Reimagining Financial Inclusion – it’s just like biking by Erlijn Sie

By Guest Contributor Erlijn Sie

Author of Reimagining Financial Inclusion, Erlijn Sie, explains why financial inclusion should be the same as building cycle infrastructure.


Let me tell you a story about myself, I’m Dutch, born and raised in The Netherlands. Dutch people are known to be direct and the country itself is famous for its windmills and tulips. But above all, we’re well-known for biking. There are more bikes than people in our country. Since we’re on a trip together, let me ask you a question: why do we, the Dutch, bike this much? As you know, biking is a healthy exercise, for both body and mind, and it’s an environmentally friendly way of travelling.

Why do we, the Dutch people, bike this much? Not just because we know it’s healthy…

This picture shows the density of biking paths in The Netherlands. There’s our answer to the question why Dutch people bike that much, isn’t it? But did we start biking after the infrastructure of paths was built? Or did we build the cycling paths, because we wanted to bike? Do we have healthy biking habits due to the biking paths? Or do we have this biking infrastructure, as a result of this culture of riding bikes? What we know for sure is, that it was an iterative process over decades, going back and forth, a positively re-enforcing cycle – no pun intended- of wanting to bike, building biking lanes, growing appetite to bike, growing a biking culture – parents biking their children to school because this is how they were brought up, biking to school, in the rain, snow and sunshine. New companies opening their doors are investing in direct biking lanes all the way to their buildings leading to even more cycling paths. Schools built by municipalities have safe biking lanes for the children.

Do you know bikers are better protected in The Netherlands by law than people driving cars when it comes to safety? And that’s not everything. There are companies inventing new and better techniques for bike lanes. Separate traffic lights for bikers are being installed. Not to mention bike accessories and biking repair shops can be found on almost every road in the country.

When I was a kid, my bike had this cute little orange flag on a 1-meter high pole, invented by a foundation claiming it was safer for children to bike with such a flag attached to the bike, so others could see little children, as young as 5 years old, biking around. This orange flag did not make it to the current biking landscape. But we have been collectively trying, piloting, building evidence of what worked, what didn’t, developing and growing this biking path infrastructure and safe and healthy biking habits. That’s the point.


Well, money, financial transactions, financial services – the financial system – is like the biking paths. And the process to get there is pretty much the same too: collecting information, connecting to each other, and cultivating the healthy habits we develop over time. Let me give a simple example: we do not need a bike lane with a traffic light in the village, and a repair shop in the woods instead of by the roadside in that village. A biker needs to have them all at the same place. Well, it is the same when it comes to Financial Inclusion.

A mortgage is needed and should be offered when a son marries, and the family needs to build an additional room for the home. A farmer wants to buy agricultural insurance together with the seeds, at the shop where s/he buys fertilizer. Not only do we need everyone (foundations, corporations, municipalities, financing partners, innovators) playing their respective roles, we need all of them to get to an infrastructure for finance that includes this ‘last-mile’ to reach the low-income families. Investing in and building the last-mile infrastructure is where we need to focus on. And let’s not forget: we need the bikers to tell us what’s best when biking. In other words, don’t develop yet another tele-platform, block-chain solution, fintech as infrastructure, without consulting the low-income families. Please do it in close collaboration WITH the people we want to include. We need to be out there in the fields, the slums, on the streets where the low-income family lives, eats, prays and sells their produce, to learn and listen to the financial needs of these families. Because they ‘use’ their bikes differently.

Being financially included means that you can make something out of your life, it’s a premise for healthy living, just like biking. That’s why we need the infrastructure. And we can develop, build and grow this structure jointly. We all depend on those financially excluded families – for making our jeans, digging the gold that goes into our electronic devices, farming our food- that’s why I call on you to commit to collectively contribute to building this financial infrastructure to the ‘last-mile’. Unlocking the potential for billions of people also unlocks massive new markets (in the long run) and that should be a compelling strategic incentive to invest in the infrastructure for financial inclusion. Just think of it as biking, jointly investing in biking paths.

And each and every game-changer described in Reimagining Financial Inclusion is helping build that last-mile infrastructures, always in close collaboration with partners such as yourself.




ERLIJN SIE has 15 years of experience working with multi- nationals and an equivalent number of years leading and growing social ventures. She is the co-founder of Micro- credits for Mothers and Credits for Communities and was managing director of the Banking with the Poor Net- work and HandsOn Microfinance. Currently, she works at Ashoka – the world’s largest international network of social entrepreneurs – with blue chip companies to trans- form business into a force for good through collaboration with social innovators. Erlijn has devoted her career to contributing to a more just and inclusive economy. Erlijn holds two Masters degrees in Management Sciences and Asian Studies.



Suggested Reading

To live in today’s world, you need money; yet the majority of people do not have access to it. This book features 13 game changers from around the world who are challenging the status-quo and paving new pathways to financially include low-income families. Through an in-depth study of their thought-provoking strategies, a framework for inclusion is distilled, centring around five levers to tackle the flaws of our formal financial system. If you are curious about how to get involved with changing the future of finance, this book is for you.

More information