Building Resilience for Women: Bridging the Gender Financial Inclusion Gap

By Fatima Iqbal, WAM UK Steering Committee Member


On September 26, Women Advancing Microfinance and the Financial Inclusion Forum hosted a panel with Maria Largey, CDC, Isabelle Nowack, VisionFund, Susan Forester, Global Parametrics with Adrienne Klasa, fDi and The Banker, moderating the discussion. The aim of the panel was to discuss the increasing risks that populations face from disaster events, be they climate change related, conflict related or otherwise. Women are more likely to experience poverty and be excluded from mainstream financial products than men, and as a result are often more vulnerable in disaster situations. The panel discussed tools that promote resilience and productivity in women in the face of shocks and disasters.

It’s important to understand women’s challenges in various markets, before tailoring and offering the right solutions. Promoting financial resilience, through literacy and insurance, can be a useful buffer for these shocks. Prior to the panel, the audience had the chance to learn about CDC’s new partnership with six development finance institutions to promote the 2x challenge, aiming to invest nearly $3 bn by 2020 in addressing this issue.

What are some factors that create the gender financial inclusion gap? The panellists highlighted cultural barriers, the quality of jobs for women and inadequate solutions. In periods of external shocks, women may have to return to paid employment where they can face discrimination, fuelling an imbalance. Also, the issue isn’t always viewed from a gender policy lens. Governments, investors and companies all have important roles to play, yet they disregard the challenges.

To close this gap, Maria suggested a combination of financial literacy programmes and more tailored financial and insurance products, with the former beneficial in the short-term and the latter in the long-term. She also talked about the need for those in the industry tasked with selecting clients to be more educated on women’s needs – when this issue first started coming to the fore, institutions set gender quotas on their customer base and used gimmicks such as pink credit cards to attract more women, but the products weren’t always right. Institutions need to think more about women’s cash flow patterns, their access to branches, cultural sensitivities, and this level of awareness has to occur across the supply chain.

Susan highlighted that since the launch of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, six of these goals include gender-specific targets, giving more significance to solutions with women in mind. This differentiates the goals from the Millennium Development Goals, and is also applicable to all countries, not only emerging markets.

The percent of women excluded from formal banking products, from saving accounts to cards, is still higher than men. Isabelle proposed increased mobile distribution, as another solution to foster inclusion. Yet, even if more women had access to these products, it can be argued that the metric of accessing a bank account is insignificant; women could have this on paper but never use it, or, men could be in control of the account. Isabelle also explained that VisionFund has implemented a deliberate policy to hire and train women, particularly respected women in a community, to become loan officers as they are more likely to understand the needs and concerns of their female customers – for example they understand the challenges of bringing up a family – and can act as a good sounding board for their customers, where a young male graduate (the profile of a typical loan officer in the field) is less likely to have that empathy or understanding. VisionFund is also asking its microfinance institutions (MFIs) to use questionnaires more often to find out what customers need – this is partly driven by the need to be more segmented with product offerings, as disrupting technology makes the sector increasingly competitive – but this can be good for women also if their needs are recognised.

The panel also spent some time discussing the best way to address increasing risks from Climate Change and other disasters. Susan from Global Parametrics felt that more needs to be done to help local communities think through and plan for disasters before they even happen and put in place mechanisms that will simply kick in when disaster strikes when relief needs to be immediate.

Global Parametrics is focused on microinsurance products that will automatically payout given proof that certain weather events have occurred. Susan explained that proof of loss in an extreme weather event is very difficult – traditional crop insurance for example is very expensive to run as officers on the ground have to check and verify, which may put off many MFIs. But if the MFI knows they simply have to check if a local weather station has validated certain events or ‘parametrics’ and they know they will be paid by the underwriter/ funder in those situations – then the whole arrangement can operate well. When challenged on whether enough gender consideration is undertaken with these products (for example, how easily can women access or claim payout in the specific cultural context) Susan agreed that microinsurance institutions and investors should think more about this issue when developing products.


Bringing the discussion back to the challenges, the key is to identify unique challenges faced by women in different markets and then find the right solutions. For example, if the issue is that women are unable to visit a bank, then loan officers could visit their homes. If the gender of loan officers poses a problem, then more women can be trained for the role. Simple questionnaires are a great way to get this information.

Two country examples provided more context on products and policy during the discussion:

  • In regards to microfinance emergency loans, the example of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines was given, where more liquidity was offered to affected areas, with the provision of extended recovery loans.
  • In terms of cultural change, the example of a new policy in Pakistan was provided, where banks have incorporated gender quotas on their boards. Change is needed at a policy level, and this isn’t evident only in emerging markets, but around the world.

During the Q&A session, the panel advocated that everyone can raise awareness on gender disparity and be more mindful about the issues faced by women. A more holistic approach is needed to make an impact, with governments, investors and companies driving the development agenda.

Stay tuned for more events from Women Advancing Microfinance and the Financial Inclusion Forum!

Financial Education for Girls – successes and learnings from Credit Suisse, Aflatoun International and Plan International

by Kim Croucher, WAM UK Steering Committee – with contribution from Eva Halper (Credit Suisse), Aukje te Kaat (Aflatoun International) and Clare Daly (Plan International)

On 13th September, WAM were hosted by Credit Suisse’s Global Education Initiative to hear about their programme providing financial education to girls as a means to their future economic empowerment. Credit Suisse is supporting Aflatoun International and Plan International who, working in partnership, have designed and are implementing financial education and life skills programmes in Brazil, China, India and Rwanda. The evening was a really interesting insight into their findings in developing financial education for girls and their varying experiences in different country contexts.

201607-IND-45-scrPhoto: Plan International UK

Why Girl’s Financial Education?

Eva Halper, Head of Credit Suisse’s Global Education Initiative, explained that the bank carried out research which revealed that although many financial institutions were focusing on financial literacy, and many NGO programmes were addressing the gender issue in education, no-one appeared to be focusing on financial education specifically for girls. This therefore was the impetus behind the decision to address financial education for girls. The programme subsequently launched in 2014 and aims to improve the financial education and life skills of approximately 100,000 adolescent girls and encourage them to transition through secondary school. A research project (thought leadership) based on the programme, is a parallel component of the partnership and was the focus of this event.

Many young people aged 14–25 in developing countries are already economically active but without a basic education in the key tenets of finance. This is a barrier to them being able to fully reap the benefits of their own economic activity, and puts them at risk of making decisions that could lead to a lifetime of debt and continued poverty into adulthood. Girls in developing countries often face steep obstacles to access education, not least financial education. Empowering girls means enabling them to manage their own savings and spending and allowing them to take a more informed view of their future options and endeavours – which can transform lives.

 The Most Successful Programmes Deliver Financial Education Alongside other Social Skills Training

Before embarking on programme design, the team produced a policy brief – a systematic review of girls’ economic empowerment programs to determine which interventions are most effective.

Aukje te Kaat from Aflatoun International spoke about the work that went into this and that the team had found limited literature available on the impact of financial education in children in general and in particular research that contained a gender lens. In the end, the team looked at 12 studies where the objectives had been economic empowerment of adolescent girls and crucially included a financial education component.

