A Conversation with Dr. Seth Garz

The FITSPA secretariate and its members had the pleasure of hosting and learning from Dr. Seth Garz in our “Conversations with Experts” series. Seth manages the Research & Measurement portfolios for the Financial Services for the Poor strategy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he works to support next generation development research to combat poverty.  Seth holds a Ph.D. in Resource Economics from UC Berkeley and is actively engaged in research at the intersection of social protection programs, financial inclusion, and gender.

During our interaction, Seth gave some insight on the work that is being done to support low-income communities and around women empowerment. Particularly for the latter, the resolve to empower women is said to be informed by the observation that there is a significant gender gap in most countries in terms of access to finance. Especially like areas of focus like South Asia where the gender gap in some countries is more than 20%.

Among other factors, lack of a national identification systems has been cited to be among the hindrances of access to finance in some economies since people are unable to either open accounts or have their passwords authenticated without a national identification card (National ID). To solve this, the foundation has supported the development of an open-source software to aid the development of digital ID which is also a pillar in the project. Various governments like the government of the Philippines and a variety of other governments are starting to utilize this technology.

Majority of the governments prefer not to be dependent on commercial service providers for a foundational and fundamental system like a National ID system. In addition to the development of technology, the Foundation also supports in the areas of advocacy and research. 

The Gates foundation also has a team that is dedicated to driving interoperability, the team applies foundational principles or what is referred to as ideal practices in developing payments systems for the low-income communities and these include non-revocability and focusing on push instead of pull. To that effect, the foundation has supported the development of interoperable switches that compliment incumbent switches and add a layer to the overall payment ecosystems in some countries like Pakistan and Tanzania. 

In Dr. Seth’s role, there is a focus on supporting research about various topics and supporting large scale surveys as well as targeted surveys.  In that case, research initiatives have been set up in a wide range on universities across continents and these include MIT, UC Berkeley, University of Ghana, and Makerere University.

The teams take a deep dive into topics related to agent banking and these are topics like, “How do you improve the quality of Agent Banking?”, “Improving consumer protection”, “The application of mobile money for paying salaries to frontline health care workers”, “Research on women’s economic empowerment, specifically connecting digital finance and how that can empower women in the rural areas” among others. Smaller data collection initiatives around digital credit and looking for financing in agricultural value chains are also among the areas of focus. In the past Uganda has been a beneficiary of these research initiatives through the publication of the Finscope studies. Even though the entire globe is of interest, the foundation has 9 focus countries which include Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Nigeria as well as Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Indonesia.  

FITSPA continues to work closely with local and international partners in various disciplines in order to contribute to the growth of the Fintech ecosystem in Uganda and beyond.