The BBVA Microfinance Foundation (FMBBVA) organized ‘Connected for digital opportunities’ - an event which H.M. The Queen presided over. BBVA Chairman Carlos Torres Vila, Bank of Spain Deputy Governor Margarita Delgado and the Director General of the BBVA Microfinance Foundation, Javier M. Flores, all participated in the event. The debate focused on boosting economic recovery from a more innovative and inclusive perspective through technology.
In the opening presentation, Queen Letizia insisted on the need to connect everyone, since the digital divide "draws a very fine line between having access or not to many resources, such as services or education". She also pointed out that ending this inequality is "a human rights issue, as the United Nations acknowledges, and mirrors the actions promoted by the BBVA Microfinance Foundation."
BBVA’s Chairman also spoke about this responsibility: “Banks have a responsibility to society; we must generate a positive impact on people's lives. That is why we work for the inclusive development of all, leaving no one behind.” Carlos Torres Vila emphasized the work of the BBVA Microfinance Foundation, which “supports millions of people with limited resources in Latin America in order to boost the productivity of their small businesses through business training and digital skills, as well as financial education in order to promote social and economic growth that is truly inclusive.”
Leading organizations in technology and development like GSMA, OneWeb and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation participated in the event.
The challenge of digital inclusion
“Although 94 percent of the world’s population is now covered by a mobile broadband network, 43 percent of the world’s population is still not using mobile Internet. The challenge today is to close the usage gap, which is seven times larger than the coverage gap,” said GSMA Director General Mats Granryd. “A lack of literacy and digital skills, as well as affordability, continue to be key barriers to mobile Internet adoption,” he added.
Problems that complicate the digitization of the 2.7 million people with limited resources who are assisted by the BBVA Microfinance Foundation in the Latin American countries where it has a presence: Colombia, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Chile and Panama. The Director General, Javier M. Flores, discussed the progress that has been made despite these limitations: “We have developed technological solutions to bring financial services and training to our entrepreneurs so that they can join the digital transformation and both they and their families can take advantage of its benefits.”
Her Majesty the Queen at the FMBBVA Connected by the Digital Opportunity event - EFE / David Fernández
As an example of this, the Foundation presented a pilot project launched in Colombia and Peru to expand Internet access to remote places through satellite connectivity. “This initiative is already having an impact on over 2,000 people. It is allowing us to improve the service we offer them and make it more convenient for them. They can access the information they need and quality training in the same conditions as in more populated areas,” indicated Javier M. Flores.
Meanwhile Greta Bull, Director of Women’s Economic Empowerment, recalled that “technology is definitely part of the solution, but it is just a tool. Real change requires a very solid understanding of the development context in which one is operating.“
Major technological disruptors are increasingly interested in the challenge of including those who are currently disconnected. They see it as a business opportunity as well as a social responsibility. OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson, talked about OneWeb’s ambition to reduce the Internet access gap: “We partner with local telcos to maximize our impact, since they have the expertise on the ground and know the realities of the business and the communities we need to reach.” According to Neil, partnerships allow OneWeb to scale its business model and offer more competitive prices, adapted to the purchasing power of vulnerable populations. Regarding the future of satellite connectivity, Masterson pointed out that “there is a digital divide in every country and satellite communications offers a way to reach those unconnected at scale.”
From the Bank of Spain, Margarita Delgado stressed reiterated the role digitization plays in growth and above all in the recovery from the pandemic. “COVID-19 has accelerated a global trend that was inevitable and on which company survival depends,” she added.
Examples in first person
Some entrepreneurs from the BBVA Microfinance Foundation are already feeling the effects of these projects. The testimonies of Blanca Jumanga and Daicy Ochavano demonstrate this - both are assisted by the Foundation in Peru. They are part of its pilot program, which has allowed them to open a banking correspondent with a satellite antenna in the area. “The Internet allows us to communicate with other people, manage our businesses and be able to receive orders.” Avoiding long trips has saved them time and money, apart from the security of not having to travel with cash. Just two examples who gave voice to the challenge of the digital gap, and sustainable and inclusive development.
H.M. Queen Letizia with the deputy governor for Banco de España, Margarita Delgado; BBVA Group chairman, Carlos Torres Vila; the Minister for Science and Innovation, Diana Morant; BBVAMF CEO, Javier M. Flores and GSMA director general, Mats Granryd - EFE / David Fernández