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Economy & Tech

Tokyo Financial Award: Taking Microfinance to New Frontiers Using AI Algorithms

2023 Winner Bee Informatica gave credit to the supportive Tokyo startup landscape as it welcomed the cash and opportunities from the Tokyo Financial Award.

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Bee Informatica aims to provide loans to underserved small business owners and entrepreneurs in Asia and beyond. (Photo: iStock)

Inspired by the Nobel Prize-winning work of Grameen Bank, the mission of microfinance startup Bee Informatica Inc, Co is to bring small loans to Southeast Asia. This dedication also earned the company recognition at the Tokyo Financial Award 2023, organized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG).

In the mid-1970s in Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus was teaching economics when it came to his attention that near his university were dozens of craftspeople shackled to poverty by usurious money lenders. Struck by an emptiness at delivering lectures on economic theories while around him real people struggled, he felt compelled to act. Paying off the loans of 42 craftspeople-sole traders for the total princely sum of 27 US dollars, he made a genuine impact and microfinance was born.

Co-founder Fumiko Inada (center) meets with the team in Malaysia. (Photo courtesy of Bee Informatica)

Carrying the Impact Forward

Bee Informatica is carrying the torch forward, utilizing AI algorithms in order to facilitate small business loans to new underserved demographics.

Co-founder Fumiko Inada became set on the idea of social businesses and working in developing countries while a university student in Tokyo. During stints in the finance sector, including at the Bank of Japan and Rakuten Securities, Inc, Inada says she "almost forgot this dream." Her memory was jogged in 2006 when Yunus and the Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work to "create economic and social development from below."

Sparked by this reminder, she began doing work for a Tokyo NGO involved in microfinancing in Southeast Asia. "Then, I decided myself to quit my job, change my life and career drastically." Following a master's degree in local economic development at the London School of Economics, she began working with BRAC, a major microfinance institution and NGO in Bangladesh.

Challenging Paths and New Destinations

After the disruption wrought by the terrorist attack in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, in 2016, she found herself working alongside people from the worlds of tech, social businesses and startups. During this period, she met her co-founder M Manjur Mahmud, a "really techie guy," and realized they had similar ideas around "expansion of digital microfinance all over Asia."


Continue reading the full story on Tokyo Updates and learn more about Bee Informatica.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Tokyo Financial Award consists of Financial Innovation and ESG Investment categories. The Financial Innovation category recognizes and awards businesses offering promising financial products and services. Successful applicants undergo initial screening and, if selected, also receive business support to refine their offerings or enter the Japanese market. The top three companies in this category also receive cash prizes.

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Tokyo Updates is an online magazine of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. It features the latest fresh perspectives on Tokyo developments, with contributions from prominent figures, journalists, and independent writers of diverse nationalities. Focusing on Tokyo life, it includes features on leading SDGs initiatives and urban challenges.

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Interview and writing by Gavin Blair
Photos courtesy of Bee Informatica

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