New Executive Program focuses on Migrant Remittances & Financial Services

New Executive Program focuses on Migrant Remittances & Financial Services

By: Amelia Knudson
Woman at kiosk doing international banking transaction

In an era of increased digital connectivity, consumers rely on a variety of digital financial products and services to meet their daily needs. However, in many contexts, the accessibility of using digital financial services is limited and unequally distributed across members of society. One affected group is migrants, who have specific financial needs and difficulties they face in using their key financial instrument, remittances.  

To address this important issue, Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education and Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) collaborated with the United Nations Capital Development Fund to design a custom executive program for key stakeholders in the migrant financial services space. The custom program, “Migrant Remittances and Financial Services,” brought together important players from the private and public sectors, including financial service providers, central banks, and migration and financial inclusion-focused multilateral institutions, to engage in discussions around important financial difficulties for migrants. Participants joined from key regions for migration including South and Southeast Asia, East and West Africa, the Gulf states, and Europe. The new program was chaired by Professor Jay Rosengard, the Director of the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government's Financial Sector Program. 

Three main themes were identified to meet the program goal of improving financial services for migrants and their families: sustainable and inclusive economic development, financial services for the unbanked and underbanked, and innovative public policy problem-solving. “This program,” Professor Rosengard noted, “aims to place migrant remittances in the broader context of the full portfolio of migrant financial services, and then place the full portfolio of services in the broader policy context.”  


Faculty (listed below)

Maryann Bylander (Lewis and Clark), Jenna Harvey and Yuleina Carmona (WIEGO), Shawn Cole (HBS), Guy Stuart (Microfinance Opportunities/Ash Center), Jonathan Portes (UCL), Sean Higgins (Kellogg), and Teddy Svoronos (HKS) gave lectures on key topics for migrants under these themes, including sessions on migrant and informal workers, the financial behavior of migrant households, and digital payments and remittance-enabling regulation, among others. 

The Director of HKS’s Center for International Development Asim Khwaja introduced participants to EPoD’s Smart Policy Design and Implementation (SPDI) framework, a problem-driven approach for designing effective solutions to policy and product challenges that is both iterative and informed by data and evidence. Throughout the program, participants worked in groups to apply the SPDI framework to their specific challenges on topics like underutilization of formal remittance channels for sending funds to Ethiopia and designing gender-inclusive financial products for migrant women, working with a Harvard Teaching Fellow to use evidence at every step. EPoD Faculty Director Rema Hanna gave groups feedback on their final SPDI solutions before participants implement their ideas in the field. 

One group identified that remittance-receiving families in Nepal were not benefitting as much from remittances due to their low levels of financial literacy. During the SPDI process, the group found that “Remittance-earning Nepalese households are underutilizing savings and investment products, exposing them to financial shocks. To address the issue, we designed an information campaign called 'Get Skilled and Earn More' alongside a financial literacy app for migrants, targeting the 20 districts of Nepal with the highest concentration of outgoing workers."

“Gender is a dimension that often gets ignored, not in just beneficiaries, but also in how you generate and use evidence.”

Professor Asim I. Khwaja


Another important aspect of the program was ensuring that participants were equipped to consider gender equity when designing policies and products for migrants. Professor Khwaja noted that “gender is a dimension that often gets ignored, not in just beneficiaries, but also in how you generate and use evidence.” Later in the program, Professor Svoronos took participants through five key principles for thinking about equity in using evidence.  

​​Migration is an integral part of developing countries’ sustainable and inclusive growth, and improved digital financial services are needed to keep pace with these vulnerable populations’ changing financial needs. EPoD is continuing to engage with participants as they implement their SPDI projects in the field and catalyze change for financial inclusion and services for migrants, their families, and their communities across the world.