Trailblazers working together in cross-sector initiative to address financial exclusion

The Financial Inclusion Action Plan (FIAP) is an innovative collaboration that sees organisations across industry, government, not-for-profits and education coming together to improve financial inclusion and resilience across Australia. Here Vinita Godinho and Abigail Powell explain the importance of a program such as this and reveal findings from the evaluation of phase one of the FIAP program. This post first appeared on The Mandarin.

In Australia, close to 1 in 5 adults cannot, or do not know if they could raise $2,000 within a week, if faced by a financial emergency. 1 in 4 employees is so financially stressed that it lowers their productivity at work, costing Australian businesses $47bn in lost annual revenue. More than 3.3 million adults are financially excluded, lacking access to safe, affordable and appropriate financial products and services when they need them; and 2.4 million have low financial resilience, the ability to recover from a financial shock.  

These are ‘wicked’ problems, requiring holistic, system-wide change. Today, 30 ‘Trailblazer’ organisations from across the business, government, academia and civil society, are rising to the challenge, committing 580+ practical actions designed to help vulnerable people through the Financial Inclusion Action Plan (FIAP) program. This program, led by Good Shepherd Microfinance on behalf of the Australian Government in partnership with EY and the Centre for Social Impact (CSI), supports Trailblazers to understand their own role in enabling financial inclusion and resilience, and take action to realise this within their own sphere of influence.

Today marks a significant milestone for the FIAP program, as it successfully completes Phase One of a four-phased implementation. Over a 10-year horizon, this program aims to increase financial inclusion and resilience in Australia, and through this, achieve greater economic equality and inclusive growth. When people don’t have enough money to make ends meet, or cope with a financial shock, they can experience a range of challenges from going without meals to being unable to afford to get to work. In the longer term, this places individuals and their families at high risk of experiencing poorer social, economic and health outcomes. The FIAP program posits that addressing these challenges is everyone’s business, and taking action creates benefits for all sectors.

So what is FIAP? The FIAP Program provides a platform for organisations (FIAP Trailblazers) from diverse sectors to combine forces to collectively improve the lives of millions of vulnerable Australians, by taking action to address the key triggers of financial exclusion and low resilience. The 30 Trailblazers who have joined Phase One of this program have significant influence - together they employ over 250,000 people, service almost 80 percent of the Australian economy and represent 7 of the ASX Top 50 Companies.

Demonstrating that realising greater financial inclusion and resilience is not the responsibility of any one sector, Trailblazers represent financial services; utilities; government; education, legal and social  services, amongst others. Together these organisations have committed 580+ actions including more user-centred product design and delivery; financial capability-building and training; policies and processes to better understand and support vulnerable groups; collaboration and partnerships for collective action; and shared research, advocacy and evaluation.

How can FIAPs make a difference? The FIAP program is grounded in a robust Theory of Change, which links actions taken by FIAP Trailblazers to the longer-term social change required to realise greater financial inclusion and resilience in Australia. By taking these actions, Trailblazers also contribute to 12 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 1-10 and 16-17) which are associated with reducing inequalities and promoting inclusive growth. Economic modelling shows that as FIAP actions are embedded into business as usual practices over a 10-year horizon, the FIAP program could contribute towards: Increase in nominal GDP of $2.9b p.a; Increase in Household Wealth of $11.8b p.a; Reduction in Government spending of $583m p.a.16.

The Centre for Social Impact’s evaluation of Phase One of the program shows that there are many early positive outcomes. FIAP actions are addressing the needs of people identified as financially excluded or vulnerable, including women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people on low incomes or in financial hardship, people with a disability, and people experiencing domestic or family violence. 72% of Trailblazers also report that FIAPs are increasing awareness and understanding of financial inclusion and resilience within their organisations. 

The FIAP profile and pipeline is building - newer Trailblazers have found out about the FIAP program largely by word of mouth from others, and there is a growing wait-list of organisations keen to join Phase Two. Trailblazers also report a strong desire to collaborate and learn from others, making the FIAP program more than the sum of its parts. 76% of participants say they are engaging with other Trailblazers even outside of the program.

What’s next for FIAP? The successful completion of FIAPs Phase One today marks the beginning of a much longer journey. The FIAP evaluation has revealed a number of improvement opportunities, which will inform preparations for FIAPs Phase Two. These include the need for ongoing organisational commitment and resourcing (time and funding); a clearer roadmap and value proposition; and ongoing coordination and support from a FIAP Secretariat.

Continued commitment for the FIAP program is likely to depend on achieving its stated outcomes, yet attributing population-level change to organisational actions is challenging. Instead, the FIAP Evaluation can point to program-level contribution by measuring collective FIAP actions through outcomes measurement at an aggregated organisational level, and mapping other factors that could be contributing to change. This approach requires ongoing commitment from Trailblazers to collect and report on outcomes data.  

As the FIAP program considers the long road ahead, the participants should take enormous pride in having demonstrated that financial inclusion and resilience is not the responsibility of any one sector, nor is it any one issue. The evidence-base released by the FIAP program today reiterates the need for ongoing collaboration, if we are to ever ‘shift the dial’ on realising greater financial inclusion and resilience in Australia.

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Dr Vinita Godinho is General Manager - Advisory at Good Shepherd Microfinance. Vinita manages FIAP as well as overseeing Good Shepherd Microfinance's research and advocacy efforts,.

Dr Abigail Powell is Deputy Research Director and Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Impact, UNSW Sydney. Abigail leads the evaluation of the FIAP program, as well as a range of other research projects around equality and social justice.

Posted by @abigail_powell