UNCDF SHIFT in ASEAN: 2015-2020 A Market Journey

Evidence shows that improving access to meaningful financial services have a measurable impact on poverty by improving the ability of poor people to draw on wide social networks in times of trouble, significantly improving their resilience to shocks, and reducing the chances that they fall deeper into poverty. Financial services also have demonstrated a direct impact on the Sustainable Development Goals such as health, education, gender equality, and food security.

The United Nations Capital Development Fund's Shaping Inclusive Finance Transformations (UNCDF SHIFT) program in ASEAN was launched in 2015. UNCDF SHIFT in ASEAN advances financial markets by changing the behavior of market actors to stimulate investment, business innovations and regulatory reform in growing inclusive enterprises. The program aims to catalyze innovative partnerships for accelerating financial inclusion and women’s economic participation in the least developed countries (LDCs) in the region. UNCDF SHIFT ASEAN thanks the Australian Government for the generous support for the program.

UNCDF SHIFT ASEAN has been supporting efforts to enhance financial inclusion and women's economic participation for over five years. The following page outlines key results and lessons learned through that work. Continue scrolling to view a resource library including detailed case studies on the program’s impact and learnings.

What we do

How we do it

SHIFT ASEAN operates through four pillars to help achieve its goal of enhancing financial inclusion and women's economic participation. These pillars are:

5 years of results

Fund Facility: Since its launch in 2015, the innovative solutions supported by SHIFT ASEAN's Fund Facility has reached over 2.86 million un- or under-banked beneficiaries in ASEAN, delivering a variety of financial services to 54,073 MSMEs and 2.8 million individuals. The overall proportion of women reached through the programme is 38.5 percent, and amongst MSMEs this figure rises sharply to 84 percent. In total, over US$ 5.2 million have been leveraged in match-funding capital from the private sector and the program’s private sector partners have raised over US$ 74 million in capital following our investments.

These results were achieved through SHIFT ASEAN's portfolio of 30 investments across nine countries. Throughout project implementation, grantees have been supported to pilot and scale a variety of demand- and supply-side solutions. This has also involved working alongside grantees to obtain the necessary regulatory approval needed to spearhead their new business ideas.

Map of SHIFT ASEAN work by number of grantees in country and innovation funds

Data and Analysis Hub: SHIFT ASEAN has conducted various regional thematic studies on each of the program's target groups of women, MSMEs, youth and migrants. These studies have led to new insights to guide product innovations, investment impact and policy guidance toolkits. They have also shed light on the relation between inclusive finance and various sustainable development goals including gender equality (SDG 5), energy access (SDG 7), MSME growth for youth and women, remittances and migration (SDG 8), and partnerships for sustainable development (SDG 17). This has culminated in over 87 publication and communication pieces including eight working papers, four policy notes, 12 infographics, six videos and dashboards, 34 blogs and 23 third party citations over the period between 2015 and 2020.

Learning and Development: SHIFT ASEAN's capacity building activities have trained 47 finance professionals in gender sensitive product and strategy development leading to new product innovation or tweaking of existing products, and 80 regulators and professionals in customer journey mapping, data literacy and management informing development of policies such as the national financial inclusion strategies of countries in the region.

Policy and Advocacy: Technical guidance has been provided to support national financial inclusion strategies in the region. This also includes the production of a gender disaggregated data toolkit for financial practitioners and a guideline note on gender considerations to balance financial inclusion with financial integrity. SHIFT ASEAN played an integral role in the establishment of the ASEAN Working Committee on Financial Inclusion (WC-FINC) in 2016 and has supported the National Bank of Cambodia and State Bank of Viet Nam in crafting their national financial inclusion strategies. SHIFT ASEAN has also conducted research highlighting the perspective of Persons With Disabilities in financial inclusion in Lao PDR.


Since 2015, SHIFT ASEAN has evolved its approach based on the needs and opportunities in the region. The core objective of enhancing women's economic participation drives this evolution. Over the past five years, the program has engaged across a number of thematic areas.

