What is “Financial Inclusion”?

Roughly 2 billion individuals and tens of millions of enterprises around the world lack access to basic financial services. For the 50% of poor households who are “unbanked,” this represents an incredible economic barrier that prevents them from accessing the credit, savings and insurance services essential to the well-being of their families and businesses. For small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who struggle to secure capital, this creates critical obstacles to their own growth, as well as the economic and employment potential they represent.

The global community is increasingly aware of the critical role financial inclusion plays in reducing poverty, promoting economic prosperity and catalyzing enterprise, and has made notable strides in promoting access to finance around the world. However, large scale innovation is still needed to ensure products, services and capital are available, accessible and appropriate to the needs of underrepresented individuals, enterprises and communities.

The Challenge

The challenge for this category is to propose novel products, services, tools or mechanisms that either address unmet needs of the financially underserved, or help extend existing services to populations at the unbanked “last mile.”

Examples of proposals include (but are not limited to):

  • Programs to support SMEs to access or manage capital
  • Innovative credit or savings products/services for smallholder farmers
  • Mobile applications that increase access to financial services for low-income populations
  • Financial literacy programming for underserved communities
  • Measurement tools to track and monitor financial inclusion
  • Infrastructure (physical or electronic) that promotes widespread accessibility


The “Financial Inclusion” category is open to all matriculated undergraduate and graduate students from the following campuses:

  • UC Berkeley
  • UC Davis
  • UC Irvine
  • UC Los Angeles
  • UC Merced
  • UC Riverside
  • UC San Diego
  • UC San Francisco
  • UC Santa Barbara
  • UC Santa Cruz
  • College of William and Mary
  • Duke University
  • Makerere University (Uganda)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Michigan State University
  • Texas A&M University




Multidisciplinary teams are strongly encouraged.   For additional information about general contest rules, timing and how to apply, please refer to the Contest Application Requirements.

Past Winners



USAID is the lead U.S. Government agency that works to end extreme global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies to realize their potential.

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