Month: December 2016

Empowering today’s women for the women of tomorrow



Johanna Ryan will be speaking at a dinner hosted by Women Advancing Microfinance UK on Tuesday 31st January 2017 in London. She will talk to us about the work VisionFund International does and the impact it’s having on the lives of women. Tickets to the event are available here.

Ahead of the event, we asked Johanna to give us some thoughts about what it is that makes VisionFund International different, how it has evolved its approach to empower women and drive financial inclusion through a gender lens.

Tell us about VisionFund and how you empower women.

For more than ten years VisionFund has worked to build solid foundations in our microfinance institutions to reach rural, under-served areas in over 30 countries, impacting the daily and future lives of millions of children.  Whether it is a mother of a suffering child or a caregiver of an orphan, we regularly witness the economic empowerment of women through access to financial services, and the benefit this change has on children.

This is why more than 70% of our clients are women and why we implement products and services   that are tailored for women and help them to change the lives of their children by enabling them to afford healthcare, education and proper nutrition.   While we continue to make progress, we know we have a long way to go and many more opportunities to transform the lives of women worldwide.

Why are you intentionally targeting female clients? How does financial inclusion go beyond small loans?

Seventy per cent of the world’s poor are women. Sixty-three per cent of them do not have access to a bank account. Eighty cents of every dollar earned by a woman is invested in her children (compared to 30 cents by men). Women in most countries earn on average only 60 to 75 per cent of men’s wages. Around the world, mothers and female caregivers work tirelessly – inside and outside the home – to improve the lives of children and provide them with brighter futures.

At VisionFund, our mission is to empower women, who in turn will enable their children to have access to resources and opportunities that they lacked. If we aim to work with women, we need to model our offering to their requirements. Thus VisionFund specifically encourages women to become loan officers as they better understand the needs of women clients and their children.  We have therefore created a recruitment programme that targets women with “life experience,” which is currently being rolled out across our network. As Melinda Gates once said – a strong and empowered mother is the best champion a child will ever have.

You are developing an initiative called the Women’s Empowerment Fund. Can you explain a little about what you hope to achieve?

The Women’s Empowerment Fund aims to empower two million women and impact six million children across our microfinance network by 2021. The key innovation of the Fund is the gender lens – and especially a mother’s lens – that will be applied to all our economic empowerment work to increase financial access for vulnerable women and develop financial and other services that are tailored to meet women’s needs.

To hear more from Johanna about VisionFund’s unique approach, please join us for the dinner discussion on Tuesday 31st January 2017. Tickets for the event are available here.

Key learnings about women & enterprise from the Trust Women Conference 2016

By Miranda Barham, WAM Steering Committee

Cherie Blair moderates Women Entrepreneurs panel at Trust Women Conference, December 2016

  1. “The established way is not necessarily the best. If you want a different outcome, you need to do things differently. You need to be defiant.”

These were wise words from Professor Muhammad Yunus who talked to us about his experience in setting up Grameen Bank. He wanted to set up a bank for the poor, that lent to women. His contemporaries thought it could not be done. Prof Yunus looked at what the banks did that lent to the rich and he decided to do the opposite. Instead of pursuing contemporary banking models, he removed the need for collateral and created a banking system based on mutual trust, accountability, participation and creativity. More than thirty years later, Grameen Bank’s success has defied all those who told him he would not succeed. Not only has he created a successful bank in his home country of Bangladesh, but he has set up projects in 58 countries, including the US when in 2008, he created Grameen America. It now has 19 branches with over 85,000 borrowers. All the borrowers are women and the repayment rate is 99.5%. As Prof Yunus says to all those naysayers, “Trust women.”


Professor Muhammad Yunus makes the keynote speech on Day 2 of the Trust Women Conference

  1. Cherie Blair, human rights lawyer and founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women told us that, “155 countries have a law that impedes women’s economic development.”

Mrs Blair quoted a World Bank report released in 2015 which analysed the legal restrictions to women’s employment in 173 countries. It found that 155 of these countries have at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities and in 18 countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working.

The report goes on to say that lower legal gender equality is associated with fewer girls attending secondary school relative to boys, fewer women working or running businesses, and a wider gender wage gap.

  1. Women lead only 5% of global companies but in the UK, women lead 40% of social enterprises.

While women lead very few companies on a global basis, they are much more highly represented in the UK when it comes to leading social enterprises.

Servane Mouazan, Founder of Ogunte, a firm that offers coaching and services to women in social enterprises and their business support providers, felt that this is because traditionally women’s enterprise has been promoted in areas where women have been serving for some time, as members of the voluntary sector, as unpaid carers, or in roles where women have been ‘relegated’ for centuries – such as the domestic sphere and education. As women started to volunteer and professionalise, they have done so in areas where social enterprise businesses emerged, and hence are more likely to lead them than mainstream commercial businesses.

