GEM 2008

Academics from Harvard and Yale discussed the importance of partnering with private sector firms to test research questions in many contexts. Harvard Business School's Nava Ashraf discussed her latest partnership with a large Salvadoran bank to study how offering US-based migrants from El Salvador the opportunity to control what the remittances they send are used for. Harvard Business School's Shawn Cole is partnering with banks in India to offer farmers weather insurance. Yale's Dean Karlan discussed several studies that demonstrate the importance of framing and marketing in producing products that appeal to underserved markets, and Harvard Kennedy School's Asim Khwaja discussed his use of psychometric testing to identify promising entrepreneurs in South Africa.

Several entrepreneurs who are taking new approaches to providing financial services to underserved markets discussed their business models. Asheesh Advani discussed how Virgin Money USA brings formality to informal lending between family and friends, and Carlos Danel talked about howCompartamos Banco maintains the high-touch client relationships of its NGO roots while serving over one million clients profitably.

Other entrepreneurs focused on leveraging new technologies to increase financial access. Roy Sosa discussed how MPOWER Labs is building a portfolio of financial services companies that include mobile phone-based payments and money transfers. Rolando Salcedo's Platamóvil is creating a mobile payment and transfer platform in Colombia that will work for all mobile phone providers and with both informal and formal sector vendors. Tim Vang showed the audience MYC4's web platform for person-to-person lending, which raises capital for entrepreneurs in Africa.

Mindful of the role government can play in fostering inclusion, the audience heard from Chile's Minister of Finance Andres Velasco on the role of markets in the public policy sphere, and from former mayor of Medellín, Colombia on their efforts to foster entrepreneurship.

Northeastern University's Albert-László Barabási spoke about new ways of looking at large datasets on everything from monkey movements to mobile phone users. To this end, the Empowerment Lab is creating a secure data warehouse that will make a wealth of information about consumer behavior available to Empowerment Lab researchers who focus on extending the frontiers of financial markets.

By fostering these types of cross-sector collaborations at events like the Global Empowerment Meeting, the Empowerment Lab leverages the strengths of its partners and is able to provide new answers to old questions about how to make markets accessible to all.

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