UNCDF is the UN’s capital investment agency for the world’s least developed countries. It creates new opportunities for poor people and their communities by increasing access to microfinance and investment capital.  UNCDF focuses on Africa and the poorest countries of Asia and the Pacific, with a special commitment to countries emerging from conflict or crisis.  It provides seed capital and technical support to help financial institutions reach more poor households and small businesses, and local governments to finance the capital investments – water systems, feeder roads, schools, irrigation schemes – that will improve poor peoples’ lives.


Recently, UNCDF has formulated its strategy ‘Leaving no one behind in the digital era’ based on over a decade of experience in digital finance in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. UNCDF recognizes that reaching the full potential of digital financial inclusion in support of the Sustainable Development Goals aligns with the vision of promoting digital economies that leave no one behind. The vision of UNCDF is to empower millions of people by 2024 to use services daily that leverage innovation and technology and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals. For further detail on UNCDF strategy, refer to; https://www.uncdf.org/article/4931/global-strategy-leaving-no-one-behind-in-the-digital-era


UNCDF in Myanmar

UNCDF has been operating in Myanmar since 2012 with a capital mandate to expand savings-led financial inclusion and use localized investments to drive poverty reduction and sustainable development. The country program seeks to improve financial service access and usage to achieve equitable, sustainable, and inclusive growth within the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan (MSDP) 2018 - 2030, which includes the use of innovative solutions to bring formal services for people at the bottom of the pyramid.


Financial Inclusion Roadmap 2019 – 2023

In March 2020, an updated national financial inclusion Roadmap prepared with support from UNCDF (and the DaNa Facility) was approved by the Government of Myanmar as the nation’s highest-level financial inclusion policy document, reflecting priorities to be implemented over the period 2019 – 2023.


UNCDF has supported the financial inclusion Roadmap process since 2013, when in collaboration with UNDP and LIFT it conducted extensive research on the state of financial inclusion (FI) in Myanmar, using the UNCDF “Making Access Possible” (MAP) methodology. The research, authorized by the Union Government, collected supply-side analysis data based on in-country research and interviews with key players. The complementary demand-side analysis drew on quantitative data arising from the Myanmar MAP FinScope Survey and qualitative research. The key findings of this diagnostic work were used as a basis for the Myanmar Financial Inclusion Roadmap 2014 – 2020 (aka “Roadmap”), which was developed in consultation with stakeholders within government, donor community, service providers and others in Myanmar. The Roadmap identified the practical steps recommended to enhance financial inclusion in Myanmar, to better support the policy objectives as articulated by the Government of Myanmar, and provided a framework within which supportive intervention action was organized to support the overarching Roadmap goal.


The initial Roadmap was approved by National Cabinet of Myanmar in 2015. The Government placed a high priority on the successful implementation of the Financial Inclusion Roadmap, and as a result approved and established a high level Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee. The Committee is chaired by the Deputy Minister of Finance with secretarial support from the Financial Regulatory Department (FRD)The IMSC is also supported by working groups to coordinate the Roadmap implementation.


During 2018 government supported by UNCDF and DaNa Facility initiated a follow up process to update the original MAP research. The MAP Refresh was completed during 2019, and the updated Roadmap 2019 – 2023 prepared. The DaNa / UNCDF partnership has come to a close, but the project is continuing in partnership with UKAid Myanmar.


Increasing role of Digital Financial Services in financial inclusion

UNCDF is increasingly looking to the power of digital economies and digital financial services to reach the most marginalized, while the updated financial inclusion Roadmap has also highlighted that digital financial services will be a key enabler of inclusion going forward, bringing with it the need for increased digital and financial literacy. Access to digital financial services can be expected to drive the use of other financial and non-financial services, and hence the Roadmap outlines the objective of supporting growth in use of digital financial services with percent of population actively using DFS growing from 4% in 2018 to 25% in 2023. This growth is much dependent on an enabling environment, coupled with innovation in products and services, as well as the roll out of a digital and financial literacy strategy that will support uptake and responsible use of services.

The Government of Myanmar and other parties are also rolling out a number of specific projects that will benefit from increased use of digital and financial services at grassroots level. For example, the government intends to expand its National Social Protection Program, including the Maternal and Child Cash Transfer (MCCT) program, to a national scale over the next several years. For the programme to be efficient and nationwide, it will require a digital delivery component. This project has identified as a key bottleneck the lack of digital and financial literacy of low income, rural women to use the service. Similarly, Humanitarian and development organizations delivering electronic cash transfers (ECTs) have identified digital financial services and digital literacy as impeding the expansion and sustainability of ECT activities in Myanmar. Lack of digital capability makes the implementation of activities costlier and more resource consuming.

  1. In a pre-pandemic scenario, the need for electronic cash transfers was a good accomplishment for humanitarian and development actors. In the current COVID-19 pandemic, with an increasing number of destroyed livelihoods, restricted mobility, and a stringent need for maintaining social distancing, digital payments became critical. Critical to deliver resources to vulnerable population in hard-to-reach areas; and critical to reduce the number of contagions.  In addition the need for digital literacy extends far beyond humanitarian activities, and the economy stands to benefit a great deal by encouraging digital technology. The pandemic gives new impetus on this front, where activities that are impossible with physical restrictions become possible due to the wider use of technology.

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