H.M. Queen Máxima as the UNSGSA

UNSGSA Queen Máxima speaks with smallholder farmers during a field visit to learn about ACRE Africa’s digital insurance product called, Weather Index Insurance. Photo: Patrick van Katwijk
UNSGSA Queen Máxima is pictured with smallholder farmers discussing their experiences using a mobile crop insurance product while on a country visit to Tanzania in 2022. Photo: Patrick van Katwijk

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

Who is the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA)?

Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands has served as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA) since 2009. She was appointed by former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Queen Máxima is also a trained economist who previously worked in international finance and emerging markets. 

As Special Advocate, she is a leading global voice on advancing access and usage of affordable, effective, and responsible financial services that lead to positive outcomes in people’s lives. The UNSGSA raises awareness, serves as a convener, encourages leaders, and supports actions to expand financial inclusion at a global and country level, all in close collaboration with partners from the public and private sector. For example, the UNSGSA is Honorary Patron of the G20’s Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI), a platform for all G20 countries, interested non-G20 countries and relevant stakeholders to carry forward work on financial inclusion. She also first convened the CEO Partnership for Economic Inclusion (CEOP) in 2018. Additionally, with a focus on the future global financial system, the Special Advocate is a Global Agenda Trustee for the World Economic Forum’s Global Challenge Initiative. 

Complimenting her work as the UNSGSA, Queen Máxima promotes inclusive finance in the Netherlands. These efforts include a focus on encouraging entrepreneurship in the nation to strengthen the growth potential of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), notably as a member of the Committee for Entrepreneurship. The Committee was established by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy and publishes an annual trend analysis entitled ‘State of the SMEs’. Building on a social society, where people take care of each other and everyone can participate, is another priority of Queen Máxima’s in the Netherlands, in her role as Patron of the Orange Fund. The importance of financial education and managing money sensibly is also an issue Queen Máxima focuses upon as the Honorary Chair of Money Wise Platform in the Netherlands (an initiative of the Ministry of Finance).

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What is the Special Advocate’s mission?

The mission of the UNSGSA is to advance financial inclusion for development through strategic and sustained advocacy. Financial inclusion seeks to unlock economic opportunities and improve lives by providing everyone with the financial tools they need to protect against hardship and invest in their futures, leading to positive development outcomes. The UNSGSA aims to unlock development opportunities and economic inclusion for all. 

As of 2021, 76% of adults worldwide now have an account with a financial institution or a mobile money service provider; account ownership around the world increased by 51% since 2011.

What are her main areas of focus?

The UNSGSA engages on inclusive finance for development at global and country levels. 

Her key global advocacy priorities are to: 

  • Support policies and public goods work for technology-enabled financial inclusion and enable opportunities in the digital economy. 
  • Ensure diverse financial services are used and have a positive impact on people’s lives, build their resilience against shocks contribute to their financial health and wellbeing.
  • Encourage innovative solutions for underserved segments, including women, smallholder farmers, and micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).

To advance on these priorities, the Special Advocate works closely with the UN, G20, global standard-setting bodies (SSBs), World Bank, World Economic Forum (WEF), as well as national and international leaders, technical experts, global and national CEOs, thought leaders, and more.

IMPACT: Financial inclusion has become a critical component to the SDGs—referenced in seven of the 17 as a key enabler for fulfilling the SDGs. Leading up to the adoption of the SDGs, the UNSGSA and UN representatives of the 32 nations which comprise the Group of Friends of Financial Inclusion worked to ensure financial inclusion’s strong presence within the agenda. 

Her country-level advocacy often focuses on countries where there is still a large number of unbanked populations. In multiple country visits each year, the Special Advocate:

  • Identifies priority policy changes based on country-specific contexts for advocacy with her partners for discussion with policymakers and leaders in each country visited.
  • Supports follow-up with her partners on key reforms to help ensure progress and success.
  • Engages with the private sector to help identify opportunities with a business case to increase financial inclusion, including through innovative private-private partnerships, and to facilitate increased dialogue between the private sector and policymakers. 

She also meets with low-income families and various private sector leaders to learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to financial inclusion.

IMPACT: Promoting regulations that take advantage of new technologies to expand access and usage to underserved populations while ensuring consumer protection is central to the UNSGSA’s agenda. She was pleased to support revisions and new regulations which came into effect through country visits, for example most recently, in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan and Senegal.

How does the Special Advocate carry out her work?

The Special Advocate advances financial inclusion in several different ways, notably:

Country visits: The Special Advocate has undertaken 46 ‘country visits’ since 2009. She also conducted four virtual country visits during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021. (Queen Máxima has undertaken an additional 93 trips in her capacity as UNSGSA to various nations).

Speeches and panel discussions: During conferences, international gatherings, and country visits, she delivers targeted messages in the form of speeches, video messages, and panel participation. This includes high-level interventions at the World Economic Forum's Annual Davos Agenda, G20 and Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI) events, and the UN General Assembly.

Bilateral and small-group meetings: During her travels, as well as in the Netherlands, Queen Máxima meets with a wide range of leaders and decision makers to discuss financial inclusion, including during the UN General Assembly, the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings, and the WEF Annual Meeting in Davos. She also convened working groups on key topics such as agriculture, financial health and inclusive green finance. 

During country visits, global gatherings and conferences, and other various activities in the U.S. and Europe—such as meetings at the UN and The Hague—the UNSGSA has participated in over 1,200 bilateral and small-group meetings globally during her tenure.

How is the model built on partnerships?

The Special Advocate is supported by a small office based at UNDP. As an advocate, she relies on partnerships to leverage her impact. In particular, she collaborates closely with an advisory Reference Group of leading international organizations in financial inclusion to share expertise and suggest strategic opportunities.

The Reference Group is composed of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion, Better Than Cash Alliance, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, Flourish Ventures, International Finance Corporation, International Monetary Fund, UN Capital Development Fund, UN Development Programme, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and World Bank Group.

Through multiple working groups and partners, including members of the Reference Group, key advocacy messages are developed to help inform the UNSGSA’s global advocacy and priorities. For example, in February 2019, under the supervision of the UNSGSA Office, the Fintech Working Group of the UNSGSA and the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Alternative Finance (CCAF), with support from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), published a report on early lessons from pioneering regulators using innovation offices, sandboxes, and regtech to seize the potential of fintech and address its challenges. Additionally, in December 2020, the Queen Máxima launched a Financial Health Working Group with leaders from financial and development sectors.

Queen Maxima also works closely with the private sector. In 2018, she convened a group of 10 leading CEOs from large global companies from a variety of sectors, including banking, technology, and consumer goods, and launched the first CEO Partnership for Economic Inclusion. These companies from the financial and non-financial sector are putting in place private-private partnership that are good for their business and at the same time expand financial inclusion. 

What are some key examples of financial inclusion progress?

  • According to the World Bank Global Findex (2021), 76% of adults worldwide now have an account with a financial institution or a mobile money service provider; account ownership around the world increased by 50% since 2011.
  • The financial inclusion gender gap is 4% worldwide (decreased from 7% in 2017) and 6% in developing economies (decreased from 9% from 2017). This is the first time the gender gap has narrowed since 2011, according to the latest 2021 Global Findex.
  • More than 50 countries have either launched or are currently developing a national strategy.
  • Standard-setting bodies (SSBs) and select regulators met for the first time in 2011 under the auspices of the Special Advocate—and have met regularly since then. Through an enhanced cooperation agreement, all SSBs have a platform to engage the financial inclusion community and regularly convene at a  biennial high level meeting on financial inclusion.