volume 7

[ 18 ] A Bet ter Wor ld Building synergies to achieve holistic digital inclusion in India Sharon Buteau, Executive Director; Preethi Rao, Associate Director; Diksha Singh, Senior Learning Manager, LEAD at Krea University I mproved access to financial services can enable low- income households to build resilience and seize economic opportunities, and in turn contribute to their wellbeing. 1 In India, over 90 per cent of the popula- tion is employed in the informal sector with limited access to social protection and technology. A number of policy programmes and initiatives have been launched to further financial inclusion, with mixed results. Between 2014 and 2017, the proportion of adults that had a bank account jumped from 53 per cent to 80 per cent. 2 Under the Government’s flagship scheme, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), basic banking accounts are being opened for every household and these serve as a channel for deliver- ing social security and welfare benefits. Linking these bank accounts with Aadhaar, a biometric-authenticated unique identification number, and increasing penetration of mobile phones and internet, have played an important role in improv- ing access to formal financial services. There has also been significant investment in digital public goods and infrastruc- ture such as payment systems. Despite this massive push, account dormancy and low levels of usage remain a concern and are seen as a result of challenges such as low viability of last-mile service delivery, poor financial literacy, and a lack of tailored solutions and products for different population segments. Access to technology can be a gateway to broader finan- cial inclusion by linking vulnerable population segments with credit, markets, skills, and improving awareness of important schemes. Information and Communication Tech- nology (ICT) can be a powerful catalyst for equipping women with skills, enhancing their participation in paid economic activities, and building their agency. Barriers such as social norms, access, affordability, mobility restrictions and lack of identification have traditionally limited women’s access to basic bank accounts and technology. However, much of this potential remains untapped. The need for adopting digital financial services increased enormously during the pandemic when access to physical infrastructure was highly restricted. While there has been a multi-fold increase in the use of digital financial services during the pandemic, this has further accentuated the need to build online tech infrastruc- ture, especially in developing countries like India. Addressing this complex interplay of economic, social and behavioural factors that influence access to and greater adoption of ICT, requires evidence-based solutions and the right combination of partnerships. Complex challenges and partnerships — why SDG17 matters As the world becomes more interconnected by human activi- ties, our problems become more complex to understand and thus more challenging to solve. Even promising innovations such as the use of technology to help accelerate progress towards solving pressing problems can bring another set of issues, along with increasing inequality. This is particu- larly critical when working towards improving the lives of the poor and marginalized communities, who often live in conditions of scarcity, and could be worse off if solutions are not adequately tailored to their particular circumstances and settings. To tackle these problems optimally, there is an urgent need to go beyond traditional, linear methods of enquiry and problem solving and to adopt a rigorously trans- disciplinary approach. Transdisciplinary approaches allow us to work in real- world ecosystem settings. These approaches are characterized by incremental knowledge production and collaborative learning among various partners such as researchers, practi- tioners, government and technology experts, aligned towards a common objective. This allows potential solutions to emerge, with iterative testing, until they evolve into an optimal solution. Key to the success of this process is a well defined learning plan and testing within the intended use environment. Instrumental to this approach is the ability to bring in partners involved in all steps, in particular those who will be impacted. The inter- woven nature of transdisciplinary methods ensures that all partners are equal collaborators in co-creating solutions. Inclusive ICT for development To achieve financial and technological inclusion outcomes for holistic development, LEAD insists on collaborating with various stakeholders and aligning their interests to a common vision or goal. This approach forms the backbone of LEAD’s initiatives. Financial inclusion — the Catalyst initiative Catalyst was an initiative funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the mSTAR