Supporting EMERGE-ing social entrepreneurs

Diana Biggs
Nov 24, 2016 · 6 min read

On November 12th Anthemis Director Gaia Fasso, amazing Graphical Facilitator Joy Blundell and I travelled to Oxford’s Said Business School to take part in this year’s EMERGE conference. At the conference, we were able to listen to the latest thinking in social impact from young professionals, sector experts, students and activists, and took the opportunity to host a live Q&A session on the Anthemis Fellowship to attract future game-changers looking to create positive change in the financial services industry.

For those who aren’t familiar, the Anthemis Fellowship is a 6-month program led by the Anthemis Institute which supports emerging entrepreneurs through their venture build by providing structure, mentorship, and access to the Anthemis ecosystem.

Here’s a summary of my conversation with Gaia about the Fellowship experience:

Gaia: What attracted you to the Anthemis Fellowship and motivated you to apply?

Diana: For me, finding the Anthemis Fellowship was a combination of serendipity, a little luck and a great network. Serendipitous because the timing was perfect for where I was in my career. Lucky because I discovered the Fellowship just before the application deadline. And as a female working in both technology and the not for profit sector, I’ve been able to build a strong network who gently point out opportunities of interest — it so happened that all three components worked at the right time!

Throughout my career, I’ve worked for and with international organizations, NGOs, governments and on the corporate side, everything from early-stage startups to global financial institutions. In navigating this path, three areas have been central for me:

● A desire to be continually learning and exploring

● A belief that technology is central to progress, development & growth, in a scalable and inclusive way

● A desire to do work with positive impact, which promotes equality and economic inclusion

● A belief that profit should and can be combined with purpose

The Fellowship came at a time when I was exploring ways to make real change in financial services and found that many areas of the sector lack diversity, inclusion and social impact. I had always heard great things about Anthemis but never had any direct involvement. As I read about the Fellowship and learned more about the firm, I was really impressed by their expertise, focus on ecosystem and culture, and their Institute initiatives. I was eager to learn from their experience and to get a better understanding of the digital finance space.

Gaia: How has your experience of the Anthemis Fellowship been to date?

Right now, I’m two months in and what’s really impressed me about Anthemis is the diversity of their own team, their focus, pragmatism and creativity. I feel lucky to work within such a friendly, authentic environment and in a finance company with the generosity and foresight to do programs such as the Fellowship. Personally, I feel they ask very little from us in comparison to what they are giving — the mentorship, access to their network, and even just pure credibility from the connection to a firm as well respected as theirs. This further demonstrates to me how genuine their desire to actually build a positive future for financial services is, both inside and outside of this program.

The Fellowship itself has really helped me by providing structure and process to my venture building, in addition to mentoring and feedback — this helps me move, evaluate and reach results and decisions much more quickly than I think I could do alone.

Gaia: What is the structure of the Fellowship and what do you do on day to day basis?

Diana: The Fellowship is a 6-month program wherein Anthemis provide a structure and resources but the work itself is very self-driven. This flexibility allows for fellows to continue their ventures from whatever stage they are at and to work at our own pace. We are provided with desk space in the Anthemis London office and are encouraged to work there to really be part of the community and ecosystem during this time. We have weekly check-ins with the Fellowship manager and bi-weekly group check-ins to discuss our learnings and challenges to date.

Anthemis also have experts assigned to the various stages of the venture design process, who provide guidance on those areas, and we hold expert workshops on specific topics of interest, which we suggest and vote on ourselves as a cohort. In addition to this, we’ve each been assigned a mentor from Anthemis’ expansive ecosystem, who have each been an entrepreneur in their own right, to provide general mentorship around the entrepreneurial experience.

Gaia: You’ve been working in the area of financial inclusion — how did you become interested in this? Why is it so important?

Diana: Currently more than 2 billion adults worldwide — mostly poor and disproportionately women — still lack access to regulated financial services. In the UK alone, that number is 2 million. Many factors contribute to this financial exclusion, including the cost of services and the distance to a banking provider. It’s an important issue because from the research we know that this lack of access adversely affects education, health and housing, diminishing the quality of life and opportunity for growth and development (see my presentation from a recent lunch discussion at Anthemis).

As a management consultant in financial services, I worked in Nigeria and South Africa and through various conversations during these trips, I became aware of the financial exclusion that exists in the current system. It brought to life how the lack of these services affects communities and emphasized the difficulty of life without them. I became rather obsessed with the issue and left my job at Oliver Wyman to go to West Africa to work directly with microfinance organisations to examine the issues from the bottom up.

Financial inclusion is now increasingly a feature on the international agenda. We are making good progress, and governments, NGOs, corporates and startups are increasingly dedicating technical and financial resources to this topic — but we still have quite a way to go.

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Areas we need to tackle urgently include:

Exclusion facing women and the rural poor: I was raised by a single mother, that combined with my experiences working in technology and finance, I feel quite passionate about the need for gender equality. Women in developing countries are 20% less likely than men to have an account and 17% less likely to have borrowed from a formal financial institution in the past year. Financial institutions must adapt financial products to suit women’s needs. This effort can range from providing women with valid ID cards and enabling them to independently open an account to enhancing their ability to make basic financial decisions.

Financial literacy and capability: This is needed for everyone who is new to financial services — but it shouldn’t only be limited to that core group! There are many of us who need to improve our financial literacy. For example, a recent PwC report found that when tested on financial concepts, only 24% of millennials demonstrated basic financial knowledge.

Valid identification documents: Without a valid form of identification, it’s impossible to get into the banking system. There are some interesting startups in this space investigating technologies like blockchain for this space and looking into aspects like ownership and concepts like self-sovereign identity.

Consumer protection and regulation: The poor are generally hit by sub-par services, taking advantage of their limited options and trapping them in a cycle of poverty. This needs to be addressed — we need FAIR financial services offerings.

It’s great to see initiatives like the World Bank’s Universal Financial Access 2020 (UFA2020) initiative to encourage making finance accessible to all. This is where you come in!

How would you reduce or solve financial exclusion by 2025? Send your answers to and the winner will join us at the Anthemis Hacking Finance Breakfast in London on December 6, where they will get a chance to talk about themselves and their idea :)

For anyone interested in the Fellowship, the next intake is in March 2017. For more information, email

Anthemis Insights

Thoughts on the future of financial services from the Anthemis ecosystem

Diana Biggs

Written by

Working on the future of finance, in a way which promotes privacy, wellness and inclusion. All views are my own. Nomadic tendencies.

Anthemis Insights

Thoughts on the future of financial services from the Anthemis ecosystem

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