One of the key findings was that to be truly effective, financial education should not be implemented by itself but rather it should be combined with other interventions, whether this be microfinance, access to savings, vocational education, social education/life skills or sexual and reproductive health education. Evaluations of financial education programmes implemented together with social components – e.g. rights education, life skills education, confidence building – were the most successful.

This finding was in-keeping with Aflatoun’s own approach which is to always incorporate social skills building alongside more tangible skills training in order to transform behaviour (something hard skills alone cannot necessarily achieve). Aukje talked about helping the girls gain self-awareness of their own goals and where they stand in their community, which enables them to plan for the future and make better decisions.

Programme Design Needs to Acknowledge the Importance of the Girls’ Wider Communities and Influences

The team was able to create a global Theory of Change for economic empowerment interventions for adolescent girls, which suggests that holistic thinking in programme design, as well as creating or maintaining enabling environments, is key to ensuring successful outcomes. For example, social norms around the role of girls within a household or community can impact the community’s view about girls’ financial education. The education level of parents has been found to be hugely important: it helps with community buy-in, but if a parent cannot grasp the importance of what their daughter has learnt, they will not support her and she will struggle to implement her new skills and plans.

Another barrier can be related to how easy it is to set up a small enterprise (which is what the young people in this programme are encouraged to do). If there are no financial institutions or financial products it will be difficult for girls to implement their skills in practice.

Findings from Country Programmes –

BRAZIL – Tackling topics such as gender-based violence

  • 25 junior secondary schools (ages 11-14)
  • Pernambuco, Maranhão and Piauí states in northeast Brazil
  • 3-year target: 3,250 girls; 6,500 children

In Brazil, the programme team noticed that it was important that the girl’s father understood the aims of the programme and was fully on-board with these, in order for it to be a successful experience for the girl – perhaps a sign of the gender dynamics in society there.

In all four country programmes financial education is delivered by teachers in schools, but there are also after-school clubs. In Brazil, the training has shifted from being purely teacher-led to a peer-led model. Girls’ clubs have been set up where girls learn about life skills and topics such as gender-based violence. Girls’ clubs have been a great success and the girls really appreciate this as a safe space.

Interestingly, boys in schools in Brazil reported feeling left-out. This prompted a discussion with the audience about the need to bring boys into the programme, but also crucially into conversations on gender parity, particularly gender-based violence. The team agreed and recognised that boys would benefit from financial education but the remit of the programme was to look at the impact on girls’ financial education and so at this stage there are no plans to widen the scope.

CHINA – Creating positive future aspirations and confidence-building

  • 26 middle schools and one vocational school (ages 12-17)
  • 18 townships in Guangnan County, China
  • 75% left-behind and 61% ethnic minority children
  • 3-year target: 11,541 girls; 26,800 children

In China, the programme is implemented in rural areas where there are a high number of ‘left-behind’ children of migrant workers who are often looked after by grandparents or in boarding school. The programme has the full support of the regional education authorities and is delivered in schools via weekly financial education classes.

Apart from financial education skills, the programme provides elements of career guidance and counseling. The aim is to foster more optimistic ideas amongst the girls about their future opportunities – where many may see their paths destined to be the same as their parents. However, prospects for migrant workers are bleak and quality of life poor. The programme attempts to encourage the girls to look at alternative ways to engage in economic activity – potentially localized entrepreneurial activity – which would help to prevent these rural areas from becoming deserted. Financial and life skills also help safe-guard the girls’ rights since as migrant workers they typically find they have limited protection or safety nets when they move to cities to work.

The programme team found that confidence building was key to help girls become more aware of their opportunities, choices and dreams. Given the culture in China of high expectations for academic performance, there is less emphasis on life skills and emotional wellbeing. The programme team reported some encouraging examples where girls enjoyed an increased sense of confidence and well-being as part of the programme’s work.

INDIA – Community perceptions are key but the programme is creating role models

  • Ages 7-18 in Government schools and educational camps
  • Bikaner district, Rajasthan
  • 3-year target: 82,300 girls; 154,570 children

In India, the programme has been integrated into the national teacher training system and the national curriculum. It therefore benefits from a significant level of government support

The main finding in India was that community perceptions can be a huge barrier to the girls using the skills they acquire in a real-life context. Even if a girl’s parents approve of her taking part in the programme, this did not mean they were then comfortable with her using the skills to engage in economic activity outside the home or direct community. This is due to how a women’s role in society is viewed: a girl engaging in home-based entrepreneurial activity (e.g. sewing or knitting from home) is acceptable, but to travel to another village or region to work in a commercial organisation, is not. However, role models – prior beneficiaries of the programme – have been effective as advocates in trying to reverse these perceptions.

RWANDA – Encouraging developments in integrated girls & boys after-school clubs

  • Students aged 12 -15 years
  • Bugesera and Nyaruguru districts
  • 3-year target: 3,200 girls; 4,200 children

In Rwanda, the programme leveraged one of Plan International Rwanda’s existing programmatic expertise: Boys4Change clubs that explore themes of masculinity and leadership and the role of girls and boys in society. The formal teaching component – financial education for girls – is delivered in schools, but the after-school clubs have become integrated whereby both boys and girls take part. They also engage in income-generating activities (such as keeping and rearing of animals like goats and chickens).

The programme team in Rwanda has seen really great developments whereby boys have become much more understanding of the pressures on girls to carry-out domestic/house work which often results in the girls having limited time to study or become entrepreneurial. In some cases, boys have offered to share the burden of tasks normally done by girls to give their female peers more time to achieve their goals. This raised the question of why a similar model of integrated clubs and/or boys’ education in gender equality and male leadership in this context is not more widely pursued in the other country programmes. The programme leaders are considering this for future phases.

In Rwanda, efforts are made to engage with parents to ensure they are aware of the topics the students are being exposed to. The students launch campaigns to which parents are always invited and there is a lot of dialogue with them. The result is that parents and teachers have started their own savings clubs in many cases.

P1030291Photo: Plan International UK

Delivery Through Schools Helps to Ensure the Programmes’ Long-Term Sustainability

There was a good deal of discussion with the audience during the evening – one important question was around sustainability. Credit Suisse cannot support the continuation of the programme indefinitely nor its replication to other regions/countries. Eva made the point that this is why the decision was made to deliver the content in a school setting. Schools provide a structure for delivery where attendance and participation is ensured (at least more so than in community projects). By training teachers in the system, this helps sustainability even after programme partners have left (although there is a question over continued and refresher teacher training, which can be a challenge to deliver). A question was raised as to why there was no focus on girls outside of the formal school system. The same answer applied as well as programme delivery capacity.

M&E Statistics Show Encouraging Impact from Programmes So Far

Monitoring and evaluation are also more easily achieved within the formal school system, which helps to collect and deliver data. Both Aflatoun International and Plan International conduct M&E – although their focus has been the monitoring of girls only as that is the current target group. Some key and encouraging statistics include an 18.2% increase in girls’ financial education and life skills (FELS) knowledge globally, with India showing the largest increase at 43.1%. In addition, there has been a 31.5% increase in fathers who ‘strongly agree’ it is important for girls to learn about money and financial skills globally.

