How financial literacy education helps fight poverty in impoverished nations

As Executive Director, Drew Boshell is responsible for the successful leadership of the institution in accordance with the strategic direction set by the Board. He has overall strategic and operational responsibility for FINCA Canada’s staff, financial performance, program development and expansion, and execution of FINCA Canada’s mission.

He has over 20 years of experience as a senior global development executive delivering high social impact programs, including global health, poverty reduction, community development, education, youth development and environmental initiatives in the U.S., Asia, Africa, Middle East, Latin America and Eastern Europe. His deep knowledge of current and future challenges that can impact the revenue streams and programmatic focus of international development programs and his successful track record in developing and stewarding multiple partnerships have resulted in significant programmatic growth and impact in the organizations he has worked for.

Prior to joining FINCA Canada, Drew worked as a Senior VP, Health and Sports at Special Olympics International. Previous positions he has held include Director, Community Development/Conservation with Forest Solutions in Malaysia; Global Director for ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital; and Country Director (Mongolia, Namibia, Malaysia) for Raleigh International in UK.

Drew graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Science/Animal Biology/Human Physiology degree and the University of Queensland with a Master of Development Planning degree. He has taken extensive training in strategic management leadership, organizational effectiveness, program management and evaluation, project management, board development and governance, and media training, including crisis management and conflict resolution in the workplace. He speaks fluent English, intermediate French, basic Spanish and beginner Bahasa Melayu, Vietnamese.

In his free time, Drew has volunteered as a medical assistant and as a suicide prevention counsellor.

How would you describe your experience working at FINCA Canada? And what are you hoping to achieve through your work?

Over the last 20 years working in the global development sector, I have realized that the people that have the solutions to the world’s most pressing issues like poverty are the people that are living with those issues. Unfortunately, many development initiatives are top-down, with the Western expert determining what is needed. This is where FINCA is different. This is why I was thrilled to join FINCA as Executive Director in March 2020, as the organization recognizes that people know what they need to succeed and by empowering them and providing them knowledge and access to resources, they will thrive. This is especially true for women who are too often economically excluded and not given an opportunity despite their potential.

Previously in my career, I have implemented social impact programs in the U.S., Asia, Africa, Middle East, Latin America and Eastern Europe. At FINCA Canada, I have been able to narrow my focus to countries with the greatest need, including Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In doing so, we have been able to offer families and individuals the opportunities to start and build small businesses, allowing them to achieve sustainable sources of employment and income.

In light of recent world events, going forward, FINCA Canada will be implementing a new strategy to strengthen the financial health and resilience of the people and communities we serve to better prepare them for future crises. The pandemic has forced tens of millions of people into poverty, especially women, but with access to financial tools, insurance, training and savings products, people will be able to prepare and plan for the future.

Since inflated prices and financial uncertainties continue to impact Canadians across the country, how will FINCA Canada help them overcome these issues?

The same inflationary concerns and recession risks facing Canadians are being felt around the world too, and Haiti and the DRC are even more affected due to the volatility of local markets and the high cost of importation. Fortunately, FINCA Canada’s products and services adapt alongside financial transformations on both a global and localized level, in order to best serve its customers in all market conditions.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, we became acutely aware of the need for our digital banking channels to create opportunities for our clients in the new digital and economic landscape. The financial impacts of the pandemic still linger, and coupled with the current inflationary environment, many individuals and families face a challenging financial picture.

By transitioning to and increasing our digital offerings, the usage of mobile technology in combination with different mobile products and banking agents’ networks, FINCA DRC and FINCA Haiti were able to continue serving our clients throughout the pandemic. Today, through online training, we have been able to alter our financial education and services offerings to reflect rising inflation and provide updated products to the individuals and communities in these countries to meet their changing needs.

What are your thoughts on the Financial Inclusion Project, a five-year partnership between the Government of Canada and FINCA Canada? How will it contribute to the elimination of financial inequality?

The Financial Inclusion Project aims to increase economic prosperity for low-income individuals, particularly women, in both Haiti and DR Congo by helping them grow their small businesses and increase their incomes. Specifically, the project sought to increase the number of female clients and overall use of, and access to adapted financial products that suit gender-centric and low-income needs.