Thematic Area: Women's Financial Inclusion & Economic Empowerment

Evidence show that while women and men have an overall equal access to finance (e.g. credit savings, insurance, digital payments) across ASEAN, there remains a gap in terms of the usage of financial services (Findex, 2017).

Women’s financial inclusion has been fundamental throughout the implementation of SHIFT ASEAN’s activities, where the 30 innovations launched across the program's five challenge funds have reached 2.86 million individuals out of which 1.1 million are women. Examples of supported business models include e-wallets, remittance-linked savings accounts and a financial literacy gaming app. In Viet Nam, SHIFT ASEAN's investment in LienVietPostBank’s ViViet e-wallet has shifted the market for e-wallets that cater to the specific needs of women. In Cambodia, the formal domestic remittance market was further developed through the program's investment in Amret’s remittance-linked savings account.

Through the ASEAN WC-FINC, SHIFT ASEAN has supported the central banks of Cambodia and Viet Nam to develop robust national financial inclusion strategies to institutionalize sex-disaggregated data and policy making. Close support was especially provided to Cambodia and Viet Nam to introduce gender specific targets within the countries’ strategies. Prior to SHIFT ASEAN's support, the two countries lacked a clear direction to achieving financial inclusion; the program's capacity building activities therefore equipped the National Bank of Cambodia and State Bank of Viet Nam with data analysis skills to help set specific goals to advance financial inclusion, especially for women. Apart from involvement through the WC-FINC, UNCDF further provided strategic guidance and support through SHIFT to Myanmar and Lao PDR in developing their national financial inclusion strategies.

At a regional level, SHIFT ASEAN has been granted board membership by the ASEAN Secretariat’s Financial Inclusion Division, and co-developed an M&E workshop for ASEAN member states in 2019 which culminated in a regional guidance note on financial inclusion M&E. Various policy guidelines and toolkits, in partnership with the Alliance for Financial Inclusion, have also been produced, for ASEAN regulators to focus on gender-sensitive financial inclusion, including a sex-disaggregated data toolkit and gender considerations in balancing financial inclusion and a toolkit for gender considerations in relation to anti-money laundering and combating financing for terrorism. These efforts have further supported ASEAN member states in the implementation of their national financial inclusion strategies.

To improve the capacity of financial service providers to better address the needs of women, SHIFT ASEAN engaged with a total of 33 financial service providers in capacity building activities to help them adopt a gender-sensitive approach to product development. Under the Gender Equality Fund in Myanmar, SHIFT ASEAN worked with 11 financial service providers to implement the gender self-assessment toolkit. In Cambodia, a total of 16 microfinance institutions were trained in gender smart product development and/or customer journey action research. The customer journey action research conducted by SHIFT ASEAN provided data insights into the savings behavior of Cambodians, which served as a basis for the gender smart product development workshops held with microfinance institutions. These trainings have resulted in new ideated products that are tailored to the needs of women clients, thus enacting change within the market for financial services.

Thematic Area: MSMEs Financial Inclusion and Growth for Women and Youth

Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) contribute between 23 and 58 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in ASEAN nations, and employ between 52 and 97 percent of the total workforce (ASEAN Secretariat, 2015). Despite their importance, access to finance remains a prominent challenge for many businesses, causing the MSME finance gap in ASEAN to add up to US$ 830 billion.

SHIFT ASEAN has focused on reducing the barriers faced specifically by women MSMEs, who encounter additional gender-specific challenges in accessing finance and business support services. Of the 30 innovations piloted, nine have targeted entrepreneurs of micro, small and medium enterprises. These innovations have reached 54,073 entrepreneurs, of which 84 percent were women. These entrepreneurs benefitted from a variety of innovative loan products, such as supply chain financing and specially designed individual women MSME loans.

To build the capacity of professionals working on financial inclusion to better address the needs of micro, small and medium businesses, especially women entrepreneurs, UNCDF has equipped financial service providers with the skills to move the market towards gender-sensitive products for microentrepreneurs. For example, in Myanmar, UNCDF pioneered the market for individual women MSME loans with BRAC. Through UNCDF’s challenge fund investment and product ideation workshops, BRAC continues to refine and scale up its new loan products.