However, it was also recognized that the impact of work such as financial and life skills training (aimed at future economic empowerment) can only be expected to come to full fruition much later in the girl’s life and by that time many other variables will have also influenced outcomes – so measurement of outcomes and evaluation is not easy in this area.

201607-IND-42-scrPhoto: Plan International UK

Future Plans

The next phase will see the addition of a new partner to the programme, Room to Read in Tanzania and Sri Lanka. Any further research will need to incorporate experiences from these contexts also. And this will be examined together with the many questions that the current research has thrown up. For example, how these programmes influence girls and boys differently. In specific country contexts different questions are being asked. For example in India, programme leaders want to look at which social norms act as the largest barrier to a girls’ acquisition of life and financial skills; whereas in Rwanda, the question arising is how the work on gender norms with girls and boys impacts on girls economic empowerment.

We understand that the project will be announcing results of its second phase of research in the next few years – we wait with interest to learn more about this when it is published and we may invite Credit Suisse, Aflatoun International and Plan International to return and tell us more of their fascinating findings then.

Working with women refugees in Northern Iraq


Mandana Hendessi, Iraq Country Director for Women for Women International, will be speaking at a dinner hosted by WAM UK on Tuesday 2nd May 2017 in London.

She will be talking about the work that Women for Women International (WfWi) and its partners are doing in and around refugee camps in the Kurdistan region of Northern Iraq where they are providing life and business skills training to women refugees, as well as psycho-social support and crucially, a safe space for women to gather, share experiences and support each other. Tickets to the event are available here.

Warvin Foundation - Dohuk

Ahead of the event, we asked Mandana to tell us a little of the work that is going on and why it has been important for Women for Women International to engage in this issue.

What impact is the project having on women refugees in areas like Northern Iraq?

We have reached out to 600 Syrian refugee women living both inside and outside camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq since November 2014. We have provided psycho-social support, livelihood training, women’s rights and gender-based violence awareness and prevention and access to justice. We have also provided training in business and leadership skills for the women. As a result of our training and support, we have seen the women improve their self-confidence, which enables them to be more involved in decision-making in the household as well as in the community. It empowers them to build and develop support networks in the community, connect to essential services, as well as become more confident in reporting harassment, abuse and violence to authorities. Importantly they are improving their income generation.

Why has WfWi chosen to work in this specific area?

When the war in Syria intensified in 2012, we were concerned about Syrian women and tried to find ways of supporting them but found it impossible to work in Syria itself as the security there deteriorated very rapidly. So we decided to support Syrian refugee women in neighbouring countries. The Kurdistan Region of Iraq was chosen because of the large influx of Syrian refugees there and the relative security it provided to work with the women through local partners.

What is it like for women living in the camps and surrounding areas?

Whilst living in a camp can provide some security and protection for women, it takes away their individuality, reducing them to a number. However, women who live outside camps are often more vulnerable to harassment and abuse by local men. They are often caring for their families on their own. Furthermore, they are more likely to be poorer, having to make ends meet on very low income.

The biggest threat to Syrian women in Kurdistan Region of Iraq is gender-based violence, which impedes their chances of finding gainful employment. Many of our beneficiaries have recounted experiences to us of when they have searched for jobs and were told by prospective employers that they would get a job if they had sex with them. Other women say they do not set foot outside the home because they fear abuse and harassment by local men ranging from taxi drivers to doctors.

What would happen to some of these women and their families if they didn’t receive support?

I can think of a few obvious possibilities: chronic physical and mental ill-health, heightened risk of violence, poor hygiene and nutrition, losing hope and inspiration – to sum up, the slow and painful death of a generation.

What are the prospects for people living in the camps?

Living in a camp should just be an emergency measure. It’s cruel and inhumane to expect people to live in a camp for years with no prospect of integration into the wider host country. We cannot subject people to such a restricted and soul-less existence for so long! The host countries have to find creative measures of integrating refugee and displaced families into the community. This is essential – refugee and displaced women have so much to offer not just to their own communities, but also to the host community, enriching the local culture.

Of course one would hope that the conflict in Syria and Iraq ends soon, that infrastructure is reconstructed, peace and reconciliation achieved so that Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqi women and their families are able to return home – but some may bond with their places of exile and with people who have embraced them; they settle into new jobs and new ways of living. They need to be allowed to exercise choices about where they want to settle – where they feel secure and comfortable.

 Is the situation getting worse in these areas/camps?

The current situation is desperate – I can’t think of a situation that could be worse than this! For the long-term, we need to work for peace and justice for all in the region; meanwhile, we need to run programmes for refugees and displaced women that aim to nurture their resilience and talents, helping them to rebuild their lives wherever they are and live more fulfilled lives with their families.



Mandana Hendessi is an international development professional with over 25 years’ experience in management, consulting, designing and developing programmes for civil society organisations, governments, International NGOs, and the UN, covering a diversity of socio-economic and human rights issues.

Nearly all of her international experience has been in conflict-affected contexts. For example, in Iraq, Mandana supported the nascent women’s movement to secure a 25% quota for women’s representation in the parliament (2004). In the West Bank, she provided technical assistance to Palestinian women’s enterprises on a range of issues from market research to business planning (2007). In Afghanistan, as the Head of Mission for Medica Mondiale, an international NGO, she led on the development of psycho-social counseling and legal aid for Afghan women who have experienced gender-based violence, promoting access to justice for women who came into conflict with the law.

Prior to joining WfWI in February 2015, Mandana most recently directed the Afghanistan Program at Global Rights, where she engaged young Afghans to support and promote democratic values, the rule of law, and the rights of women.

Since 1993, Women for Women International has helped more than 447,000 marginalised women in countries affected by war and conflict. They serve women in 8 countries including Afghanistan, Rwanda, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo and northern Iraq, offering support, tools, and access to life-changing skills to move from crisis and poverty to stability and economic self-sufficiency.

Women for Women International brings women together in a safe space to learn life, business, and vocational skills.  Once enrolled, each woman receives a monthly stipend – a vital support that enables her to participate. Women increase their ability to earn an income with new skills that are in demand. They learn about their legal rights, and they become knowledgeable about health and nutrition. The result: stronger women, stronger families, and stronger communities. The ripple effect is profound.

VisionFund International on drive to tailor the provision of its microfinance services to women

By Annalisa Plachesi and Miranda Barham, WAM Steering CommitteeJacqueline CEO

WAM UK hosted a very engaging discussion with special guest, Johanna Ryan, VisionFund International’s Social Performance Director.  Johanna took us through the journey that the VisionFund International has been on since 2003, when it was set up to provide small loans to business owners to help them to grow and expand sustainable businesses in the developing world.

