The United Nations General Assembly laid out the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 as a set of 17 interconnected metrics to “ensure universal peace and prosperity by 2030”. However, according to the United Nations Independent Group of Scientists’ midterm assessment, the world has not made sufficient progress toward them.
Access to technology and financial services is one of the main pillars identified as a crucial tool for achieving the baseline levels indicators set by the SDGs.
Below, we discuss the contributions of Digital Financial Services (DFS) to the realization of thirteen of the seventeen goals as outlined by the 2023 edition of United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Financial Development (UNSGSA), the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), the United Nations-based Better Than Cash Alliance, and the World Bank’s compendium.
SDG 1: No poverty
- Building household shock resilience (including illness, unemployment, and natural disasters) through digital payments, savings, insurance, and social protection instruments.
- Generating stable income streams from social protection payments and domestic remittances, and
- Facilitating efficient and transparent money management.
A COVID-19 emergency program in Columbia provided rapid income support to low-income and vulnerable households via bank accounts and mobile wallets. By April 2021, the program had reached 4 million households— over 64% of them womenheaded
SDG 2: Zero hunger
- Optimizing access to high-yield agricultural inputs and formal markets
- Improving small-scale agricultural output and resilience with Smallholder farmers’ output and resilience
- Enhancing transparency and efficiency of value chains, providing buffers against the impacts of climate change, and enabling the digital delivery of social protection services
In Lebanon, Digital transfers to 87,000 Syrian refugees via cards increased food and water expenditure by $25 per month relative to non-recipients. Each dollar that recipients spent generated $2.13 of GDP for the Lebanese economy.
SDG 3: Good health and well being
- Increasing access to healthcare services and enhancing the delivery of care
- Optimizing health data management
- Addressing the shortage of workers through efficient payroll management resources
- Decreasing instances of acute healthcare cost
M-TIBA is a healthcare financing platform based in Kenya with an exemplary model that capitalizes on the benefits of digital financial inclusion. Between 2016 and 2021, the platform onboarded over 4.7 million users and 3,000 healthcare providers while managing more than 1 million treatment claims annually.
SDG 4: Quality education
- Addressing high-cost-related issues in education accessibility
- Optimizing payroll operations
- Creating shock management capacity to prevent and mitigate education interruption
Kuppa is a Ugandan digital school payments management platform notable for features that allow parents to pay fees in installments as well as track expenses. As of June 2022, the platform reported more than 218,000 registrations across more than 900 schools.
SDG 5: Gender equality
- Reducing the gender gap in access to finance
- Bolstering product and business innovations targeting women
In the Dominican Republic, preliminary findings indicate that using a gender-differentiated approach, with different credit-scoring algorithms for women and men, could lead to 80% more women having a higher credit score than they would under a traditional model
SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation
- Improving affordability and accessibility of water and sanitation services
- Increasing efficiency of payments and collections
- Optimizing usage through measurement and control tools
- Creating databases that allow targeted measures to address large-scale water-related challenges
In Ghana, digital payments reduced revenue collection costs for these services by up to 95%.
SDG 7: Affordable and clean energy
- Offering flexible, remote, and secure payment services
- Installing prepaid meters for prepaid plans
- Driving clean energy campaigns
Angaza, a technology platform based on the PayGo model, has assisted over 5 million consumers in emerging markets to save over $100 million (as of 2020), by aiding their transition from kerosene to clean, renewable energy.
SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth
- Increasing workers’ access to financial services
- Improving marginalized communities’ capacity to engage with the modern financial sector
- Optimizing human capital management
- Increasing human capital transparency
- Increasing communal cohesion and collaboration
ImaliPay, a Kenyan artificial intelligence-powered embedded finance solution for Africa’s gig economy, provides PayGo financing, savings, and credit-building for productive purposes such as fuel, repairs, or a smartphone. ImaliPay generated a 100% rise in revenue per worker in Kenya in the first 12 weeks of its partnership with SafeBoda.
SDG 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure
- Facilitating access to financing for SMEs
- Contributing to overall macroeconomic growth
- Encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation
- Increasing accessibility and economic participation
- Growing businesses’ client and customer base
- Optimizing record keeping
- Increasing market penetration
The Unified Payments Interface in India enabled the seamless flow of data and payments between banks and payment service providers, even allowing small businesses without a bank account to accept payments via a digital wallet. By September 2021, the interface had grown to include around 259 participating financial service providers and more than 3.5 billion monthly transactions.
SDG 10: Reduced inequalities
- Increasing geographic penetration of remittance
- Reducing costs of origination and servicing associated with short-term, uncollateralized loans
- Increasing financial participation of marginalized communities
In Bangladesh, low-income households and family members who had migrated to the city were introduced to mobile money accounts, resulting in more urban-to-rural remittance payments being sent back home.
SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities
- Improving public transportation and other public service systems
- Facilitating greener, cleaner, and more inclusive residence and commercial areas
- Increasing provisions of micro-mortgages and similar affordable financing instruments
In Singapore, switching to an all-electronic tolling system lowered congestion, resulting in a 24% reduction in the number of trips taken to the city and also a 25% increase in speed of travel.
SDG 12: Climate action
- Increasing grassroots disaster management and prevention capacities of vulnerable groups
- Improving emergency deployable fund reserves
- Facilitating long-term investments in resilient, climate-friendly infrastructure
In India, SMV Green Solutions has helped 1,700 rickshaw drivers to switch to e-rickshaws through a suite of services, including rickshaw sales, asset financing, and a pay-per-use battery swap service that enables drivers to avoid long charging times.
SDG 13: Peace, justice and strong institutions
- Reducing corruption through the creation of secure and transparent digital financial frameworks
- Reducing gender and other social gaps by including groups in the decision making process
In Uganda, the government saved nearly $7 million in less than a year in 2016–17 by verifying the digital identities of civil servants against the national identity database and removing more than 4,600 ghost workers from the public payroll.