Impact Pathways

A tool to measure the intricate role of digital finance in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals

There is a growing body of research that demonstrates the link between access to financial services and improvement in the daily life of low-income populations across a range of Sustainable Development Goals. However, the research has shown that attribution is difficult, manifests over a lengthy period, and is very expensive to measure in a methodologically robust manner. The relationship between financial services and the Goals is direct and clear in some areas and less clear in others. Substantial research remains somewhat inconclusive.

Impact Pathways was therefore designed as a tool to help illuminate the ‘pathways’ which lead from the use of a particular financial service to the benefits which users experience as a result of that usage, to the potential contribution of the experience of that benefit over time to the SDGs. Many customers experience multiple benefits from a single use-case which in turn leads to positive progress against multiple SDGs. This can be explored using the Impact Pathways Explorer.


The Impact Pathways approach provides a ‘light’ way to measure how investments in the digital economy can benefit individuals and ultimately contribute to meeting the SDGs. The toolkit provides to programmes and financial institutions a relatively fast and low-cost way of understanding the impact of a range of interventions early on a project lifecycle.

The three stages of the approach are shown below:


Development practitioners can use the insights generated through Impact Pathways to feed into programme design and evaluation. It is particularly useful for pioneering practitioners offering new tools and services in an adaptable way.

Financial institutions can use it to identify how customers are using the service and what benefits they are receiving – critical information to tweak and adapt their value proposition to low-income clients.

Donors can see how and where the interventions they support are making an impact.

All research results can be found on the UNCDF Impact Pathways website.