A little over a decade after the day was first declared, we celebrate the United Nations World Day of Social Justice every year on February 20th. The 2021 theme of “A Call for Social Justice in the Digital Economy” is fitting given the past year’s mass rise of digitization of every sector of our lives, from education to employment. Consequently, the gap between those with access and those without access to digital resources has only grown.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented employment losses in 2020, with 114 million global jobs lost. Moreover, these job losses have been greatest in the low-skilled sectors that are the backbone of many developing countries’ economies. And this mass labor loss only furthers the existing disparities between the world’s developing and developed nations. With that said, FINCA remains more committed than ever to social justice and our goal of financial inclusion and access to life-changing resources for all.
Below are just a few examples of how FINCA strives to decrease inequalities worldwide, many of which are growing due to the pandemic.
Addressing the Wage Gap through Female Financial Inclusion
Across the globe, 2020’s rise in unemployment has disproportionately affected women. The ILO estimates that women experienced a 1.1 percent greater employment loss due to the coronavirus pandemic than men. Additionally, a majority of the 1.7 billion unbanked adults of the world are women. This lack of access to opportunities not only keeps women impoverished but also affects their whole family and the wider community, especially during the ever-changing pandemic reality. However, FINCA is working to help women overcome these inequalities, during the pandemic and always.
In the DR Congo, Eugénie Kabeya’s seamstress business lost 70 percent of its monthly revenue in direct response to the pandemic. However, per the recommendation of the local FINCA branch (at which Kabeya had been a customer for over a decade), she transitioned her business to making and selling masks locally and online. Soon, Kabeya was able to sell more than 5,000 masks. And she was even able to bring back two seamstresses she’d had to let go due to her decreased revenue. This is how empowering one woman to pursue her entrepreneurial ideas can affect and uplift an entire community.
Eugenie’s story exemplifies how empowering women through access to life-changing financial resources enables them to uplift themselves along with their families and whole communities. This is why FINCA has expanded our customized financial services to women, focusing this past year especially on digital technologies. These technologies have included products like “virtual banks” to expand access to financial services without needing to be in-person. People can conduct business and bank remotely—which used to require visiting a branch—so they can still participate in productive economic activities.
Using Educational Technologies to Close the Achievement Gap
Although the pandemic has been devastating t0 the world’s workforce, students have also struggled with adapting to this new reality. The high risk of virus transmission posed by schools has forced many students to learn from home. This has only exacerbated the achievement gap for students in developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the world’s highest rate of education exclusion, 97 million children were already out of school prior to the pandemic, which only increased during country-wide lockdowns and quarantines. However, FINCA is combatting these injustices through our BrightLife program, as well as partnerships with social enterprises like Eneza Education.
In Uganda, where only 17 percent of households have access to electricity, learning from home presents an enormous challenge. For the majority of students, they can only study before dark, or under the dim light of expensive kerosene lamps. With few households able to afford the upfront cost of electric lighting, students often struggle to keep up academically. However, BrightLife uses digital technologies to help low-income individuals access solar lighting without this high, upfront cost. BrightLife uses a pay-as-you-go financing model where customers make small, weekly payments through a basic feature cell phone. This allows them to pay off the cost of their solar lights over time instead of all at once. For many people living on just dollars a day, this pay-as-you-go model is crucial. And for students, this access to lighting makes all the difference, as they can study at night after completing their chores during daylight.
FINCA also partners with social enterprises like Eneza Education using innovative digital technologies to supplement students’ educations. Eneza uses a digital platform that provides subscribers with access to a government-accredited curriculum, the Wikipedia search engine, and chat with teachers and peers—all for just 10 cents per week. Most importantly, students can access Eneza’s technology through a basic feature cell phone, which dominates the sub-Saharan market. For students like Imelda Mumbi, whose family struggled with the daily cost of living, Eneza’s digital learning curricula enabled her with an affordable way to supplement her education without having to spend money on costly texts and workbooks.
Eneza’s platform has already reached more than 5 million learners. Furthermore, in response to the pandemic, Eneza even offered free access to their eudcational platform. Given the digitization of many industries in response to the pandemic, affordable digital education platforms like Eneza’s will be essential for the increasingly digitized post-COVID economy. Both BrightLife and Eneza Education technologies not only increase productivity and reduce household expenses, but allow students to focus on their education, which is key to breaking the cycle of poverty.
The Legacy of World Day of Social Justice in 2021
World Day of Social Justice serves as a yearly reminder of the work we still need to do to provide all people—regardless of gender, race, religion or culture—with equal opportunities and resources. In light of the past year, we must include the world’s most underserved and underrepresented communities if we are to achieve global solutions to social injustice.
FINCA’s goal of social justice for all can be seen through our commitment to female financial inclusion and educational access. Most importantly, the products and services we provide to individuals and communities on a daily basis directly impact their ability to build a more equitable future. Now more than ever, FINCA remains devoted to our mission of eradicating poverty. We will continue providing opportunities for economic growth for low-income communities, during these unprecedented times and beyond.