Global Savings, Assets and Financial Inclusion
New America Foundation | July 30, 2008
Conference Report by Jamie M. Zimmerman and Ray Boshara
In 2000, 196 Member States of the United Nations committed themselves to halve extreme poverty in the world by the year 2015. Since then, broad availability of well-designed and appropriately delivered financial services and products, including those that lead to savings and productive assets, has become increasingly recognized as essential to alleviating poverty and fostering economic security and opportunity. Yet eight years later (and with less than eight years remaining to reach this goal), some three billion people worldwide lack access to basic financial services. Much remains to be done.
For three days in June 2007, the Global Assets Project (a joint venture of Center for Social Development at Washington University and the Asset Building Program of the New America Foundation), the National University of Singapore, and the Financial Access Initiative of New York University convened 100 leaders from diverse fields at a Global Symposium on Savings, Assets, and Financial Inclusion. Sponsored by the Citi, Levi Strauss, and F.B. Heron Foundations, the purpose of this first-of-its-kind symposium was to illuminate and inform strategies for universal inclusion in savings and asset-building products, programs, and policies around the world. We paid particular attention to the needs of people with limited resources in developed and, especially, developing countries.
At the Symposium and throughout this document, we commonly use the term "asset building" to refer to efforts to build savings and productive assets, including education, homeownership, land, small businesses, livestock, investments, and pensions. While this term has become commonplace in some countries and fields, there are now a variety of terms—including asset accumulation, asset development, wealth building, etc.—used internationally to describe the concept and efforts emerging from it.
The symposium was organized around three goals. First, we wanted to harness the experience and brainpower of leading practitioners, scholars, policymakers, advocates, corporate leaders, and funders. The idea of asset building has emerged as a major theme in many parts of the world, but this is a relatively young discussion with theory, evidence, policies, and products developing in uneven, often haphazard ways. In bringing together many of the key persons leading this work, we sought to provide some coherence and structure to this emerging field and to capture the lessons and best thinking worldwide. Second, we hoped symposium discussions and results would inform future directions in participants' diverse but overlapping fields. Finally, we aimed to build bridges between the leaders in the savings, assets, and financial inclusion fields, so that they, along with us, could advance savings, asset-building, and financial inclusion efforts around the world.
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