Online speech Queen Máxima at the World Food Programme Executive Board Annual Session in Rome

Queen Máxima is the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Executive Director McCain, 

Humanitarian needs are greater today than at any point in modern history. Conflict has disrupted lives, pushing a record 103 million people from their homes by mid-2022. 

Extreme weather events, including fires, floods, and droughts, are profoundly impacting livelihoods and communities. 

And every day, 345 million people wake up facing food insecurity. Some will go hungry. Some will make choices such as to feed their children instead of themselves. Recent inflation and rises in food prices are pushing communities further into insecurity.

People caught in humanitarian crises have a multitude of needs:  water, medicine, and shelter. Empirical evidence shows that financial inclusion can be an effective tool to help meet these needs and build buffers to weather the worst of a crisis.

For example, people with savings and access to cash have a better chance of finding a way out of crisis.

We saw this when floods swept through Mozambique. Remittances transferred to rural households meant they could obtain food, water and medicine until the waters receded.

People displaced by civil war in Burundi were less likely to remain trapped in poverty when they could participate in a community savings group. They avoided terrible choices, such as to sell off their land or send their children into the workforce.

In Niger, depositing social transfers into women’s mobile money accounts gives them greater power and freedom to make their own spending decisions. Often, one of their first choices is to improve household diets.

Unfortunately, the many benefits of financial inclusion have yet to reach most people in crisis. More than 75% of people in countries facing crisis are not in any way connected to the formal financial system.  And this already high share is getting worse according to the 2021 Findex survey.

We need to close this gap for good. That is why the cash policy that WFP is considering today gives room for hope. As the world’s preeminent humanitarian organization, WFP can bring financial inclusion to places where it is most needed.

With mobile money, WFP can quickly and safely transfer resources so that people in crisis can purchase food and find shelter. It also provides flexibility for recipients to choose how and when to spend their money.

They also gain options to save small sums, prepare for future expenses, and build resilience. With experience in using mobile money, they may build confidence to use other financial services, such as insurance. 

Cash transfers have many benefits, even beyond those for individuals. People spending in local shops, for instance, helps local businesses. Every $100 in cash assistance can generate up to $250 in the local economy. So it is a multiplier effect.

Digital channels can help lower delivery costs—ensuring more resources go directly into the hands of people in need. So, this new policy helps make WFP more efficient.

By many measures, WFP’s new policy is a milestone in financial inclusion, deserving congratulations. It emerged from deep engagement with people working on both financial inclusion and humanitarian action.

Now the next step is action, so the policy can realize its promise. 

Governments and regulators can set rules so that financial inclusion continues and even expands in crises, such as by guaranteeing access to the formal financial system for people who are not citizens. Other key building blocks include implementing tiered and remote know-your-customer requirements, promoting digital ID, and developing interoperable payment systems. These enablers have comprised an important part of my advocacy with global leaders and policymakers.

Donors and multilateral institutions can find and finance the best local solutions on a broader scale. They can help bring humanitarian and financial actors together to solve problems and realize mutual benefits.

Financial service providers can responsibly innovate in designing products that fit the needs and capacities of this market. Moving forward, emerging fintech models that allow secure data sharing and open finance arrangements can result in more customized and convenient solutions. 

Providing financial services to people in crises is one half of the equation. The other is to ensure that digital technology is introduced responsibly and leads to better development outcomes. For this we need to be able to monitor risks, prevent fraud, and build financial knowledge and capabilities.

Women should be at the front and center of every solution. Restrictive gender norms compound already steep barriers to financial inclusion in crises. Women are 10% more likely than men to need help using financial services. Programs must be deliberately designed so that services reach women, know how to use them, and can make their own financial choices.  

Crises are getting worse in today’s world, not going away. WFP’s new cash transfer policy is a long and welcome step towards the day when all crisis-affected people know that even in dire circumstances, financial access continues. They can still put food on the table, secure health care, seek work and sustain hopes for a better future. 

Working together, we can make that happen. Now is the time to act. Thank you.