Working in partnership with the Government of Canada on this project provided us with the increased financial means to create access to financial services. Though there remains a long road to eliminating financial inequality on a global level, efforts like the Financial Inclusion Project have made significant progress in improving the livelihoods of individuals and communities throughout Haiti and DR Congo. In the last 5 years, we have had some impressive results.

How successful was FINCA Canada in creating access to financial services for low-income individuals and entrepreneurs, which was one of the project’s pillars?

To date, the project has provided 575,000 low-income individuals and entrepreneurs access to financial services, with 363,000 being women. Almost three-quarters of all clients were satisfied by the products offered through this project, with 47,684 loan clients in Haiti (89% of which are women) and 350,272 loan clients in DR Condo (28% of which are women).

As the project has shown a distinct need for gender-centric infrastructure, we have implemented Gender Action Plans to better strengthen women’s financial inclusion. Courses also cover gender equality in the financial sector, diversity, equity and inclusion in the workforce, and basics of personal financial health and gender-related barriers.

As a result of the project, to date, we have seen a four percent decrease in poverty among repeat clients in Haiti and an eight percent decrease in poverty among repeat clients in DR Congo. Two of our loan products saw significant success, one being the revised agricultural loan product that had tremendous success in Haiti. At the end of the third year of the project, FINCA Haiti had 1,023 clients, 75 percent were women, surpassing its target of 900 clients. The financial education program for the Village Banking (VB) loan product in Haiti was also revised to include improved thematic areas, including managing income and business, budgeting, saving and understanding the suitability of products offered by financial services.

Overall, the project continues to increase economic prosperity for low-income individuals in Haiti and the DRC, improve gender equality and access to financial services as well as increase the use and access to mobile savings and medical insurance services. Providing access to basic financial resources can change lives, sustain communities, and fight poverty, and through this project we are on our way to accomplish a great deal in these areas.

How effective was the project in reaching the intended customers? How many new clients did FINCA Haiti acquire in its first days?[1]

The goals of the Financial Inclusion Project focused on increasing the number of female clients’ use of and access to adapted financial products that suit gender-centric and low-income needs.

As mentioned, based on this year’s mid-year report, there are 47,684 loan clients in Haiti, 89 percent of which are women and 350,272 loan clients in DR Condo, 28 percent of which are women. These countries face tremendous gender inequality in both business and society at large, and through our loan education programs, the project has been effective in reaching our intended clientele. As we enter the fifth year of the project, we hope to see an increase in the percentage of female clientele and involvement.

As the availability of basic financial resources plays a crucial role in transforming lives and combating poverty, what additional assistance does FINCA Canada provide to acquire these resources?

At FINCA Canada, we believe that having access to basic financial resources and education can change lives, sustain communities, and fight poverty in developing countries. One of the major challenges when launching the Financial Inclusion Project was making the initial contact with prospective clients and determining the best ways to provide the financial resources most needed by individuals and communities of Haiti and the DRC. Over the last few years, we have adapted to provide various in-person and digital access points that include branches, agents and mobile banking.

By the end of March 2022, there were four financial access points for every 1,000 clients in the DRC and nearly two branches and service outlets for every 1,000 clients in Haiti. Year over year, FINCA Canada continues to expand these access points to provide more opportunities for efficient service and direct access to our financial resources. Most recently, we have also developed new training modules translated into French for language accessibility in Haiti and the DRC.

As mentioned previously, the COVID-19 pandemic presented great challenges to the application of our services. Displaying a clear need for improved digital channels, we adapted the use of mobile technology, mobile products accessed from normal phones as well as digital phones, and worked with the banking agents’ network. This enabled FINCA DRC and FINCA Haiti to efficiently continue to serve customers during the pandemic crisis as well as today.

In addition to supporting microfinance services and new digital channels, FINCA Canada working together with FINCA International, also delivers programs that address pressing social issues including clean energy, water and sanitation, and healthcare and nutrition. We believe in fostering a culture that empowers people to promote economic opportunity and justice for all.

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