Two billion people around the world lack access to basic financial services like savings accounts and credit. Access to financial services enables people to invest in education, housing, and business opportunities. It also enhances the ability to respond to and recover from shocks like a poor harvest, health crisis, or natural disaster. There is increasing evidence that financial inclusion is a critical enabler for many of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and closing the access gap can play a role in reducing extreme poverty.
For 11 years, the annual CGAP Photo Contest has sought out original and striking images that demonstrate the impact of financial inclusion around the world. This year's contest looked to capture the evolving landscape of financial inclusion and specifically invited submissions in four key areas: (1) Mobile money and innovations in digital finance; (2) Women’s economic empowerment; (3) Resilience; and (4) Small businesses.
The 2016 Contest received 3,000 submissions from professional and amateur photographers in 70+ countries. Entries were judged on technical excellence, artistic merit and overall impact by a panel of distinguished judges: Nicole Cappello, Senior Photo Manager at National Geographic; Emily Epstein, Visual Editor at The Atlantic; and Indira Williams Babic, Director of Photography and Visual Resources at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
CGAP is a think tank housed at The World Bank. Our vision is a world where everyone has access to and can use the financial services they need to improve their lives.
From the photographer: "I came across this father and daughter working together during a visit to Twante township in Myanmar, near my home in Yangon. The town of Twante is known for its pottery industry. For centuries, the people of Twante have lived off their pottery skills. Even today, their pots are of huge demand throughout Myanmar, but a lot of the younger generation travels to neighboring Yangon to do other jobs. The father explained that they usually put the earthen pots to dry outdoors, but move them under the thatched roofs of their homes where sunlight hits when the weather is unpredictable. This family was working hard to earn between K800,000-K900,000 per month ($600-700 US), with a little under half – around K350,000 – going to support two grandparents.
"I’m a self-taught and amateur photographer from Myanmar. My current profession is seafarer but photography is my real passion. I believe photography helps people to see and feel. I love to capture the culture of people and places and their daily lives."
From the judges: "The thing that stands out to me here is the tenderness in the work being done, and the idea of passing on your skills and your business to your family." ―Emily Epstein, The Atlantic
Why it's relevant to financial inclusion: Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) – family businesses, independent shopkeepers and other small entrepreneurs – are often the largest employers in developing countries. According to the World Bank Enterprise Surveys, many of these firms cite limited access to financial services as one of their main constraints to growth. Increasing financing for MSMEs can therefore lead to larger and more profitable businesses.
From the photographer: "The lady in this photograph is Amina Bibi, 42 years old. She lives with her two sons in the Cooch Behar district of West Bengal, India. Her husband is a carpenter working in a different state of India. Amina told me that she has to manage everything herself as her husband is away. During the monsoon season when there are floods, she and her sons have to shift all their belongings to a safe place. The conditions were really miserable. There was water everywhere, inside their living rooms, kitchen, bathroom. There was no electricity or drinking water. When I saw the finished photograph, I felt little uneasy as the thought struck me that I took the photograph but could not help these people, neither financially nor emotionally.
"I am a school teacher by profession and photography is my hobby, my passion. I want to play on the layers of humanity with my camera. CGAP's is an interesting contest because its theme is related to social issues."
From the judges: "I like their eyes. You want to get into their story and find out what they are thinking. Does the boy conceive of a life outside of this? Does he have dreams?" ―Indira Williams Babic, the Newseum
"They clearly have pride in their home and things they've achieved, even though they are literally in water." ―Nicole Cappello, National Geographic
Why it's relevant to financial inclusion: In poor regions in India, women head households, manage their financial lives through remittances received, and sometimes seek daily wage labor to boost meager and fluctuating incomes. In some areas, banks work with women's local self-help groups to establish agents in villages that would enable women to save formally and make payments without having to trek long distances to far-away banks. Empowering women customers to choose and use the services that benefit them will be key to advancing financial inclusion in India.
From the photographer: "This is the hottest area of Myanmar and most people from this area live by farming. Here, a farmer is going to his pea farm with his family to teach agriculture. Planting and selling is their own business in their village. I walked along the village road and took this photo from a bridge."
From the judges: "When you look at the shadows, you see so much more of their movement and identity, and it gives much more information – something you would not know – just by looking at them from the top." ―Nicole Cappello, National Geographic
Why it's relevant to financial inclusion: Globally there are approximately 500 million smallholder households - around 2 billion people - who rely on small-scale agriculture for their livelihoods. These households make up a large portion of the world's poor living on less than $2 per day and typically cultivate less than five acres of land and lack access to basic financial services. Improving their lives is critical to making a dent in global poverty and advancing financial inclusion.
From the photographer: "This man gets an order for a lot of coconuts by phone."