VisionFund brings financial access to the entrepreneurial poor in areas that other microfinance providers find too costly to reach. Working with farmers and small businesses in predominantly rural areas, the organisation strives to unlock the economic potential in their communities that can lift whole villages out of poverty. Mission-driven, VisionFund is focused on impacting the lives of children living in poverty. Across a network of over 30 microfinance institutions, most of VisionFund’s clients are women as they are shown to be more likely to invest surplus income into their children’s nutritional, health and educational needs. Their clients are mainly mothers or grandmothers with dependent children or women who employ others with children.

Johanna opened the event by introducing two women, Donatila and Claudine. Donatila, 60 years old from Rwanda looks after seven children. After the sudden death of her first husband, she remarried but her second husband left her.

“When talking to Donatila, I remember her describing her sorrow as she had nothing and – in her own words – she was ‘just an old woman without a husband with no means to provide for the children,’” Johanna explained. Donatila was then introduced to VisionFund and managed to get a $45 loan to trade sorghum in her local market. With her profits she managed to buy salt and onions to feed her family and to cover school fees for her children.

Claudine, who is 25 years old and also from Rwanda, took out a $300 loan and started to sell milk and manure. She made enough money to have her floor cemented, and to purchase clothing. “Claudine has a dream,” Johanna continued, “and it is to see her children grow up to be mayors, governors and members of parliament, whether they are boys or girls.”

Forty-two percent of women globally are outside the formal financial system.[1]  Forty percent of the global agricultural labour force is female and this rises to 50% in Africa and Asia.[2] Of 780 million illiterate people, two-thirds are women.[3] It is these statistics combined with the ambition described by women like Claudine that have driven VisionFund to launch the Women’s Empowerment Fund, a new initiative to empower two million women by 2021.

The Fund is a bold vision to raise $25 million to financially empower two million women and create brighter futures for six million children annually by 2021. VisionFund will achieve this by:

(1) Strengthening links to savings for women. Savings provide a safety net to deal with emergencies as well as family events like births and deaths.

(2) Developing insurance products that specifically protect women. Microinsurance helps protect clients, their investments and businesses against untimely and unexpected shocks. To respond to some of the specific challenges facing women, VisionFund is developing products available for the first time in the market such as health insurance with maternity coverage, crop insurance for women without land titles, and life insurance for spouses and children.

(3) Bringing mobile banking to rural areas, which are often hard to reach and costly to serve. For women, this investment will mean increased personal safety as they will not have to travel with relatively large amounts of cash. It will mean confidentiality as they will not be seen in the branches, which is an issue for women because otherwise they are likely to be asked for money from other members of the community. Also, it gives them greater control over their finances as they can manage them from their home. For some women, depending on the cultural context, it is not easy for them to move around freely. It also provides VisionFund with convenient delivery channels and the opportunity to collect and analyse data, which will be used to improve their products and services.

(4) Expanding access to financial education for women – whilst nearly 33 percent of VisionFund’s clients received financial education in 2016, with a new delivery system for financial education, VisionFund plans to reach 75 percent by 2021.

(5) Creating family-friendly branches which allow mothers to care for their children while they wait in line without, for example, being under searing sun, and developing practical guidelines for improving outreach and service to women, especially mothers, prioritizing women’s needs for confidentiality, privacy, and respect.

(6) Developing financial products tailored for women to ensure they adequately serve the needs of all VisionFund’s clients, with a focus on the needs of women and mothers. This will be represented in the development of new products that focus on fuel-efficient cook stoves, household water filters, latrine construction, solar energy products, and children’s education.

One of the ways that VisionFund will pivot its services to be more women-friendly is by recruiting older women, from the communities it works in, to become loan officers. These women will automatically understand the challenges and local context that VisionFund’s female clients face and will therefore be able to provide services in a more sensitive and sympathetic manner.

“Many older women don’t necessarily feel comfortable speaking with a 25 year-old male loan officer,” explained Johanna. “It can be a barrier to them opening up and giving us the real picture of their lives.” This matters for VisionFund as their fundamental rule of client protection is, ‘we do no harm,’ and they adhere to other strict client protection principles. Taking the time to get a full and honest picture of the client’s financial, business and familial situation is critical to understanding how the client can benefit from a loan or other financial services product and how it can be tailored to individual requirements.

Understanding and improving the impact of their work on women and families is very important for VisionFund. It plans to use rigorous academic and professional research to further understand how it impacts its clients, and will focus on adjusting existing services to better meet the specific requirements of women in their local context, as well as introducing unique products to help more women and their families climb up the economic ladder.

”For women like Donatila and Claudine,” Johanna added, ”empowerment means living a better life than what they experienced before.” With access to financial services and training, along with encouragement from their communities, women with few other resources can change their world and the future of their children. Starting with today’s women, for the women of tomorrow.

If you would like to support VisionFund International to raise funding in support of women taking their first step in business, please donate here. For further information on the Women’s Empowerment Fund, please visit http://www.visionfund.org. “Together, we can transform lives. One loan at a time.”

[1] Pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/789211483986823152/N9gender.pdf
[2] Fao.org/docrep/013/am307e/am307e00.pdf
[3] En.unesco.org/gem-report/sites/gem-report/files/girls-factsheet-en.pdf

Responsible investment gathers pace globally, driven by socially minded investors who understand its impact on financial returns

resp-invt-treeBy Miranda Barham & Kim Croucher from the WAM UK Steering Committee with critical contribution from Martina Macpherson & Natacha Dimitrijevic

Back in April, WAM UK welcomed Natacha Dimitrijevic, an Associate Director at Hermes Equity Ownership Services and Martina Macpherson, Head of Sustainability Indices at S&P Dow Jones Indices (formerly Managing Partner of SI Partners) to talk about responsible investment. Sustainability is relevant to all of us as consumers, but also to those of us who are pension fund holders and investors. Natacha and Martina were there to tell us why companies that are encouraged to be more sustainable are more likely to yield a good return to equity owners – and how investors, no matter how small, can and should utilise their voice to positively influence their active and passive investments.

The state of the sustainable investment market

The size of global sustainable investment assets have expanded dramatically in recent years, rising from $13.3trillion in 2012 to reach a total of $21.4trillion at the start of 2014 according to a Report by GSIA (2014)[1]. The establishment of the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) in 2006 has been instrumental in raising awareness about responsible and sustainable investment among the global investment community, increasing the level of transparency around the activities and capabilities of its signatories and fostering collaboration between them, and supporting their engagements with companies and policymakers on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. Nowadays, the six voluntary Principles for Responsible Investment have nearly 1,500 signatories, from over 50 countries, representing $60 trillion.[2]But is sustainable investing of growing interest in all parts of the world? According to GSIA’s Report, sustainable and responsible investment strategies around the world have grown significantly, for example, in Europe they have grown at an even faster rate than the broad European asset management market. In the United States, socially responsible investment (SRI) assets were $6.57 trillion in 2014—a 76-percent increase over the $3.74 trillion identified in sustainable investing strategies at the outset of 2012. In Australia and New Zealand, sustainable investing assets managed by asset managers, super funds, banks and advisers in 2014 reached $180 billion. Sustainable investment assets in Asia, although still comprising only a small share of total professionally managed assets in the region, reached $53 billion in 2014, an increase of 32 percent from the $40 billion tallied at the start of 2012.