  1. Only 5% of venture funding goes to women.

Clearly this is a major hurdle for women entrepreneurs seeking funding for new ventures and is at odds with global intelligence network Thomson Reuters’ assertion that ‘companies run by women perform better’. If they perform better, it should be an obvious investment choice, which leads to the next point.

  1. There is a pervasive unconscious bias when it comes to women

The conclusion was that much greater awareness and education is needed to counteract what appears to be a pervasive unconscious bias towards women whether it is in gender stereotyping of the toys girls play with, attitudes at educational institutions or in the workplace.

Siobhan Reddy, co-founder and studio director of Media Molecule, told us that by age 12, women were already discouraged from pursuing a career in technology. Siobhan has made it a priority to seek and hire women in her high-tech business, which in the predominantly male sector of gaming, boasts 30 percent female staff and 26 different cultures. In pursuit of greater female empowerment, she has acted to address the unconscious bias in a whole range of ways from ensuring the inclusion of non-stereotyped female characters in games to discouraging her female colleagues from answering the phone, the door and making tea. No more ‘Polly put the kettle on’ here!

7 Things We Learnt from Trust Women -Day 1

by WAM UK Steering Committee


CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation, Monique Villa

  1. There is a $285BN Credit Gap for Women Entrepreneurs Globally

Goldman Sachs and the IFC estimates that there is  $285BN credit gap for women entrepreneurs, with 70% of women-owned small businesses underserved by financial institutions in developing countries.  At a breakfast event, White and Case discussed the challenges to ensuring women had legal rights over their businesses – a significant challenge preventing women accessing financial services for women owned SMEs. White and Case are working with Women World’s Banking to research the legal and cultural challenges facing women entrepreneurs and business owners. Having conducted research in 14 countries across emerging markets, they highlighted some of the key challenges as below:

  • Property rights prohibiting women from holding property
  • Divorce laws determining that assets can only be owned by men, transferred to men upon divorce.
  • Inheritance laws prohibiting women to inherit assets.
  • Legal issues preventing women from having bank accounts or access to credit, for example challenges in determining national ID numbers.
  • Illiteracy, preventing women from using technology and financial services
  • Cultural ideas that women don’t manage money or businesses

In 2014, Goldman Sachs and IFC created a $600MN loan facility for women entrepreneurs as an evolution of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 women project.

  1. The Migrant Crisis Is Giving Rise To Greater Human Rights Abuses And Slavery, Including Women And Children.

Thomson Reuters Foundation, CEO, Monique Villa opened the 5th Trust Women conference with a compelling address covering a range of topical issues affecting women globally today, making a link between the migrant crisis and human rights abuses. As the former Italian Foreign Minister, Emma Bonino explained “in the west we are creating a new breed of subjugated human beings in the migrant crisis” in our failure to respond appropriately to the issue.  As she astutely summarised “we known we don’t take enough action to solve this problem, creating our own problems – then we blame global mobility.” She stressed that the European response to the migrant crisis has led to a loss in credibility to the West’s international development work – in the observation of the failure to respond to challenges on its doorstep, how can its advice in developing countries be taken seriously?

Migrants are vulnerable to trafficking networks and increasingly, radicalisation.  Europa calculated that the number of asylum seekers to the EU doubled in 2015 vs. 2014.

  1. Slavery Still Exists Today

We heard from speakers from Nepal, Mauritania, the US, amongst many others on how prevalent slavery is today. Lisa Kristine, a humanitarian photographer shared harrowing stories and images of child and adult slaves around the world in her modern day slavery campaign. The size of the problem is huge – an estimated 46 million people are in modern day slavery, according to the Walk Free Foundation.

Biram Dah Abeid, Lawyer, Human rights activist and President of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA)- educated us on the institutionalisation and prevalence of slavery in Mauritania, where 50% of the population belong to a caste vulnerable to slavery. Slavery is matrilineal and can be inherited – children borne into being slaves for their mothers were. He explains that although Mauritania abolished slavery in 1981 (the last country to do so) and has adopted international law, the domestic Sharia Law is dominant and permits slavery to exist with impunity. He spoke of girl slaves being sexually abused and enslaved by a master class being culturally and legally accepted.  He explained that men were often abler to flee and escape, whereas girl and women slaves are not as likely to do so. Biram himself has been arrested many times for peaceful and legal protest against slavery.