From the judges: "This is a very real image – doing business where he is. The phone helps him overcome his environment." ―Indira Williams Babic, the Newseum
Why it's relevant to financial inclusion: The high cost of building and operating brick-and-mortar bank branches has been a major obstacle for extending financial services to the poor. Physical bank branches are expensive to maintain in far-flung communities, while traveling to urban areas is costly for many rural customers. Unbanked individuals are increasingly gaining access to financial services through digital channels. Banks, microfinance institutions, mobile operators and third party providers are leveraging mobile phones, point-of-sale devices, along with networks of small-scale agents, to offer basic financial services at greater convenience, scale and lower cost than traditional banking allows.
From the photographer: "This lady is trying to help her family by selling these guavas as her husband cannot work. She will sell it to the whole seller in the local market. From there it will go throughout the country and outside of the country. This is her contribution."
From the judges: "It is humbling to see the pride and resilience and perseverance of people around the world." ―Nicole Cappello, National Geographic
Why it's relevant to financial inclusion: Gender parity is a critical issue in financial inclusion – out of the world's 2 billion unbanked people, 1.1 billion are women. Almost half of women around the world lack access to basic financial services, like savings accounts, credit or insurance. This has huge implications for families, communities and economies at large. By understanding the cultural and regulatory barriers preventing women from accessing financial services, providers can better reach half of the world's potential customers.
From the photographer: "This is a decorative umbrella maker in Klaten, Central Java, Indonesia. These micro-businesses need capital to grow."
From the judges: "This is very delicate work. It is interesting to see something so beautiful being produced in difficult surroundings." ―Emily Epstein, The Atlantic
Why it's relevant to financial inclusion: Poor people live and work in the informal economy and are often self-employed. As a result, they need a broad range of financial services to create and sustain livelihoods, build assets, manage risks and smooth consumption. According to the IFC, small and medium enterprises employ about half of the workforce in developing countries but face significant constraints to growth compared to larger firms, including excessive red tape and limited access to finance. Increasing evidence shows that access to formal financial services, including credit, can be beneficial for self-employed people or small businesses.
From the photographer: "This photograph was taken in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Jashim is a rickshaw puller who lost his left hand in a road accident. He never wanted to beg from others and did not let his disability stop him. He drives a rickshaw all day though it is very hard work for him. He has a wife, two little girls and a boy. In the morning he drops his children at school with his rickshaw. He dreams that one day his children will be well educated and will have good jobs. I feel inspiration from Jashim."
From the judges: "This image shows true and tremendous resilience in overcoming obstacles in life." ―Nicole Cappello, National Geographic
Why it's relevant to financial inclusion: 31 percent of adults in Bangladesh have financial accounts, but many Bangladeshis still rely on cash. Only 22 percent of account holders saved with their accounts, and just 1 percent paid school fees with a financial account. That means that many workers receiving wages run the risk of having their life savings lost, stolen or destroyed in a crisis. Switching to digital transactions - rather than physical cash - could help many low-income workers protect themselves against these risks.
From the photographer: "This man is preparing metal for the production of metal boxes used by children when they go to boarding school. His female boss, Mrs. Teresia Kiaithira Muiruri, has a microloan through the MFI Jitegemea Credit Scheme financed by Oikocredit International. She buys the metal sheets and pays local craftsmen to turn them into school boxes. Mrs. Muiruri, a widow with four children. employs a team of three workers and can pay for her son and daughter to attend university."
From the judges: "It's clear that the photographer paid attention to details. This is an image that is hard to capture." ―Nicole Cappello, National Geographic
Why it's relevant to financial inclusion: Mobile money is powering financial inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa where 34 percent of adults have an account at a financial institution or through a mobile money provider. This includes the 12 percent of adults who have a mobile money account. The region also boasts strong use of digital payments and formal savings among account owners. Despite this progress, two-thirds of adults remain unbanked. Policy makers and businesses will play an important role in closing that gap.
From the photographer: "Rita Suaña Coila is the first woman mayor of the town of the Uros, in Peru's Puno Province. The Uros live on floating islands on Lake Titicaca from Inca times. She had a hard time getting where she is today because many relatives, including her husband, despised her for being a woman. In daily walks on the islands, she talks to neighbors, participates in activities, coordinates other meetings and takes time to pray."
From the judges: "She stands alone in this photo, much as she did in front of those in her family and community who were not supportive of her work. This is a symbolic, powerful image of a strong woman." ―Indira Williams Babic, the Newseum
Why it's relevant to financial inclusion: In Latin America and the Caribbean, 51 percent of adults have an account, up from 39 percent in 2011. Much of this growth stemmed from rising account ownership among adults living in the poorest 40 percent of households. Other signs of progress include robust use of accounts to make and receive payments. Yet, 210 million adults in the region remain unbanked. (Findex Notes: May 2015)
From the photographer: "A man works at removing integrated circuits from the main board of an old TV in a warehouse, which requires skillful ability. With a small increase in capital, they could also increase their earnings."
