April 5, 2016
Mr. Barry Whiteside, Honorable Governor from the Reserve Bank of Fiji,
Mr. Gane Simbe, Honorable Deputy Governor from the Central Bank of the Solomon Islands and Chair of PIRI’s EGFIP,
Mr. Mark Flaming, PFIP Manager,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Bula vinaka and a very warm welcome to you all.
I am delighted to be back in Fiji, my home country, for this very important and timely workshop on inclusive insurance. Allow me to briefly express my gratitude to the members of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion’s Pacific Islands Regional Initiative, and the UNCDF/UNDP Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme, for their wonderful support in making this event possible.
A special thank you is owed to Governor Whiteside, the wonderful staff at the Reserve Bank of Fiji, and the nation’s authorities for welcoming all of us here to Nadi.
Many in the audience today are familiar with the work of AFI. But for those who are not, we are a network comprised of more than 100 financial regulatory authorities and central banks from over 90 developing nations around the world. Our members are working together to share knowledge and build capacity to promote evidence-based financial inclusion policies that help improve the lives of the poor.
The Alliance for Financial Inclusion started out as a project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2008. We were a trial balloon to see if a peer-learning platform for financial inclusion policymakers from developing countries could change the world.
Our network has journeyed a long way since that modest start. I am happy to announce that, as of January 27th, 2016, AFI is now a fully-independent, member-owned organization registered under the International Organizations Act of the Laws of Malaysia.
This is a remarkable achievement.
The journey, however, does not end here; what matters most is the direction we are moving. Our members are now in an even stronger position than ever to affect positive change around the world. No nation in the AFI network is tasked with taking the journey alone—we are on a path, together, toward a shared prosperity for all.
This is astoundingly apparent in the Pacific Islands; where our national identities are singular, but our regional fortunes are shared.
So, central banks from six nations—Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste—first came together in 2009 to form the Pacific Islands Working Group to address the unique constraints to financial inclusion in the Pacific.
Tonga joined three years later, and eventually, in 2015, the seven working group members created the AFI Pacific Islands Regional Initiative. The launch of PIRI established a long-term entity with a common vision to ensure financial services are widely accessed throughout a region with one of the highest unbanked rates globally.
Financial exclusion persists in the Pacific due to a number of factors: we have issues relating to physical and banking infrastructure; low financial literacy levels are prevalent; and, our islands are geographically dispersed with low density populations. Because Pacific Islanders face so many similar obstacles, it made sense to unite as one Pacific in the search for solutions.
PIRI members are implementing a peer-learning and knowledge-sharing approach to a variety of financial inclusion policy areas—including inclusive insurance—highly relevant for all small-island nations in the Pacific. And we do mean all small-island nations, not only nations with members of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion: PIRI leaders have decided to shoulder a responsibility for the entire Pacific region, supporting countries without entities properly equipped to handle financial inclusion issues.
PIRI is the embodiment of the successful peer-to-peer model which the international development community acknowledged as paramount to achieving its development targets, including the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In fact, the United Nations General Assembly singled out AFI in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda as the ideal partner for facilitating financial inclusion peer learning and experience sharing among nations and regions.
Members of PIRI have also combined to make six specific commitments to the Maya Declaration—an Alliance for Financial Inclusion initiative to unlock the economic and social potential of the 2 billion unbanked around the globe.
The Maya initiative is a proven driver of successful evidence-based financial inclusion policy solutions. Its peer accountability model is another great example from the AFI network of how positive development partnerships can support implementation of the SDGs. Moving forward, as PIRI members consider new Maya Declaration commitments, I recommend examining how to incorporate inclusive insurance into those targets.
Ladies and gentleman, This workshop on guidelines for the development of inclusive insurance regulations, including addressing the barriers to developing an inclusive insurance market, is particularly timely.
Pacific Islanders were reminded all too recently of the shared problems that can stem from our regional geographies, tragically highlighted when Cyclone Winston—one of the strongest on record in the Southern Hemisphere—wrought great damage and devastation across Fiji.
An estimated 350,000 Fijians were directly impacted by the storm—40 percent of the nation’s population. Areas of Tonga were affected as well.
The immediate and long-term implications for the health, safety, education and development of our people are enormous. In the wake of Winston, many families lost everything; their loved ones, their possessions and their income sources. Children went without safe drinking water, without power and without a roof over their heads.
I recently read an account from UNICEF that detailed the experience of one such affected child, called Adi—a 13-year-old girl from Yaqeta village in the outer Yasawa Islands.
Adi can still recall her home collapsing under Winston’s fury. She grabbed her brother and ran from house to house, scared and in search of refuge that night. In the aftermath the following day, Adi returned to her home—where she was born and raised—heartbroken to see it in pieces.
Let me be clear: Nothing can fully compensate for the immense loss so many of our people have experienced at the hands of these storms, especially the deaths of loved ones.
But it is important to prepare and plan the best we can to deal with future disasters, particularly as Pacific Islanders become more vulnerable to the ongoing threats of climate change. It is not a matter of ‘if’ but rather ‘when’ the next super-storm strikes. Everyone in the region will be affected somehow.
Beyond extreme weather, Pacific Islanders are exposed to average every-day risks, medical or agricultural, for example. Inclusive insurance makes available to the population a safety net that mitigates damage from sudden shocks when the unexpected occurs.
Affordable insurance options and products help the poor begin the process of rebuilding and healing more quickly than uninsured victims excluded at the margins of society. Effective regulation of insurance markets is required in this area to ensure access to those most in need.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This week presents a new opportunity to clarify the views and plans of PIRI members, and to share our knowledge and experiences as we work toward a more inclusive Pacific. These discussions will set the stage for members and partners to reconvene here in June for the 3rd Meeting of the Pacific Islands Regional Initiative.
The discourse also serves as a precursor to the 2016 AFI Global Policy Forum which will be held under the theme “Building the Pillars of Sustainable Development” this September. More than 450 financial inclusion policymakers and stakeholders will arrive at Fiji’s shores for the GPF, the most important annual forum on financial inclusion in the world. The issue of inclusive insurance has been rising on the international agenda, and I look forward to it being taken up by the entire AFI network at the Forum.
Like many issues related to financial inclusion, PIRI members are well positioned to lead on this subject.
With that in mind, let us remember that leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. PIRI’s vision is a future where every Pacific Islander has access to basic financial services. Now is the time to ensure our efforts will translate that vision into reality.
I am excited and encouraged by the presence of all of you participating in this workshop.
To those not born in this region, you will no doubt have noticed that the people of the Pacific Islands are incredible in their ability to turn to and help one another. Our natural inclination toward goodwill enabled us realize early on that until we reach every person who remains unbanked or underserved, the development community will not have the impact it seeks.
AFI represents the vast majority of the world’s unbanked. The lessons and knowledge that emanate from PIRI are spread across the globe through our network. I applaud these efforts, and offer my gratitude to our partners and stakeholders in this room for their contributions on the financial inclusion agenda as well.
We all have the same mission—to break down the barriers that prevent access to high-quality, affordable and secure financial services for everyone. In you, I see we have the right people in the right places poised to make a real impact.
On that note, allow me to wish each of you a productive and rewarding three days here in Fiji. I encourage all of you to use the knowledge and lessons gained at this workshop to support our effort to build pillars of sustainable inclusion.