Data with a Purpose: A Call for Creativity and Cooperation

> Posted by Marten Leijon, Chief Executive Officer, MIX
This post is part of the Center for Financial Inclusion’s Expert Exchange: Building A Movement Toward Financial Inclusion by 2020, cultivating conversation around the goal of reaching full financial inclusion by 2020. For further questions about this series, write to Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, Center for Financial Inclusion at ACCION International.
The idea of a world that is financially included is compelling. But it will be almost impossible to achieve without a groundswell of collaboration and creativity. A host of actors need to cooperate to bring transparency to financial services, to track progress over time and to help target outreach. And we may not know in advance who needs to participate for the effort to truly succeed.
Last fall, we at MIX set out to compile high-level data on financial inclusion in Nigeria. We were able to use data shared by the Central Bank of Nigeria to geo-tag the locations of 800+ microfinance banks in Nigeria. After publishing this mapping, we learned about the work of Dr. Adegbola Ojo who had compiled the NIGECS dataset with highly localized data on living conditions in Nigeria. Using the NIGECS data enabled a first-ever analysis of how the supply of microfinance in Nigeria matched against district-level demographics, such as poverty, household revenue sources (e.g., pensions, salaries) and other important factors.
In this case, data sharing by a regulator and a researcher led to knowledge exchange and a much closer look at how Nigeria is faring against its goals for financial inclusion—more than previously had been possible.
Cooperation requires different kinds of commitment across market actors. Policymakers have the power to convene different actors and to support harmonization. Regulators and industry networks can collect data to monitor their constituencies. Researchers and public and private organizations can aggregate demand data through surveys and transaction data. Collecting and analyzing financial inclusion data requires collaboration among all of these actors.
One might think that this observation is intuitive: of course different actors bring unique strengths to the table, Marten. The problem is that sometimes this is not happening to the extent needed to fully inform the decisions of policymakers, funders and other market actors. And what’s worse, sometimes groups that can provide access to truly unique data and insights are not included in the process. This is why we believe that the path towards effective financial inclusion involves a significant measure of transparency and data sharing across many parties, some of which many haven’t even thought of yet. We know that transparency begets transparency and so any effort to build a movement towards a deeper understanding of financial inclusion and the path to making this a reality must include platforms to facilitate data exchange, structured discovery across datasets and an active debate over what the facts tell us.
In a sector as diverse and dynamic as financial inclusion, it is impossible to predict who all the owners of essential information will be—in the example I offered at the beginning, sharing and opportunity made for a valuable exchange of data on Nigeria.  I am sure that there are hundreds of similar opportunities out there, most of which no-one has thought of yet. Who has this data, and how can we make this data work to promote financial inclusion?
For more information, sign up for updates from the Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign.
Marten LeijonMarten Leijon is the CEO of MIX. He has many years of experience in leading advisory, information and research businesses, with a primary focus on financial services. He holds an M.S. in Financial Economics and Finance from the Stockholm School of Economics.

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