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Digital Finance Is the Key to Post-Pandemic Development

After decades of rising inequality and unsustainable investment, we have the tools and knowhow to achieve inclusive, sustainable development. We must use them to leverage new digital-finance technology to build a financial system that works for people and the planet.

NAIROBI – “We are experiencing the sharpest decline in per capita income since 1870,” United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) António Guterres pointed out in a recent speech, warning that the COVID-19 crisis has put 70-100 million people at risk of being pushed into extreme poverty. Preventing that outcome will require concerted and comprehensive action to reboot and rebuild the global economy in a sustainable, inclusive way. Technology – in particular, new digital-finance tools – can play an important role in this process.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, digital services – from telemedicine to remote work to online learning – have been a lifeline for the millions of people subjected to lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders. Digital finance has been essential to facilitate many of these processes, enabling people to pay for goods and services, receive compensation for their work, access social-assistance payments, and secure financial support, such as bank loans, for their distressed businesses.

Even before the pandemic, the need to harness the power of digital finance for the good of the planet and its citizens was increasingly being recognized. Indeed, that was the central goal of the UNSG’s Task Force on Digital Financing of the Sustainable Development Goals, on which I have served for the last 18 months.

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