Fighting Poverty Through Financial Inclusivity—And Digital Transformation

Laura Fuentes

Part of the Digital CFO Series

Easy access to financial services is something most of us take for granted. The opportunity to pay bills and manage our money 24×7, wherever we are, is no longer seen as nice-to-have but as a need-to-have requirement. However, the ability to take financial control in this way is not possible for many of the world’s poorest people, and in fact there are two billion people still excluded from the formal financial system.

Based in Bogotá, Colombia, Fundación Capital works with financial institutions, national government, and local community representatives worldwide to improve financial capabilities and performance, as well as important access to services that improve their economic situation. As a result, vulnerable populations gain true financial independence and the power to find their own paths out of poverty.

Supporting growth with digital technology

Passion and an inspiring vision have been key in delivering programs to 5 million people in 17 countries so far. However, our own long-term financial viability is also critical if Fundación Capital is to achieve its goal of reaching 25 million people by 2020. As chief financial officer, I am responsible for ensuring that our organization operates in a way that allows us to continue to build on what we’ve achieved.

When I first joined Fundación Capital seven years ago, we embarked on a long-term planning initiative. We predicted that digital technology would play an important role in our work to increase financial inclusivity, and we were right. Today, we’re using digital solutions to streamline and scale our work so that, together with our partners, we can help more people, and ensure that they have the skills, tools, and the confidence to change their lives for the better.

Transitioning to a market-based model

We’re at an inflection point, where we need to invest even more in digital technology to run the organization more effectively and support ongoing expansion. A key challenge we currently face is our transition from operating like a non-governmental organization to incorporating a hybrid model more closely associated with a social enterprise. Increasingly, we are diversifying our partnerships to move beyond donor funding and provide technical assistance directly to financial institutions and national governments to improve their efficiency and social impact when working with this particular market segment. For financial service providers, this deepens their client relationships and facilitates cross-selling of products. For policymakers, it adds value to their existing investment in public goods, essentially strengthening their efforts to provide social safety nets and improve outcomes for those living in poverty.

Digital technology is helping us manage this transition by allowing us to collect valuable insights from users so that we can enhance our offerings and explore new areas for product development. It also improves the user experience and allows for more direct interaction, increasing civic participation and empowering low-income communities through access to information and training. In addition, collaboration tools such as teleconferencing and social collaboration platforms can help us to engage more successfully with colleagues—our partners and end users, as our team is spread throughout the world. We are also looking to incorporate a software solution that would help manage operations and finance through a single platform to streamline our international activities, increase productivity, and facilitate cross-country collaboration.

Growing our footprint

Another important challenge for Fundación Capital is managing rapid growth in a relatively short time—both in terms of the people we reach and the territories in which we operate. Investment in technology is critical in supporting this expansion.

We already use a lot of cloud-based technology, which makes it possible to collect and share information across numerous locations. However, our solutions are not as well-integrated as we need them to be to roll out our programs to more users. This is where technology can help us become more agile and connected.

Welcoming a new perspective

While we encourage all staff, old and new, to contribute their ideas, an external perspective can be invaluable. That’s exactly what participants of the SAP Social Sabbatical program provided when they joined us on two separate occasions in recent years.

Each time, the teams of SAP employees joined us for four weeks and identified many areas for potential improvement across numerous aspects of our operations. One key area was the need to communicate our corporate values and ethos more effectively across a growing organization. They also recommended that we use technology more effectively to improve the way we scale our operations, and we have made changes to our digital strategy as a result. That external perspective, as well as the guidance and technical recommendations provided by SAP employees, provided crucial moments for reflection and concrete advice that we could put into practice to see immediate change and improvement.

A powerful force for social change

We still have a long way to travel on the road to digital transformation. However, we’re already seeing the benefits.

We can run more effectively as an organization and reach and support vulnerable communities in new and more powerful ways. In helping people to become active participants in building their own futures through their knowledge and expertise, digital technology is enabling Fundación Capital to be a powerful force for positive social change. It is also helping to engage some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities, activating and empowering them to participate more effectively in society and become “economic citizens.”

For more on how technology can enable social change, see How Digital Technologies Are Improving Humanitarian Missions.

Laura Fuentes

About Laura Fuentes

Laura Fuentes is the chief financial officer at Fundación Capital, where she leads the financial and administrative department of the organization and its projects. She has played a key role in the settlement of FundaK´s offices since the early stages and in the talent management and shaping the team across the seventeen countries where it has presence. Prior to FundaK, Laura worked on development projects for an International Program for Afro-Descendent in five countries in Latin America and in a financial institution in Colombia. She holds a degree in Finance and International Relations from the Universidad Externado de Colombia and a Master of Business Administration degree from ISEAD.