development

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

By Miranda Barham, WAM Steering Committee
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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.”

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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!

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

By Sophia Velissaratou, co-founder WAM UK

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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.

Microfinance and Women’s Empowerment: is it really helping them?

by Kim Croucher, WAM UK Steering Committee

Source: US AID, Flikr Creative Commons

Source: US AID, Flickr Creative Commons

It’s a question that has occurred to many of us who work in women’s financial inclusion and  increasingly  pertinent as the industry has developed and changed; whilst data and research has oftentimes been disappointing in providing a clear link, we ask, is microfinance – as a tool to empower women – really working?

In June, Ernst & Young hosted WAM and the Microfinance Club UK to debate this hot topic – aided by three highly qualified speakers on the subject:

  • Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking, the global nonprofit devoted to giving more low-income women access to the financial tools and resources they require to achieve security and prosperity.
  • Sevi Simavi, Chief Executive Officer of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women,a charitable foundation that develops programmes to provide women with the skills, technology, networks and access to capital that they need to become successful small business owners.
  • Justina Alders-Sheya, Senior Manager, EY, specializing in Financial Inclusion & Microfinance and Wealth & Asset Management.

Justina showcased the work that EY has been doing to investigate this topic, to offer better advice to its clients in this space (microfinance institutions and investors).  According to her, there are various broad themes that may help the microfinance industry to understand its impact on women better, but more importantly may help the industry serve women more effectively.

The first is technology, which has the potential to boost financial inclusion for women in a way that was not possible before.  Some of the basic barriers that used to exist for poor women to access finance – safety of carrying cash in public, the ability to travel long distances to reach a bank branch, confidence to walk into a bank and speak to a male member of staff – all this is blown away with mobile banking. Of the 2 billion unbanked individuals in the world today, 1 billion have mobile phones and mobile accounts are now available in 61% of developing markets.  The potential to reach the previously unreachable is huge.

Mainstream financial institutions are entering the space faster than ever and this could enable microfinance to further extend its reach. With this entry may also come increasing regulation, which could mean better customer protection and potentially harmonizing standards across countries and regions.

Impact measurement has been a focus for years, but is still key to understanding whether microfinance is helping women.  Measuring the impact of having access to finance is important, but the answers rely on long-term research. Leading on from this is a topic that is relatively new – but receiving a lot of attention – and that is looking at behavioural insights when lending.

The understanding of psychological, social and cultural influences on decision making and behaviour can really help providers in delivering a service that leads to the best outcomes. But the very reason why it is attracting attention, might lead to the mainstreaming of microfinance – since behavioural insights would make it easier for commercial financial institutions to know how they can offer services to this segment of the market and still make a profit.

Sevi Simavi presented how the Cherie Blair Foundation realized very quickly when they set-up that access to capital was key to empowering female entrepreneurs. When the organisation first started, a lot of women they worked with still kept their cash under the mattress.  Having a bank account is critical from an empowerment perspective, without this, a woman rarely has control over her money – the cash ends up going to husbands or fathers.

In a recent report by the World Bank on Financial Inclusion, it quotes findings that the number of unbanked individuals has fallen by 20% between 2011 and 2014 (that amounts to 62% of adults who have a bank account vs. 51% in 2011) – which reveals some improvement in access to banking services.  However, there continues to be a gender gap in account ownership – the gap varied depending on the region, but overall only 58% of women worldwide are banked vs. 65% of men.

So while there may not yet be the hard evidence to point to the empowerment effect that microfinance is having on women around the world – there is most certainly a need for increasing financial services made available and accessible to women.  But to benefit from these services, Sevi made the interesting point that female entrepreneurs also needed to be given knowledge and capabilities (the ability to manage an account, to know the difference between profit and loss, basic book-keeping skills). Financial literacy training is therefore key.  Here technology can also have a part to play – delivery of training through a mobile phone can be fast, efficient and can reach those who were previously unreachable.

Our main takeaway from Mary Ellen’s speech was the idea that to serve the poor most efficiently, one has to address women,  and this means thinking about the services that women need, because they will be different to men’s.

Empowering women is crucial to serving the poor and developing economies, because women make up a far larger proportion of the poor, because a woman is far more likely to make investments back into her community and her children if she earns money – and one aspect of empowerment is through financial inclusion, so that women are increasingly in control of their money and their own decision making and futures.  Yet women are facing greater financial exclusion in every geography and across every income level.

The key to Mary Ellen’s message was that in order to support women’s empowerment – we need to make financial services better tailored to women.  Her point was that it was becoming clear that women wanted different things to men when it came to financial services.