Doing well by doing good?

During the evening, our discussion touched on the big question of whether companies should be acting in better ways just for social good as opposed to purely operating for financial profit.

We discussed the concept of getting companies to think about how they deal with risk and return for all stakeholders such as suppliers, and the communities in which they operate and not just their shareholders.

Some guests admitted their frustration in persuading some organisations to take into account a broader range of stakeholders when making decisions or to address social concerns they advocate on as members of civil society.

It was interesting to see these same guests come to see the leverage that equity investors can have on companies, with their vote in how the company is run. By the end of the evening, opinions seemed to remain divided on how best to tackle these issues, but it was recognised that the social good element was signficantly helped by socially minded investors driving the agenda.

But the point is that investors in the RI space are socially minded, because they believe socially beneficial behaviour has an influence on long-term financial returns.

Incorporating stewardship considerations into investment decision-making

There is also an ethical dimension to taking the stewardship responsibility of active ownership seriously. According to the ILO, the 200 largest MNEs (of the approximately 50,000 MNEs) worldwide have sales equivalent to almost 30% of the world’s GDP and approximately 80% of global trade activities are within the global value chain of MNEs[3] – the subsidiaries and extended value chains of MNEs represent an important share of the private sector in many developing and industrialised economies.

MNEs are impacting communities through job creation, investment, environmental footprint, as purchasers and consumers and more. In short, the impact of MNEs on the world is incredibly substantial – and not just in terms of economics and development, but in terms of the environment and use of natural resources. It can only be deduced that influencing MNEs, even in a small way – can have a huge impact on the communities in which we live.

Martina kicked-off the evening by presenting the current state of sustainable investing across sectors and asset classes and she outlined the key reasons why companies decide to tackle sustainability issues. Top of the list still stands customer demand, with more than 65% of companies[4] polled by oekom research’s Impact Study (2013) admitting that customers’ views was a factor in their decision-making to tackle sustainability issues. However, pressure from rating agencies and from sustainability-oriented investors came a close second and third in the poll’s rankings – demonstrating that the sustainable investment movement overall is a key driver in this area. Surprisingly reputational concerns came further down the list, where only 22% of companies polled said the company’s reputation was a factor on why sustainability matters.

Martina outlined that the largest sustainable investment approach globally by AUM remains negative screening/exclusions ($14.4 trillion), which is effectively the action by sustainable active or passive investors to exclude certain companies from their investment portfolios if they don’t meet a range of pre-defined sustainability criteria and metrics.[5]We learnt that this is a highly effective means to focus the attention of companies towards better sustainability performance and practices.

Boards and management will pay attention if pension funds and asset managers publicly state that they will screen out certain unsustainable practices or risk factors from their portfolios. However, this is a ‘tradtional’method of influence and, for example, doesn’t tackle those companies that act in industries that would naturally be excluded from a sustainability funding anyway – such as fossil fuel energy.

The investment case for active ownership

It was put forward on the night that there is a more effective way to tackle the behaviour of companies in certain unfavoured sectors through a more active form of corporate engagement and direct shareholder action[6].

These activities are evolving and gaining ground ($7.0 trillion under management according to the GSIA Report) and allow investors to take an active role in shaping a company’s response to sustainability issues. It is though a more intensive and expensive approach – but one which many think will pay off in the long-run.

Hermes Equity Ownership Services (EOS) is exactly situated in this space. Natacha spoke on the night of the work she does to engage regularly with boards that her pension fund clients are invested in – highlighting to the board practices the companies partake in, which may not provide a sustainable base for long-term growth (for example relating to corporate governance, labour conditions, environmental impact and more) – and it is this long-term growth or continued existence that pension fund investors are most interested in protecting. Sometimes these may be issues that management have not fully appreciated or looked at – but sometimes she may try to address the more contentious issues. Either way, the experience of Hermes EOS is that boards and companies will engage – particularly since Hermes EOS is typically speaking on behalf of clients with billions of dollars invested in the company.

Financial institutions around the world are increasingly required to demonstrate responsible behaviour. Good stewardship of assets is a critical component of what it means to be a responsible investor. Engaging with companies and policy-makers on environmental, social, governance, strategic and risk issues where relevant is now widely recognized as adding long-term value to the investments and core to managing risks.

Sustainable investment innovation – the journey continues

Sustainable investing is also benefiting from developing technology, frameworks and innovation. Quantitative ESG research metrics, (real time) data analytics solutions and financial instruments such as indices, have hence become increasingly available for investors. As a result, ESG integration across asset classes, and across active and passive investing, has become a widely-used investment practice. And research into the relationship between financial performance and ESG factors, both academic and applied, has improved in quantity and quality.

On the corporate side, ESG disclosure and reporting have moved from ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have,’ as regulatory developments have accelerated worldwide. According to data analytics house eRevalue, 180 sustainability-related regulations were identified in 2013. Nowadays, there are already over 1,300.[7] This fast-paced transition from a normative to a compliance ESG regulatory framework presents increased reputational and commercial risks for businesses.

Ultimately, ESG integration is and remains a major ‘trend’. ESG integration is happening across the investment industry, across mainstream capital markets and across the ‘world of big data analytics’. ESG integration into credit and fund ratings is one of these trends, new developments of passive, active ownership as well as corporate and investor dialogue based on more aligned ESG factors and ‘harmonised’ definitions and approaches of materiality  is another.

However, we need to be careful to avoid ‘green washing’ or ‘sustainability washing’ tactics to prevent a ‘green bubble’. Commitment (and purpose), due diligence, disclosure and dialogue remain key fundamentals for this industry.

[1] Source: GSIA, Global Sustainable Investment Review, 2014: http://www.gsi-alliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/GSIA_Review_download.pdf

[2] Source: PRI, About UNPRI, 2016: https://www.unpri.org/about

[3] Source: Engaging multinational enterprises on more and better jobs, ILO Factsheet, 3 November 2014: http://www.ilo.ch/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_emp/—emp_ent/—multi/documents/publication/wcms_175477.pdf

[4] Source: oekom research, The Impact of SRI, May 2013: http://www.oekom-research.com/homepage/english/oekom_Impact-Study_EN.pdf

[5] Source: Martina Macpherson, The Growing Impact of Sustainability, in S&P Dow Jones Indices ‘Indexology’ Magazine, October 2016: http://html5.epaperflip.com/?docid=a4a2e679-c941-483f-993e-a69e012007d2&utm_medium=Email&utm_source=Eloqua#page=1

[6] See also Arabesque, From the Stockholder to the Stakeholder, March 2015: http://www.arabesque.com/index.php?tt_down=51e2de00a30f88872897824d3e211b11

[7] Source: eRevalue, Sustainability Regulations and Trends, March 2016: http://www.erevalue.com/



by Miranda Barham, WAM UK Steering Committee


WAM UK hosted a very interesting evening with special guest, President & CEO of FINCA, Rupert Scofield.  Rupert shared with us the journey he has been on since starting FINCA in 1984 to today’s challenges of finding social enterprises, running profitable microfinance institutions and running fundraising campaigns.

