Pioneering Financial Inclusion

By MetLife Foundation

MetLife Foundation spent months in 2016 scouting across Ireland to identify the top social entrepreneurs working on innovations to advance financial health in that country. In collaboration with our grantee Verb, a firm that specializes in running large-scale contests, we ultimately sourced 50 ventures for our “Inclusion Plus” challenge. Some were tackling issues around how to make insurance more inclusive. Others were revolutionizing Ireland’s person-to-business lending market. Still others were focused on building the financial literacy and skills of the estimated 31 percent of Ireland’s population who are living in poverty. Financial well-being is a vast subject—so was the range of entrepreneurial innovations.

By August 2016, MetLife Ireland, MetLife Foundation and Verb had narrowed down the field to the final five. And in September, we celebrated GRID Finance and WeSaavy as our top winners, awarding them a cumulative €30,000 in grants.  Click below to hear more about the winners’ inspiration and plans to drive impact.

So, what was the recipe for success for these two winners? While both leverage technology to drive financial inclusion, there were five common characteristics that make these entrepreneurs deserve attention today, tomorrow and into the future.  

They are visionary, but not utopian: Top teams exhibited a combination of leadership and innovative business concepts. Their vision for the future was inspiring while remaining grounded in reality.

Superior approaches: GRID Finance and WeSaavy are delivering significantly better solutions than existing alternatives for low- to moderate-income Irish. Combine a strong value proposition with the potential to scale to hundreds of thousands of users, and the result is real impact.  

A keen focus on their customers: Driven by lived experiences—both winners spent significant time understanding the lives of the economically disadvantaged abroad or in their own backyard—GRID and WeSavvy grasp the economic realities of low-income individuals. This gives them a competitive advantage to better understand their customers, leading to the development of products and services that respond to what people actually need, as opposed to what companies think they should have. In the case of GRID, Andrea Linehan, for example, has a personal story that motivated her to join GRID and grow its customer base. Founders and senior team members who have a personal connection to the problem they are working to solve truly stand out. Their authenticity, empathy and true commitment to the solution are palpable.

Proof of concept: Ideas have little value without execution. Winning teams demonstrated a track record of resourcefulness and a strong grasp of the problem, potential obstacles and the requirements for success. They presented their business models and vision for the future with a confidence that assumed their ability to change the equation.

They embraced a healthy dose of self-promotion: This may be one of the most easily forgotten basics. The voice of an entrepreneur, especially a newcomer, will not be heard unless he or she believes it deserves to be and seizes opportunities to tell the story.

From Ireland, Inclusion Plus now moves on to China and India—whose entrepreneurs can perhaps take cues from the Irish experience about what makes a winner. Over the next three years, Inclusion Plus will run in 10 countries in seven languages, providing a minimum of US$50,000 in grants in each country.