For example, women want convenience, they greatly value confidentiality, they want more security, they want to trust the organization they are dealing with. Technology can go some way towards addressing these needs – but building trust may mean offering a lot more information to potential female customers because that is what they require to make a decision, it may mean explaining things in a more transparent way and it may mean having female agents.

In Tanzania for example, women are opening bank accounts at the same rate as men, but the main feedback from women there is that it is too easy to spend the money in the accounts – instead they would like restrictions on withdrawing money and incentives to save towards a goal – again a different way of thinking and different needs.

Mary Ellen was also optimistic about digital banking due to the convenience it offers women, the new markets it represents for banks and customer stickiness it offers the mobile operators – many reasons why she thinks digital banking may be a game-changer for financial inclusion.

Given all the talk over the evening about the coming revolution of digital/mobile banking, a question from the audience was put to the panel on whether mobile phones would destroy the support dynamic that can come from more traditional group savings and loan arrangements.  The panel felt there was a way to use mobile phones in microfinance (distributing loans, repayments) that would work either on an individual or group level – so it did not necessarily threaten the group model.  But they added that eventually individuals, especially entrepreneurs, needed loans that were specific to their own needs and so having this ability to tailor a product to individuals is advantageous to all involved.

If the conclusion the room was coming to during the evening was that financial inclusion is really key to women’s economic empowerment – even if the evidence isn’t there to directly link this progression yet – why then is there still a gap?  What about discrimination in this space – did the panel think that this was a more serious hurdle than the microfinance community are currently expressing and does the language around discrimination need to be ramped up in order to change the attitude of providers?  The panel felt there certainly is discrimination – but not always on the part of the players in the industry – it is a wider issue involving governments and communities. The fact that women can’t open a bank account in many countries, or face significantly more hurdles than men do when trying.  In Bangladesh, women need a birth certificate to open a bank account, but many poor women weren’t registered at birth – ID issues are a huge challenge for the poor.  Ownership of property that can act as collateral is another common problem for women, which also makes it more difficult to access capital.

Summing up – do all these developments mean that microfinance can help increase gender equality?  The panel were optimistic.  Sevi put it so well when she said that for all those who work tirelessly in this space and who care about women’s empowerment – it should be about progress and not perfection.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Money

by Lisa Wong, WAM UK

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“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

Unlocking the potential of women benefits all

Half the Sky: Why Unlocking the Potential of Women Benefits Us All

by Marjolaine Chaintreau – WAM UK Co-Founder

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On May 14th 2013, the WAM UK and Women in Social Finance networks got together to organise the UK Premier screening of the highly acclaimed film documentary Half the Sky. As a co-founder of WAM UK, I wanted to explain why it was such an important milestone for us and why we wanted to share this movement with you.

Half the Sky started as a book, written in 2009 by Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn, both acclaimed journalists at the New York Times and Pulitzer Prize winners. At its core, the book seeks to ignite the change needed to put an end to the oppression of women and girls worldwide. For Nicholas and Sheryl, the fight for gender equality is the moral challenge of our century, like slavery was before us. Further, the key to our economic progress they argue, lies in unleashing women’s potential. Building on the tremendous success of the book, the Half the Sky film documentary was then shot in 10 countries with 7 celebrity advocates; America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union, Olivia Wilde; and released in October 2012.

Half the Sky represents a breakthrough on how the world should think and talk about gender equality. Unfortunately one thing has not changed: the topics covered in Half the Sky are as heavy, difficult, and overwhelming as issues related to girls and women have always been for everyone. What makes Half the Sky unique is the strength of Nicholas and Sheryl’s method, painfully documenting the facts, clarifying the drivers and mechanisms behind some of these issues, and providing a balanced diversity of examples.

But Half the Sky is not about showing how difficult the life of women and girls are in some parts of the word.  It is about promoting examples of courage; life transformation; hard work; virtuous circles; leadership and the economic power and hope represented by women worldwide. Both the book and the film are based on the power and emotion of the extraordinary, and hopeful, stories of women and of the local organisations supporting them.  Half the Sky focuses on the solutions and opportunities that women represent in the fight against oppression and poverty.

Today, in some countries women and girls represent the greatest unexploited economic resources of our time. Unleashing women’s potential is not only the right thing to do, but it is the best strategy for fighting poverty globally and benefiting everyone in our society. This is the reason why “it is impossible to stand by and do nothing after reading/watching Half the Sky”.

Our only objective is that learning about the Half the Sky movement will urge you to become a champion for women globally and act to unlock the opportunities women and their businesses represent for the world’s economic and social development.

Women Advancing Microfinance (WAM UK) and Women in Social Finance are two networks bringing together women professionals working in the field of social impact finance or personally engaged in women empowerment, financial inclusion and how to use the power of business to solve some of the world’s pressing issues.