FINCA started on a quest to identify investible social enterprises to fund and partner and in doing so, discovered that they were already funding a number of these.   Examples of this include over 200 “charter schools” in Uganda, and a community health clinic in Lumbumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Rupert explained, “I stumbled upon a charter school on the outskirts of Masaka, Uganda when I went to see some clients who had purchased solar lanterns from Brite Life.   “Do you want to see our school?”  one of the clients asked me.   “You have a school?”   It seemed unlikely; this was a remote community many miles from the nearest paved road.   They took me to meet a former teacher who had left the public school system and, with a series of Finca loans, built seven classrooms and hired other teachers to teach grades K through 6.”

By having the school right in the community, the students avoided the perilous 5 kilometer walk to the nearest public school where they could be preyed upon by pedophiles.   Finca was also financing the other side of the transaction, making loans for school fees to the parents of the children.

In Lumbumbashi, two physicians had left the public healthcare system and, with a series of Finca loans, build a small clinic and a 10-bed hospital.  They were treating the people of the community for the four most common illnesses in rural Africa and charging $2.50 per consultation.  If the patients were destitute, they provided treatment for free.

FINCA is passionate about social enterprise.  Rupert believes that the current trend of social enterprises moving into the vacuums left by a faltering, underfunded public sector services will continue, and eventually social enterprises, small, medium and large, will be the main vector for meeting the basic needs of people living at the bottom of the pyramid.   He explained that an added bonus will be that these social enterprises will collectively employ millions of currently un/underemployed young people, which is a huge and growing time bomb which, if not addressed, will destabilise all developing societies.


For those of you inspired to take up the social enterprise challenge, Rupert has some words of wisdom, “Find a disadvantaged/oppressed constituency, live amongst them, walk in their shoes until you feel their pain and figure out a way to be useful.”  He recommends working or volunteering for an organisation that works in this space and then with experience gained, striking out on your own.   He says that’s when the real adventure begins.

“If your idea is powerful enough, it will withstand the many mistakes you will make.   Remember that nothing works the first time, so be stubborn and persistent.   Stand up to the skeptics and keep plugging away.   You will find, also, that your passion for your mission will attract fellow travelers.   You also have to pick your head up every now and then and see who is imitating you and possibly doing it better than you are.   The life cycle of new technologies is getting shorter and shorter.   Picking the winners is going to make the difference between success and failure.” And After five decades in the space, Rupert should know.

If you would like to support FINCA’s latest campaign to raise £1 million in support of women taking their first teps in business, please donate here so that FINCA can help them generate the extra income they need to buy food, pay for healthcare, and put their children back into school.

In the last few months, faced with rising levels of conflict and migration, women have been forced to find new sources of income to support themselves and their children. With your help, FINCA can make a difference.

Investing in Social Enterprise to Fight Poverty


By Rupert Scofield, President and CEO of FINCA International 

Rupert Scofield will be speaking at a dinner hosted by Women Advancing Microfinance UK on Tuesday 10th May in London. He will talk to us about the work FINCA does and the impact it’s having, in particular in the social enterprise and innovation space. Tickets to the event are available here

Ahead of the event, we asked Rupert to give us some thoughts about what it is that makes FINCA different, how they have evolved their approach and support for those they work with and their unique approach to fostering social enterprises.

 Tell us about the clients FINCA reaches and what it is about your offering that allows you to reach clients other microfinance organisations don’t.

FINCA’s segment is not “the poorest of the poor”, which are now reached by specialised “Ultra Poor” or “Graduation” programmes which provide subsidies not loans, although some of our most successful clients have come from that segment.    Most of our clients live on $2 to $4 per day when they take their first FINCA loan and then progressively move up the ladder.

The vast majority have an existing business when they join FINCA, but not all.  In Africa, for example, we encourage our village banks to take on one or two younger women who want to start a business but need mentoring and support from the group in order to succeed.

While many other MFIs work in this segment, FINCA is unique in that we have done this now for three decades and on four continents, learning to adapt our methodology to many different cultures.   We still deliver the majority of our loans through “village banks”, and although that methodology has been adapted over time, it remains largely the same, depending on local knowledge and a group rather than physical guarantee.   When you visit a village bank, you can see that it is a strong, community-based support group where the members help each other weather the adversities that come with living at the base of the economic pyramid.

You developed an initiative called FINCA Plus back in 2012. Can you explain a little about what you hoped to achieve?

We saw an opportunity to become a “holistic” MFI, one that would also provide non-financial services of value to our clients, things that would make them more resistant to the contra temps that threatened to knock them off the ladder out of poverty.   We sought instead to develop interventions in new sectors like healthcare, water & sanitation, education, energy, and agriculture.   While organisations like BRAC had been doing this for decades, we decided to take a different approach.   Rather than becoming experts in these sectors, we would find partners whose products and services would be of high value to our clients, and figure out how to finance and deliver them.

We discovered that there were literally hundreds of social enterprises doing amazing work, and who were eager to partner with FINCA and take advantage of our well-known brand.

Furthermore, there are “incubators” working with social entrepreneurs and helping them to develop their concepts to the point where they are “investible” and scalable.   This led to our decision to create the Social Enterprise Collider, a facility that will invest in early stage social enterprises deemed promising but too risky for institutional investors or even most Venture Capitalists.   At the same time, we created Brite Life, a distribution company that markets solar energy products, fuel efficient cook stoves, water filters and other products which bring a powerful value proposition to our clients, providing benefits in the health, education, and energy areas.

To hear more from Rupert about FINCA’s unique approach to social enterprise initiatives, please join us for the dinner discussion on Tuesday 10th May 2016. Tickets for the event are available here.


Rupert Scofield, FINCA International President and Co-Chief Executive Officer, also serves as President and CEO of FINCA Microfinance Holdings, LLC, a first-of-its-kind, socially-responsible investment partnership for microfinance, formulated to strike the right balance between attracting capital needed for expansion and protecting the integrity of FINCA’s charitable mission.

Mr. Scofield co-founded FINCA in 1984 with John Hatch, and has served as its President and CEO since 1994. A practitioner at heart, he is actively involved in the management of FINCA’s operations, and is also a frequent keynote speaker. As author of The Social Entrepreneur’s Handbook: How to Start, Build and Run a Business that Improves the World, Mr. Scofield seeks to inspire the next generation of microfinance leaders and social entrepreneurs.

Prior to FINCA, Mr. Scofield served as the CEO of Rural Development Services, a consulting firm, and country program director of the AFL-CIO’s Labor Program in El Salvador. He earned two Masters of Arts degrees in agricultural economics and public administration from the University of Wisconsin, as well as a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, and served in the Peace Corps in Guatemala.

Read more about FINCA here.

Dinner Debrief: Digital currency platform, Uphold, making global remittances more cost effective

by Miranda Barham, WAM UK Steering Committee Member

group uphold wam

WAM UK Dinner with Uphold on Digital Currency & Financial Inclusion

WAM was delighted to have Diana Biggs, VP of Uphold, the fastest growing money platform, speak at our latest dinner on how digital currencies can enable financial inclusion.

