By Guest Contributor Erlijn Sie

Author of Reimagining Financial Inclusion, Erlijn Sie, explains why financial inclusion is like long-distance, group travel.

Remember? We were on a journey. Yes, together. In this part of the trip we’ll focus on the togetherness. Financial Inclusion is like a group travel. Why? Because it is not a single subject, it’s multifaceted. Most of the time, the excluded low-income families we aim to include are not just financially excluded… they are also lacking clean water, electricity, a toilet and they need to walk an hour to the nearest health facility.


Most of the game changers that manage to include people like Malika, as depicted, do this with a holistic approach. They do not offer one financial service. They offer an integrated service, speaking to her needs. A great example would be Healthy Entrepreneurs, offering a business-in-a-bag solution, to enterprising community health workers in rural parts of Africa, with a pre-finance facility. This business-in-a-bag is a sort of pharmacy-in-a-box, selling over-the-counter medicine and offering several health screenings, and guided health questionnaires, and health educational movies. Solar Sister does something similar, but yet different, a business-in-a-bag for enterprising women, selling solar solutions to families based in remote villages. As you can see, both approaches come with income generation, savings (reduced costs of living) for the villagers and access to finance to start such a business. But even more importantly, they bring medicines and health screening and health education, or solar energy. And they bring these resources to the ones that need them the most. Suddenly the enterprising community health workers, or the Solar Sisters, become role models and agents of change in their own communities. The key here is that these game changers do not offer a financial product or service, they solve an issue.

And they do not do this alone. Healthy Entrepreneurs collaborates with Philips and Boehringer Ingelheim for expertise on health tech, diseases and treatment. With the World Health Organization for health education. With impact investors and donors to blend financial resources, to cover the pre-financing facility, for the development of tele-health services. It’s this integrated approach to solving that issue, building the partnerships to solve each aspect of that issue together, that makes them game changers. These game changers, they drive the bus, but in the tour bus there are companies, foundations, international bodies, impact investors, medical experts, medicine and healthy food producers, and even a health insurance provider might join in the future … the point is: it’s a group trip, and it’s a long journey.


Each and every game changer described in Reimagining Financial Inclusion is in the business of long-distance group travel. That sounds much easier than it is, it requires a radical new way of organising. And another ‘mentality’, more entrepreneurial, more linking than ranking, more empathic. And it is there that you can find the gold if you like to contribute to Financial Inclusion in collaboration with game changers like Healthy Entrepreneurs or Solar Sisters; you will gain these new soft skills, this new mentality and attitude, simply by collaborating. You will learn them by doing. We are in dire need of that new attitude, that new skill: to make a difference, to make a change for the good of all. And we need especially companies to make the difference! And this is what I hope you, your team, your company will be seeking for and find in these collaborations that grow Financial Inclusion for all of us.

Let me finish with quoting one of the world’s inspirational business leaders, Brodin, CEO of IKEA (Ingka Group) about their corporate transformation journey growing inclusion (and sustainability by the way), in close collaboration with social innovators:

“The first step of transformation is to move a little bit out of denial… and when you’re in the middle of it (the transformation) you stand with both the inspiration and the joy of doing it, the scratching the heads, and the headaches… and then you go over to show, show what good looks like, the first signs of change.”


Three lessons we can learn from him and IKEA’s collaboration with social innovators to grow inclusion, in my own words:

1. Be aware of this different reality, how game changers operate

2. Accept it’s not in your control only, let it go and learn

Showing from Brodin’s answers on the question ‘how do you decide what works and what not?’: “you decide that afterwards, you just test and try things”.

3. Embrace complexity: the only constant is change

Quoting Brodin when he points out WHY they are on a journey to ‘change everything almost’: “we cannot be in complacency with the past successes”.


ERLIJN SIE has 15 years of experience working with multi- nationals and an equivalent number of years leading and growing social ventures. She is the co-founder of Micro- credits for Mothers and Credits for Communities and was managing director of the Banking with the Poor Net- work and HandsOn Microfinance. Currently, she works at Ashoka – the world’s largest international network of social entrepreneurs – with blue chip companies to trans- form business into a force for good through collaboration with social innovators. Erlijn has devoted her career to contributing to a more just and inclusive economy. Erlijn holds two Masters degrees in Management Sciences and Asian Studies.


Suggested Reading

To live in today’s world, you need money; yet the majority of people do not have access to it. This book features 13 game changers from around the world who are challenging the status-quo and paving new pathways to financially include low-income families. Through an in-depth study of their thought-provoking strategies, a framework for inclusion is distilled, centring around five levers to tackle the flaws of our formal financial system. If you are curious about how to get involved with changing the future of finance, this book is for you.

More information