Despite the large pool of talent and entrepreneurial capacities, young entrepreneurs in ASEAN further face severe constrains in accessing enterprise credit (only four percent) and savings (only four percent). SHIFT ASEAN and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Youth Co:Lab initiative have undertaken two regional studies in 2018 and 2020 to identify opportunities for youth entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, particularly in the digital economy. The generous funding support for these reports was provided by the Australian Government and the Citi Foundation.

Thematic Area: Remittances & Migration for Women Economic Empowerment

The vast majority of cross-border payments flow intra-ASEAN (85 percent) from developed to developing economies, offering a lifeline for developing nations such as Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam. This would be even higher when accounting for the large amount of unregulated or informal remittances, which are estimated by UNCDF to be around US$ 8-17 billion for Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR, and at around US$ 13 billion for Viet Nam alone (UNCDF 2017).

Recognizing the significant opportunity for formalizing and digitizing remittances within the ASEAN region, an innovation challenge was launched by SHIFT ASEAN in 2017 aiming to formalize and digitize remittances and linked financial services for migrants and their families. To date, the three innovations launched have brought in 164,583 remittance transactions through formal remittance services powered by digital platforms. An estimated 53 percent of the receivers of these remittances were women and in 2019, 28 percent received low-value remittances of below US$ 200 indicating that a portion of these receivers fall in the low-income customer segment. In total, they have added US$ 117 million of inflows to the formal economies of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam, representing a significant shift towards formalized remittance services.

The cost of cross-border remittances in the region has also seen a significant decrease from 2016 to 2020. In 2016, average remittance cost was: 6.7 percent into Cambodia, 5.6 percent into Myanmar and 7.1 percent into Viet Nam . Through the Thunes aggregator network that SHIFT ASEAN invested in, this has fallen to an average of 1.5 percent into Cambodia, 0.1 percent into Myanmar, and 0.5 percent into Viet Nam by March 2020.

The SHIFT ASEAN program has also increased the number of remittance service providers using digital remittance services in the ASEAN region. Prior to the program's investments in the cross-border remittance market, only a small number of banks in Cambodia and Myanmar had provided remittance services, facilitating small volumes of around 100 transactions per month. However, in the third quarter of 2019 alone, 35,204 and 2,233 transactions have been facilitated respectively in Cambodia and Myanmar by Thunes’ aggregator network. In the case of Myanmar, this increase in transactions has been facilitated by SingCash, an e-wallet remittance channel that is also supported by SHIFT ASEAN’s challenge fund. The challenge fund investments have therefore driven the volume of cross-border remittances, and in the case of the Singapore-Myanmar corridor, pioneered a new type of remittance service done through an e-wallet.

On the policy front, SHIFT ASEAN has increased regulatory interest and possible actions in accelerating low value digital remittance services. SHIFT ASEAN’s remittance work has gained the support of regulators such as the Monetary Authority of Singapore, which rendered its FinTech Festival Platform as a launch event for the program's innovation challenge in 2017. UNCDF has also showcased its research and innovations work further at the international remittance forum in Malaysia held at Bank Negara in 2018, as well as presenting its outcomes at the ASEAN Working Committees for Financial Inclusion and Payment and Settlement Systems in 2019, and individual Central Banks. As a testimony of SHIFT ASEAN’s role as a market enabler, the program played a facilitating role between regulators and financial and remittance service providers in Cambodia, which helped one applicant receive its license.

Thematic Area: Digital Finance for Clean Energy

Universal access to clean energy solutions is critical for a range of development outcomes such as job creation, economic development, and climate change mitigation. An important development in enhancing access to clean energy solutions has been new finance mechanisms that make it affordable for low income households. By combining clean energy with innovative finance mechanisms, such as pay-as-you-go (PayGo), low income households can both access the energy they need while also entering into the formal financial system.

The first Innovation Fund window of SHIFT ASEAN invested in five pay-as-you-go innovations, bringing solar home systems and clean cookstoves to households in Myanmar and Cambodia. 10,011 people have been able to use clean energy solutions, of which 33 percent are women. One of the program's investments, Greenlight Planet, has also become a market leader for solar home systems in Myanmar.