Today, more than 50 percent of the world’s adult population is denied access to affordable banking or basic financial services. Globally, 2.6 billion people are considered ‘unbanked’ or ‘unbankable’. The World Bank has identified cost and travel distances as two of the key reasons that 73% of the world’s poor remain unbanked: two factors that digital currencies can severely undermine.

Often the people who can least afford banking services are charged the most for them in the form of over-priced money transfer services, expensive currency exchanges, costly payment processors and risky cash couriers.

One of the major ways technology can enable financial inclusion is in making it cheaper and easier to send money quickly and safely. The World Bank’s data[1] shows that money sent home by migrants now represents one of the largest foreign income inflows to developing countries.  Eighty to 90 percent of remittance money is spent on basic necessities including food, clothing, shelter, healthcare etc.

Remittance funds are no small fry. Globally, remittance receipts (including both developing and high-income countries) were estimated at $563 billion in 2014 and are forecast to increase to $636 billion in 2017.  Typical remittance fees for sending $200 are around seven to eight percent.  Such fees are diverting money away from the recipients who need to keep as much of it as possible.

Uphold’s mission is to make it easier and cheaper for everyone to send, hold and receive money and allows its customers to do so only paying a small fee locally when the funds are withdrawn.  Users of Uphold’s platform, located in over 170 countries around the world, can upload funds through a variety of methods, including cash deposit, bank transfer, credit card and Bitcoin and send funds to other users regardless of their location instantly and for free. One of Uphold’s partners, LibertyX, allows access to bitcoin purchase and transfer using cash at 19,000+ plus stores across the US, many of which are convenience stores, and has become an increasingly popular tool for Latin American immigrants to store and send money abroad.

Users can also hold their funds on Uphold’s platform and swap it between currencies of their choice.  This allows users to protect themselves from fluctuating currencies and also have the option to store their funds in one of four precious metals.

The firm is actively working on partnerships to create more ways for people to access, send and hold money in more countries around the world.  It is also dedicated to keeping its pricing as low as possible, with the majority of services being free with the company instead charging small fees at the point of withdrawal of funds – it is after all intended to be a sustainable business model.

Diana notes that there is still much work to be done in working towards full financial inclusion via digital currency and platforms, such as access to connectivity and technology, educating customers on how to use the service and the technology that enables it, However electronic money transfer and digital currencies could be a powerful tool to enhance financial inclusion and much of its potential is yet to be explored. Moreover it can provide opportunities for those who live in unstable monetary regimes to manage their savings and payments by keeping their savings with Uphold in US$ for example or other more stable forms of value.

The point was made by some at the dinner, and agreed by Diana, that Uphold is not yet set up to reach the poorest who may even have issues with technological or even more basic literacy which will be a barrier to them accessing these services, unless through a grassroots partner that Uphold might work with. But we also concluded that the service fills an important gap in providing access to financial services to many who are unbanked or have limited access.


Group pic digital dinner

Event Attendee Group Photo  On the night, we discussed how decentralised blockchain currencies work, details of which are covered in a Q&A we did with Diana ahead of the event to bring us up to speed on this financial technology. It is clear that globally there is a lot of interest and momentum behind digital currencies and blockchain, however we do not often hear of strategies that grow financial inclusion or even consider it at all in their expansion plans. Diana gave us an interesting perspective as to how a disruptive, high growth technology could consider and be used to expand the global reach of financial services for all – including the unbanked and hard to reach – and therefore not exacerbate financial exclusion through a digital divide.


[1]World Bank press release October 22, 2015 http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2015/10/22/world-bank-forecasts-a-slowdown-in-migrant-remittances-in-2015


7 Things I Learnt at the Global Social Business Summit 2015, Berlin

By Sophia Velissaratou, co-founder WAM UK


Source: Global Social Business Summit 

Social business is a relatively new concept introduced by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Professor Muhammad Yunus, which he describes in detail in Building Social Business. Simply put, Yunus describes two types of social businesses:

Type I: a non-loss, non-dividend company devoted to solving a social problem (concerning education, health, environment, access to technology etc) and owned by investors who re-invest all profits in expanding and improving the business.

Type II: a profit making company, owned by poor people, either directly or through a trust that is dedicated to a pre-defined social cause.

Professor Yunus distinguishes Social Business from other concepts such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), social enterprise and entrepreneurship; seeing CSR as charity (CSR) and social entrepreneurship as profitable outfit for investors. Since its first inception the Social Business movement had gained momentum amongst many, ranging from businesses to NGOs to academia.

On the 6th and 7th of November, I attended the 7th Global Social Business Summit in Berlin and as the co-founder of WAM UK, I would like to share a few things I learnt with the wider WAM community:

  1. The Social Business movement is here. To stay: During the summit I came to realise that there are many social business initiatives and they take many forms. Take for example Grameen Danone who set up a small unit in Bangladesh to produce nutrition fortified yoghurt for low income families. Or McCain industries who have a program helping Greek farmers in the Northern village, Notia. Not to mention numerous university programmes worldwide focussed on the research and promotion of social business, for example The Grameen Creative Lab and Yunus Social Business, both of which have ample information to share.
  1. It’s not about the star, it is about the purpose: This year’s summit was marked by Prof. Yunus’ absence. A minor health issue prevented him from travelling to Berlin to be there in person but he addressed the participants with a video message. Undoubtedly any event Yunus attends attracts notable crowds and WAM UK experienced that first hand when we organised an event with him back in 2011. Yunus is often lovingly described as a rock star in his own right within the sector, which despite its obvious benefits can also be a drawback, since his absence could have led to disappointment and deflation. However, that was definitely not the case. Organisers and participants alike worked, presented and interacted with incredible drive and on top of it all – we had fun!
  1. Some CEOs get it. Big multinationals like Danone, Veolia, McCain and others talk and think seriously from a business perspective on how to solve social problems. They are not just interested in ticking CSR boxes or having a good PR profile. They are showing commitment to this type of business. They understand that failure is part of the process and not all social business ideas will work but they allocate time, resource and energy just like any other business unit they are running. They showed us that they won’t stop until their social businesses become sustainable and poor or unprivileged people have profited from it.
  1. There is such a thing as ‘good’ business, it’s called social business: During my years in finance I was always wondering why profit and growth usually come at the expense of values such as partnership, compassion or empathy. Can you not have a serious business proposition by combining all these aspects? The summit made me realise that social business is a legitimate answer to this question. Yes, you can have a business which is both profitable and solves a social problem. Yes, you can generate profit and re-invest it in the business to create more jobs; ameliorate conditions for poor people – to change the world.
  1. Partnerships are a must: Listening to the panel discussion during the conference I was impressed to see the degree to which partnerships are important for the success of social business. Words like competition, confidentiality, possession were not part of the social business vocabulary. Instead words like transparency, exchange of ideas, collaboration, resilience, joy and facilitation are the language of social business. This was evident in focus groups where there was a genuine exchange of ideas. The workshop organisers were not interested in telling their stories but in hearing our ideas on how we would approach a social business idea differently or find a better solution than the ones they thought of.
  1. Youth is the future: Yunus’ decision to focus on youth and academia shows he is a visionary. Social business is a relatively new concept that taps on ideas such as non-dividend business, compassion and teamwork etc. These and similar ideas are not commonly found in the conventional business world, and that’s likely because today’s professionals were not educated to think otherwise. Educating people on the concept of social business from an early age is key. Because these young students will be tomorrow’s academics, investors and entrepreneurs who will strive for a better world. On top of that, youth are very creative and driven – and experience suggests they don’t give up easily. Moreover, today’s youth are raised amongst increasingly advanced technology, a leading force in social business.
  1. Location, location, organisation: Last but not least I would like to mention the organisation of the conference. First I was impressed by the venue: Hangar 7 at Tempelhof airport was for me the perfect location for such a conference. The set-up of the venue facilitated the smooth transition from the panel discussions to the meeting area where participants could meet, grab a coffee and roam around the various stands promoting social business. The organising team practiced what they preached: from the conference bags, the conference furniture, the catering, the products, everything had a social business story to tell. Every single moment you were surrounded by inspiring examples. Hans Reitz (Head of GSBS and Founder of the Grameen Creative Lab) and his team created a fantastic environment for participants and they deserve compliments all round.