Why it's relevant to financial inclusion: Vietnam is one of the World Bank’s focus countries for achieving Universal Financial Access by 2020, as 69 percent of the country’s adult population is still unbanked. Increased financial inclusion could make a significant difference for the low-income populations who often work in traditional industries and are especially affected by financial exclusion.
"This body of work is not really something that exists on wire services. The message is one of respecting people in charge of their own destinies."
―Emily Epstein, The Atlantic
From the photographer: "Felt production was an important handicraft in Turkey and is maintained in a limited way in the Balıkesir District. Demand has declined and uses for felt have become narrower, so the numbers of felt craftsmen have gradually decreased."
From the judges: "The photographer captured him when he is completely enmeshed in his work. It is a very evocative image." ―Emily Epstein, The Atlantic
Why it's relevant to financial inclusion: Europe and Central Asia has made progress in financial inclusion, and 51 percent of adults have an account at a financial institution or through a mobile money provider. However, savings rates are low compared with the rest of the world, and 105 million adults in the region remain unbanked. A lack of trust in banks also provides a major obstacle to further increasing account ownership. Digitizing payments could play an important role in increasing financial inclusion by improving the efficiency of payments, enhancing security of payments and reducing possibilities of corruption.
From the photographer: "I met this watchful lady on her way to seek water for her small family. Despite her age, weakness and the long way, she perseveres for the sake of her family. I have a great sense of respect for all women who sacrifice themselves for the welfare of their families."
Why it's relevant to financial inclusion: Account ownership is largely stagnant in the Middle East, with just 14 percent of adults owning an account. Although men and richer adults have made some progress, women, poorer adults and young people still struggle to get a foothold in the formal financial system. Shifting payment of wages and sale of agricultural products from cash into accounts could reduce the number of unbanked adults. Digitizing payments could also enhance the security of payments.
From the photographer: "The responsibilities of a woman are not limited only to household chores. Many are also engaged agricultural practices."
From the judges: "There is purpose and strength in the direction she is moving." ―Indira Williams Babic, the Newseum
Why it's relevant to financial inclusion: In South Asia, 46 percent of adults have an account. However, South Asia has one of the largest gender gaps in the world. In addition, 625 million adults remain unbanked - 31 percent of the global total of unbanked adults. Digitization of payments shows potential to spur an increase in account penetration and usage.
From the photographer: "One Acre Fund field officer Giselle Marie Nizigiyimana introduces Burundian farmers to the Sun King Pro solar lamp. Through One Acre Fund, the farmers are able to purchase this light along with other products on credit, which they have an entire year to pay back. Many of the farmers said they plan to purchase the light since they don't have electricity in their homes and can't afford to buy a light like that at a shop, where they'd have to pay everything upfront."
Why it's relevant to financial inclusion: In Sub-Saharan Africa, 65 percent of the total population (and over four fifths of the rural population) does not have access to electricity, while 66 percent of adults do not have a financial account of any kind. Driving financial inclusion and expanding energy access have traditionally been considered separate development objectives, but CGAP and other stakeholders are now exploring the ways that energy service could be the key to banking the rural poor, as in the case of "pay-as-you-go" solar.
From the photographer: "Fish sellers sell their fish in a local market. They are supporting their families and economic growth."
From the photographer: "A woman in Bagan, Myanmar carries her child to the fields where she works. The faces of both are covered with thanaka paste, which protects from the strong sun."
From the photographer: "This is how fishermen live along the river. Every day they use homemade nets to catch fish, earning money to maintain their lives."
From the photographer: "Ali Mahad, 49, poses with his cellphone near the city of Kebribeyah, Ethiopia. During Ethiopia’s most recent drought, Ali had to walk more than 80 kilometers to find water and lost valuable cattle along the way. He had no way of saving money, until Mercy Corps helped open a mobile banking business in Kebribeyah. Now he sends, receives and saves money using his cell phone. Ali has 10 children. 'I want a good life for me and my children,' he says. 'I want them to learn, to get educated and to start a business.'"
From the photographer: "Four and half thousand women laborers work in the Shariyakandi area of Bangladesh, famous for exporting red chilis. But their income is lower than their efforts, as they are usually paid around $1 US per day."
"Photography is one of the most powerful means of telling a story. being able to tell your story through images, Which are accessible to everyone, is a good way to further your mission."
―Indira Williams Babic, the Newseum
CGAP (the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor) is a global partnership of over 30 leading organizations that seek to advance financial inclusion. CGAP develops innovative solutions through practical research and active engagement with financial service providers, policy makers, and funders to enable approaches at scale. Housed at the World Bank, CGAP combines a pragmatic approach to responsible market development with an evidence-based advocacy platform to increase access to the financial services the poor need to improve their lives. Learn more at www.cgap.org.