The Queen bears witness to how digital tools improve the lives of millions of vulnerable entrepreneurs

  • Artificial intelligence and facial biometrics to conduct financial transactions and draw up climate vulnerability maps that optimize data to safeguard harvests against climate change are just some of the advanced technologies that BBVA Microfinance Foundation (BBVAMF) is making available to 3 million vulnerable entrepreneurs in Latin America
  • 2.6 billion people have no Internet access, according to the latest report from UIT, the technology body within the United Nations Organization. In Latin America, 70 million women do not use mobile internet, while in Spain 63% of women have “basic” digital skills
  • H.M. the Queen chaired the event, organized by the BBVAMF where an entrepreneur and her microfinance officer explained how digital tools developed by the Foundation have changed their lives: “Hearing María and Rony is very meaningful because they give sense to the Foundation’s work so that inequalities, poverty and social exclusion could give way to an equitative, sustainable and inclusive development.”

In our digital world, not leaving anyone behind has become a challenge for the organizations working towards inclusive, equitable and sustainable development, bodies such as BBVA Microfinance Foundation (BBVAMF). The institution has hosted an event chaired by H.M. the Queen showcasing some of the technological tools that are helping to improve the lives of vulnerable people, and how it is using these tools to serve a million microentrepreneurs in Latin America.

María Jorge Álvarez, an indigenous entrepreneur from Peru’s Amazon jungle, was one of the speakers at the event held at the BBVAMF headquarters in Madrid. She explained how digitalization helps her on a daily basis, enabling her to save time and money: she checks her bank balance using facial biometrics, she sends money using her voice password and she has a microfinance officer who comes to her home with a tablet to train her, answer her questions and carry out the same transactions for which she would otherwise have to travel to a branch office.

“I do everything on my cellphone. It’s easy and it is very helpful for my business. At the beginning I was untrusting, and besides I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it, but now I use the app every day”, she says. At 38, she is a mother of four, whom she is bringing up alone. She didn’t finish high school, but her determination to do well led to her taking out a small loan eight years ago with Financiera Confianza, BBVAMF’s Peruvian institution. Her first business was a store selling handcrafted goods; then a small grocery store; next, some land where she grows avocadoes. Thanks to her entrepreneurial drive she has her own house and vehicle, pays for her eldest daughter’s university studies and helps other women in her community.

Her loan officer at the BBVAMF’s Peruvian entity, Rony Sulca, has been advising her for years and has traveled with her to Madrid to take part in the event: “I have watched as María has developed and I am proud of her. I go to her place of business to assist her but entrepreneurs can come to our offices if they prefer and visit “the digital corner”. This is a place where they can learn and lose their fear of technology with the help of a BBVAMF advisor. It’s very useful”, Rony explains.

A third of the world’s population is still not connected

2.6 billion people have no internet access, according to the latest report from the UIT, the technology body within the United Nations Organization. In Latin America 70 million women do not use mobile internet. Behind these figures there are people facing severe limitations: they have no decent housing, they lack the necessary training, they live in remote areas, they have insufficient funds to become entrepreneurs and, furthermore, over half are women.

Closing the digital gap to mitigate other limitations, such as social, economic and gender biases, that are also disproportionately endured by vulnerable people, is a priority for the BBVAMF. Over 800,000 of the low-income entrepreneurs it serves are online and 90% of their loans are granted using the app that every loan officer has on their tablet, and which also works offline. 

Data and climate change: automatic compensation in the event of natural catastrophes

Digitalization generates huge volumes of data that the Foundation is employing, amongst other purposes, to assess its entrepreneurs’ level of exposure to the effects of climate change  -droughts, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes…- and to provide tailored solutions: “We draw up maps that allow us to identify people in risk scenarios and establish the extent of their vulnerability to a catastrophe”, states Gabriela Eguidazu, Head of the BBVAMF’s Innovation for inclusive growth, at a roundtable of experts during the event.

To mitigate these effects and help microentrepreneurs, the Foundation has designed insurance products that pay automatic compensation: “Our system detects a natural disaster when it happens, activating the immediate payout of compensation to those affected”, explains Eguidazu.

As well as these solutions and digital products, BBVAMF makes free, online educational platforms available  to entrepreneurs, so that they can learn financial literacy, management and digital skills.

The BBVA Microfinance Foundation has been working for over 15 years in five Latin American countries and has supported more than 6 million vulnerable entrepreneurs. A task that the Queen highlighted during her speech opening the event: “The Foundation accurately measures its impact and it is overwhelming and beneficial. Hearing María and Rony is very meaningful because they give sense to the Foundation’s work so that inequalities, poverty and social exclusion could give way to an equitative, sustainable and inclusive development.”

The CEO of BBVAMF, Javier M. Flores, commented “we should not impose limits when technology is being used for the common good; we continue to work to enable technological progress to close gaps and to move towards a more just and a more equitable world; we need to collaborate, innovate and make commitments, even more so, to make digitalization a tool for the wellbeing of all”.

The Foundation made a public commitment to disburse over 7 billion euros between 2021 and 2025 to finance four and a half million low-income entrepreneurs, most of them women, supporting them with digital solutions, internet access and transaction services, altogether impacting over 14 million people.