In short, I can’t wait for next year’s summit.

Find pictures of the Summit on GSBS website newsroom , GCL Facebook page, and a new video on YouTube.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Money

by Lisa Wong, WAM UK


“Money is never just about money” argues a leading financial services designer, James Moed, over a dinner attended by financial inclusion professionals hosted by Women Advancing Microfinance UK. “Instead”, he explains, “it’s pretty much always about something else”. In conversation with James, who has over 11 years of experience in helping innovation leaders and design teams understand people’s complex behaviours around money, we learnt how we can use Human Centered Design (HCD) to promote global financial inclusion – an issue particularly pertinent to the world’s women.  According to the UNDP, 6 out of 10 of the world’s poorest people are women; women may comprise more than 50% of the world’s population but only own 1% of the world’s wealth. Some 75% of the world’s women are without access to bank loans as they have unpaid or insecure jobs and are not entitled to property ownership.

This blog will share some of the insights from James’ experiences having advised companies, governments, startups, and social enterprises, most recently as the Director for Financial Service Design at the London office of IDEO – a global innovation consultancy.

First, what is human-centered design (HCD)?

HCD applies the design process to create innovative solutions based on observations on humans. The HCD process begins by examining the needs, dreams and behaviours of people relevant to a prospective solution. A solution can be a product, a service, an environment, an organization or a mode of interaction. HCD focuses on desirability (what do people desire?), feasibility (what is technically and organizationally feasible?) and viability (what is financially possible?). It is an iterative process – borrowing from the designer who observes, prototypes, tests and then repeats until an appropriate solution is reached. James describes the approach as “building to learn”, creating imperfect examples of solutions to be tested by user experience instead of aiming to launch the perfectly formed solution straightaway.

How can HCD help promote women in financial inclusion?

HCD depends on human observation and often women and girls have been ignored in the design of financial products and services. Even if they haven’t been explicitly ignored, then perhaps not enough nuance to their culture could have supported their financial exclusion. Such as failing to pay attention to what women and girls feel like they can and cannot say in interviews and surveys. Moreover, there is a big difference between what people say they will do, and what they actually do – especially when it comes to money. HCD promotes user insight, so adopting an approach to always consider gender in the target user group is vital and can be extremely telling. Designing solutions with women’s behaviours, aspirations and needs specifically in mind can lead to women-inclusive financial solutions.

What kind of HCD insights on women do we have?

Investing in women has a multiplier effect

One of the major observations in microfinance – the provision of financial service to the under and unbanked – is based on gender. Women’s World Banking found that “when a woman generates her own income—and this holds true no matter what the  country—she re-invests her profits in ways that  can make long-term, inter-generational change: the  education of her children, health care for her family and improving the quality of her family’s housing”. As James highlighted in our conversation, time and time again in his fieldwork he saw that for women “finances are less about her own interests, but for others”. Financial inclusion for women does not only empower the woman user, but often has positive impact on her wider community.

For some women illiquidity is attractive

Mind boggling at first, especially when we consider the gender discrimination that has led to three quarters of the world’s women unbanked, women may actually prefer access to financial services with features of illiquidity in some circumstances. Liquid cash could be dangerous to a woman’s wealth if socially she is obligated to financially help out family members and friends if they ask. It may be hard for a woman to not hand over her cash to her husband for example or her friend in financial difficulty – it could bring stigma, perhaps attack if she says no. However a savings account with fixed non-withdrawal periods, or other features to lock funds away, could provide a socially acceptable excuse. In providing illiquidity in formal financial services, it could attract women who otherwise would prefer to store their wealth in more illiquid forms such as gold and livestock or hidden away in difficult to reach places. Illiquidity could not only protect wealth from the saver’s own impulses, and the demands of those around her.

Women experience high emotional return for good financial management

A recurring theme in James’ work saw that the rewards for good financial management were beyond financial for women – this applies to women across the economic spectrum. Juntos Finazas, which was borne out of a class project from the Stanford Design School, helps Spanish speakers save via SMS. The founders saw that SMS was the right technology to help low-income Latinos as they tend to use mobile devices more than other groups and are substantial SMS users. 72% of successful Juntos Finazas savers said at sign up that they had never saved successfully before. Importantly, in feedback, users cite that using the tool to help them save has made them feel like better mothers, better daughters – the return is more than extra money leftover in an account.

In consultation with IDEO, the successful Keep the Change savings program from Bank of America originated from the observation that women were more satisfied by the act of saving than the interest rates offered on savings itself. The program was therefore designed to emphasise the action of saving rather than focusing on the potential reward. Keep the Change automatically rounds up purchases on the Bank of America debit card and transfers the difference to a savings account, building up a savings balance subtly over time. Since its launch in 2005, the program has led to 12 million new customers building up an additional $3.1 billion of savings.

Financial planning can save lives

Having a financial plan in place affords protection for life’s shocks, and in some cases can make the difference between life and death. Although still imperfect, there are now maternity saving programs to help women save money over time to access skilled maternal care. In Kenya, where only 43% of births occur in health facilities and many Kenyans still lack access to basic maternity care and health insurance, medical payment can be a life-threatening barrier for mother and child. Changamka, established in 2008, developed a smartcard program which allows women to set saving goals and save via the mobile payments service, M-PESA. The program is a dedicated maternal savings program which locks the deposited funds for maternity expenses only. USAID has written up a case study on this project, which can be accessed here.

With financial technology advancing globally the practice of HCD puts people back in the center of experience to build lasting solutions. With 75% of women worldwide without access to financial services – and importantly the lack of understanding and emphasis upon their needs as cause and effect of their exclusion – HCD can provide an attractive framework to unlock their considerable potential.

For more information on the topic connect with @jamesmoed on twitter.

Other interesting links on HCD and financial inclusion include:

This blog first appeared on the Global Fund for Women Blog, Her Blueprint