The Institute of Statistical Social and Economic Research (ISSER) at the University of Ghana, with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is set to launch a new research initiative on policies and incentives to deepen digital finance retail distribution networks in low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs). The initiative will catalyze collaborations among researchers, policymakers and financial service providers to experiment with practical solutions for expanding the reach of mobile money and banking agent networks that are essential for connecting low-income households, women and vulnerable populations to formal financial services. The initiative will support projects in Asia and Africa in a manner that fosters real collaboration between researchers in the Global South and Global North.

Despite strong evidence demonstrating the essential role of agent networks in driving financial inclusion for underbanked populations, data from LMICs suggest agent networks remain quite sparse particularly in poorer peri-urban and rural locations. The initiative aims to demonstrate both a) how to effectively expand the reach of agent networks through public policy and commercial solutions that can plausibly be scaled; and b) how to advance public knowledge about the structural constraints limiting agent networks globally.

To achieve the project goals, ISSER will facilitate partnerships between policymakers, commercial digital financial service providers and researchers, and fund pilot and large scale research projects. Funding will target rigorous, high impact research projects with the potential for publication in high impact journals on economics, development, and management, and relevance for informing practical real-world solutions at scale. Prioritization will be given to projects that explore financial incentives such as subsidies, relevant regulations, and other institutional arrangements that impact agent density, as well as those that are intentional in focusing on the role of agent networks in women’s access to digital financial services. ISSER staff will support dissemination of research insights through the publication of policy briefs, hosting of convenings, and other activities designed to inform policy and practice.

The research initiative will support qualified researchers around the globe working on projects set in LMICs in Africa and Asia. Connecting researchers from the Global North and the Global South and fostering direct South-South partnerships is core to ISSER’s vision for the initiative, which aims to expand the representation of researchers from the Global South in research on development and poverty alleviation.

ISSER will launch the new initiative, “Policies & Incentives to Deepen Digital Finance Retail Distribution Networks in LMICs” in the first half of 2022 with a kick-off event and issue of the first requests for proposals (RFP) for pilot studies and experimental research.

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