Expanding Banking Access to the Poor: New Gates Foundation Initiative Based at Wagner

Expanding Banking Access to the Poor: New Gates Foundation Initiative Based at Wagner

The importance of access to finance in building the wealth of low-income individuals in developing countries is clear, but there are many questions about how to improve that access most effectively. The anecdotal success stories about microfinance are well known; substantive research on how to increase and improve access is still lacking.

Now, a five-year Financial Access Initiative funded by a $5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will bring together top researchers from Harvard, NYU, Yale, and Innovations for Poverty Action to assess existing research on global financial access, generate new evidence through field work, and inform regulatory policy.

"As donors in this space, it is critical that we make decisions informed by sound research," said Bob Christen, Director of Financial Services for the Poor at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "We hope that the Financial Access Initiative will yield data, analysis, and research that decision makers need to deliver financial services that markedly advance the well being of the poor."

One of the biggest hurdles to opening up financial sectors to those living in poverty is a lack of hard data and analysis about how poor households manage their finances and cope with risk: which financial products do the poor use and why, who has access to what, at what cost and where. The impact of regulation and government policy on the broad availability of finance is still badly understood. Most fundamentally, despite the anecdotes, rigorous evidence is lacking on the economic and social impacts of different interventions and policies.

Director and Principal Investigator Jonathan Morduch said: "The Financial Access Initiative will systematically address important knowledge gaps and contribute to a much stronger understanding of the issues hindering access to good financial services."

Under the direction of Morduch, a professor at New York University, the Initiative is based at NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and is co-directed by professors of economics Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard and Dean Karlan of Yale. Christina Barrineau, who formerly headed the International Year of Microcredit for the United Nations, will lead the Initiative as Managing Director.

Field research will be coordinated by Innovations for Poverty Action, an organization based in New Haven, Connecticut, and headed by Dean Karlan. The research will build on studies with existing microfinance partners in a dozen countries including Mexico, Peru, India, Pakistan, Ghana, and the Philippines. The Initiative is also developing new collaborative relationships to broaden the potential of the research and dissemination of findings.

To reach Christina Barrineau, call 212.998.7536 or send email to

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Recommends Book Co-authored by NYU Wagner Professor Jonathan Morduch

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Recommends Book Co-authored by NYU Wagner Professor Jonathan Morduch

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is currently recommending Portfolios of the Poor, a groundbreaking book co-authored by NYU Wagner Professor of Public Policy and Economics Jonathan Morduch, for reading and discussion by the Facebook community.

The influential book is the result of systematic research on how the global poor – billions of people around the world who live on less than $2 a day – manage their money. Zuckerberg’s book club, A Year in Books, selects works with big ideas that impact public policy, society and business. Portfolios of the Poor is his 17th pick.

Professor Morduch, managing director of the Financial Access Initiative, wrote the book with Daryl Collins of Bankable Frontier Associates, who received her Ph.D. in Public Policy Analysis at NYU Wagner, and researchers Stuart Rutherford and Orlanda Ruthven.

Published in 2009 by Princeton University Press, Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day is the first in-depth examination of how the world’s poorest households patch together financial lives.The book shows that they do so with surprising sophistication and complexity, refuting commonly held assumptions about the poor.

Over 250 families in Bangladesh, India, and South Africa participated in the study. Their financial diaries show that poor households are not living hand-to-mouth, but that most of them save and borrow with their future in mind, and maintain complex financial lives because they are poor, not in spite of it.


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