For the past few years, hundreds of development practitioners from around the world have gathered at Devex World to exchange ideas, learn from each others’ experiences and network. The event is hosted by Devex, the media platform and social enterprise serving the global development community. This year’s event took place in Washington, DC on June 14 and attracted 1,000 participants, including two staff members from FINCA International.
The conference’s keynote themes strongly resonated with FINCA’s work and, in many ways, reflected conversations that are ongoing in our hallways and offices. Those themes included Innovating at Scale, the Data Revolution, and New Funding Models. Styled after TEDx talks, the conference’s anchor sessions were broken into 10-15-minute segments during which experts offered crisp insights and takeaways. It is clear that the transformative changes we are experiencing at FINCA in our mission to promote financial inclusion are also changing the landscape and nature of work for stakeholders and organizations across the development spectrum.
Inspired by the conference’s approach to transmit succinct ideas drawing from complex subjects, we would like to share some of our top takeaways from the various sessions.
Challenges and Opportunities of the Data Revolution
The Data Revolution session cast light on both challenges and opportunities posed by the surge of digital technologies being deployed across the development landscape. As FINCA knows very well, there are myriad new ways to collect, compile and use data. But as we increase our data collection activities, are we also:
- Growing our data fluency: More data on its own will not help anyone, particularly if it is confined to spreadsheets. As we identify what information is most relevant to collect, are we also increasing workforce capacity to use, analyze and deploy that data strategically?
- Improving decisions and outcomes: As more and better data is generated in real-time, it should also improve project design, client targeting and decision making in real-time. Practically speaking, are we transitioning away from business planning as developing concrete, architectural blueprints that are followed to the letter and more toward creating templates for iteration and improvement? Are we communicating the benefits of this approach so that stakeholders and donors see this as additive and beneficial?
- Becoming better storytellers: As we find a host of new data points at our fingertips, are we also transforming our capacity to convey that information in a way that is beautiful, elegant and visually gratifying, and that engages people more effectively and more powerfully than we currently can?
Lessons in Funding from Market-Driven Approaches
Highlights from The New Funding Models revealed that the larger development community is at long last adopting an approach in which FINCA was an early pioneer, namely that development should model market-driven methodologies. Panels discussed how the sector is transitioning away from a grant capital approach to the new world of blended finance, particularly in an environment that prioritizes innovation. Many of the ideas and use cases shared will be well understood by the FINCA team, including:
- Innovation, risk-taking and measuring success: Given widespread emphasis on innovation, co-creation that brings together implementers and donors is key. Innovating will, at times, result in failure, and when considering results, we should give an “A” for effort. If we are not failing, it means we are not sufficiently reaching for the frontier. And while we reject ideas that rest on a silver bullet philosophy, we should say “yes” to silver buckshot! Iterate and innovate around multiple potentials. Be creative about measuring impact. Success is not only about the investments themselves, but where and what the investees go on to do.
- Private sector engagement strategies and use of private capital: Templates recommended for working with the private sector included having the private sector partner create demonstration cases and that these successful models could be amplified and scaled by a range of traditional actors in their respective sectors (education, healthcare, government, etc.). Organizations increasingly understand that grant capital can de-risk private capital, and are seeking myriad partners along the grants-impact investing-social bonds continuum.
Devex World 2018 was memorably informative and engaging as a platform for development practitioners to convene, converse and connect around themes pertinent to their work and impact globally. There were sessions that directly spoke to FINCA’s experience, particularly of leveraging technology and innovation to extend financial services to millions of people at the base of the economic pyramid. The insights gleaned from the conference will inform our planning and programming as we look to strengthen our reach and impact around the world.