To learn more about SHIFT ASEAN’s market journey, see below for detailed case studies on the program’s impact and learnings.

SHIFT ASEAN Resource and Case Study Library

This section contains links to specific case studies detailing the learnings and impact of SHIFT ASEAN’s activities. Scroll down to learn more about the program's market journey on a regional and country level.

Regional LEVEL

On a regional level, SHIFT ASEAN has developed various toolkits and guideline notes to support policy-makers and regulators in ASEAN to incorporate a gender lens in financial inclusion. The program has also supported various financial service innovations, via the Fund Facility, focusing on women’s financial inclusion and cross-border remittances.

Also, SHIFT ASEAN contributes to creating insights in understanding financial inclusion of youth in the ASEAN region, specifically through the lens of youth entrepreneurship. Links to more information about these various regional initiatives are below.

Thematic Area: Women's Financial Inclusion & Economic Empowerment

Thematic Area: Remittances & Migration for Women Economic Empowerment

Thematic Area: MSMEs Financial Inclusion and Growth for Women and Youth


In Cambodia, SHIFT ASEAN has contributed to creating actionable insights for financial service providers and regulators to drive women’s financial inclusion, such as through its customer journey action research. This research has supported SHIFT ASEAN’s partnership with the National Bank of Cambodia in developing a national financial inclusion strategy. Through the Fund Facility, SHIFT ASEAN has engaged with financial service providers to develop and roll-out services, such as Amret’s Family+ product to drive the domestic remittance market. Click on the following links for more information about the various initiatives in Cambodia.

Thematic Area: Women's Financial Inclusion & Economic Empowerment


In Myanmar, UNCDF has contributed to market changes for clean energy access and women’s financial inclusion, including women MSMEs, through its Fund Facility. Business models invested include pay-as-you-go solar home systems, individual women MSME loans and a financial literacy gamification app. UNCDF has also provided capacity-building trainings for financial service providers to ideate gender-sensitive loan products, further developing the market for individual women MSME loans in Myanmar with a fund facility grantee. Click on the following links to view these case studies and further insights from UNCDF.

Thematic Area: Digital Finance for Clean Energy

Thematic Area: Women's Financial Inclusion & Economic Empowerment

Thematic Area: MSMEs Financial Inclusion and Growth for Women and Youth

Viet Nam

In Viet Nam, SHIFT ASEAN has created financial inclusion insights and assisted regulators in advancing women’s financial inclusion in the country’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy. Through the Fund Facility, various financial service providers were able to pilot and scale innovative services to advance women’s financial inclusion. The case study of LienVietPostBank’s Vi Viet e-wallet has been included to show how SHIFT ASEAN’s intervention has contributed in developing the e-wallet market in Viet Nam. Click on the following links for more information on the various initiatives in Viet Nam.

Thematic Area: Women's Financial Inclusion & Economic Empowerment


In Indonesia, SHIFT ASEAN’s Fund Facility has helped to drive digital financial inclusion of MSMEs. This was achieved through innovative business models like distributor-backed lending in the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) value chain. Click on the following links to view the case studies and for more information on SHIFT ASEAN’s activities in Indonesia.

Thematic Area: Women's Financial Inclusion & Economic Empowerment

UNCDF SHIFT in ASEAN is supported by:


The UN Capital Development Fund makes public and private finance work for the poor in the world’s 47 least developed countries (LDCs).

UNCDF offers “last mile” finance models that unlock public and private resources, especially at the domestic level, to reduce poverty and support local economic development.

UNCDF’s financing models work through three channels: (1) inclusive digital economies, which connects individuals, households, and small businesses with financial eco-systems that catalyze participation in the local economy, and provide tools to climb out of poverty and manage financial lives; (2) local development finance, which capacitates localities through fiscal decentralization, innovative municipal finance, and structured project finance to drive local economic expansion and sustainable development; and (3) investment finance, which provides catalytic financial structuring, de-risking, and capital deployment to drive SDG impact and domestic resource mobilization.

Updated October 2020


Created with images by Taylor Simpson - "untitled image" • Anggit Rizkianto - "untitled image"