  1. Children are Vulnerable to Trafficking and Slavery Worldwide

Walk Free estimates that approximately 1 in 3 slaves are estimated to be children.  Aside from labour and domestic work – there are an estimated 250,000 child soldiers in the world, 40% of which are girls and expected to be treated as wives for male soldiers. The facts were incredibly sobering.  We learnt of exploited labourers toiling in Brick kilns in India and Nepal working over 16 hours’ day in over 120 Fahrenheit heat, covered in dust. Children in Ghana working on one of the largest man made lakes in the world –  and they don’t know how to swim. Children in India favoured for their small hands in manufacturing and labour. The examples were too many to count; in contrast to these devastating accounts we heard from an incredibly brave panel of child slavery and trafficking survivors:

  • Tindyebwa Agaba, Human rights activist, who survived being a child solider in Rwanda to become involved in international conflict work and advocacy.
  • Sunita Danuwar, Executive Director, Shakti Samuha, who survived sexual enslavement as a girl in Nepal.
  • Ashley Cacho, FAIR Girls Survivor Advocate, who survived failures by the Social Care and Criminal Justice system in the US and sex trafficked by a relative.

All three have been detained by their states and failed by their justice systems, but they spoke movingly and openly of their experiences showing incredible resilience and commitment to speak out against modern slavery, moving from victim to survivor to champion for other victims.

Representatives from Interpol and New York Country District Attorney spoke about their efforts against child abuse, trafficking and slavery. Although they acknowledge that there is still too little work ongoing to address the scale of the problem; developments in technology and concentrated effort in child abuse victim identification and awareness has helped advance their work of late

  1. Accept That Slavery Is Likely In Corporate Supply Chains – Actively Seek to Identify It To Address It

Panel and video speakers with representatives from Tesco, Primark, Hilton and Thai Unions discussed slavery in large corporate supply chains. The presence of corporates on the panel was commended for the simple fact of publicly acknowledging the issue – many brands, not just low-cost ones – perpetuate the problem by refusing to acknowledge it. As Monique Villa, CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation suggested: “no company can say that they are slavery – they simply do not know”. Or they have a very small and simple supply chain.

Slavery has increasingly become a corporate governance issue following decades of being overlooked. By comparison, Villa emphasises that “companies pay attention to anticorruption because the law is harsh on them, but not on slavery because the pressure isn’t there.” However important policy changes such as the Human Slavery Act in the UK is making slavery a business issue – corporate bonds are now required to sign off on Anti-Slavery statements, making it a board issued to incentivise top down change.

Thai Union stressed that engagement is key – if corporates boycott suppliers from countries at risk of slavery they can inadvertently make the problem worse in country. Instead engagement can work to lift standards. There was agreement that corporates, industry bodies and NGOs needed to work together – forging coalitions against slavery to actively look for evidence of it to resolve, not just sticking to high level codes of conducts or acting in silo.

  1. Global Migration – Not A Crisis, Nor New Normality – But Reality

50% of unaccompanied children who arrive in Europe vanish. Victims of human or organ trafficking, or other forms of exploitation. Geopolitical uncertainty, conflicts and climate change render human migration a trend likely to stay. Alternatively, Thomson Reuters argued that migrants remained stable and approximately 3% of the global population, but the global population is growing in absolute numbers, therefore recent trends should not be seen as a crisis but instead a new normality. This is coupled by the trend of rising anti migration sentiment around the world with more border walls being built in recent years– 70 in total currently.

International President of Medicins Sans Frontieres, Dr Joanne Liu, argued passionately that we only see migration as a crisis now because it is happening in our back yards in Europe– much like the example of the spread of Ebola, which was not a taken as seriously until it started affecting the West. Liu has been working in conflict areas for over 20 years and observes that migration has always existed and there are no such things as “good or bad refugees”– the right to move and be treated with dignity is fundamental.  Humans Right Watch argued that the migrant population arriving in Europe is approx. 1% of the EU population – numerically not challenging yet there is a political crisis in response to accepting migrants. The panellists compared the European response- failure to accept and integrate 1% vs. Lebanon which has accepted Syrian refugees equaling 25% of its population. Given the prevalence of migration and historic relevance of remittances in financial inclusion, it begs the question as to what the microfinance community and impact investors can do to address the challenges and opportunities migration poses today.

  1. The Challenges Are Immense But There Are Incredible People Doing Incredible Work And Civil Society Has A Role To Play.

The conference’s focus on modern day slavery and migration was sobering indeed. Survivors told their stories of trauma and hard hitting facts documenting the scale of slavery, trafficking and refugees – with women and girls especially vulnerable. However, what was also evident was human resilience and the power of organising to challenge these global challenges. Speakers and panelists continuously highlighted the power of the individual – in civil society, as investors, as consumers, as professionals to work towards today’s addressing these challenges. The first step is awareness – to open our eyes to the problems and then to act. The Trust Women conference launched the #IChooseToSee campaign to continue to disseminate information and hosted clear action sessions for delegates to make concrete commitments either as individuals or as organisations to address slavery and migration.

If you’re interested in learning more about the event and its speakers, please visit  and review our live tweets from the events at @WAM_UK. Stay tuned for a report on Day 2. Videos from the conference are also available here.