Seven entrepreneurs from Malaysia, India and Indonesia were selected to present their innovative solutions, during the 74th UN General Assembly in New York, at the “Good Servant, Poor Master: Capturing the Promise and Managing the Risk of Financial Technology for a Sustainable World” event on 27 September 2019.
Organized by the UN Secretary-General’s Task Force on Digital Financing of the Sustainable Development Goals, the event provided a forum for policy thought-leaders and technology experts to discuss the role of financial technology in achieving the SDGs. We interviewed some of the entrepreneurs about their experiences at the event.
“One of the key takeaways [from the event] was that ASEAN countries represent an exciting place for digital finance innovation. Many industry leaders shared a vast array of innovative projects: from providing better credit to farmers in India, to improving recycling bins through AI. It was very clear that Asia is playing a key role in this digital revolution,” says Francesca Chia, CEO and co-founder of GoGet, an on-demand workforce platform in Malaysia.
After attending the event, Ms. Chia has big plans for GoGet’s future: “After the experience at UNGA, the GoGet team is even more determined to work for decent work in today's Industrial Revolution 4.0.”
Ajaita Shah of Frontier Markets, a last-mile distribution company from India, highlighted the importance of partnerships in expanding the reach of innovative solutions. “It was wonderful to have the opportunity to create partnerships and to learn more about the experiences and findings of other FinTech companies. A common focal point was increasing accessibility for women, and people in the last mile,” he said.
For Ms. Shah, the event was an opportunity for the participants to connect with, and learn from, other financial companies and FinTechs. “We think about the role that we can play – we can actually open access to the community that matters the most by partnering with some of these innovations to really test, understand and refine and then scale the work that's needed faster.”
Dino Setiawan presented the work of AwanTunai, an Indonesian FinTech that aims to digitize Indonesia’s vast cash economy and provide safe loans to MSMEs. He noted that in the Indonesian context, FinTech is often associated with being exploitative. He found discussions between top-level policymakers on the pros and cons of fintech encouraging. “It certainly hit home in terms of some of the issues that were raised,” he said, “and I think a lot more focus should be put on how to manage this technology so that it is used for the good.”
AwanTunai seeks to redefine the negative perceptions toward the FinTech industry in Indonesia in order to scale up their solution. “Our team was very proud that we could bring our innovation to a global level. Even if Indonesian media portray FinTech as online loan sharks, we will hopefully be able to show that there is a way to use the technology to help reaching the SDGs.”
“There's no clear right or wrong answer,” he added, “but by raising questions, at least it gets more attention from senior-level policymakers, so that a lot more thought can be put in to guide technology so that it's still effective.”
Discussions from the event provided valuable insights into how FinTech can advance sustainable development. The United Nations Secretary-General’s Task Force on Digital Financing of the SDGs will publish their final report in the second quarter of 2020.