poverty

Celebrating IWD: Q&A with Diana Noble, CEO of CDC

In celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD), March 8th 2016, WAM UK interviewed Diana Noble, CEO of CDC Group Plc. 

Diana_Noble-9

Diana Noble, CEO of CDC, the UK’s development finance institution.

What is CDC?

CDC is the UK’s development finance institution. Wholly owned by the UK Government, we invest in the private sector in Africa and South Asia – where over 80 per cent of the world’s poorest people live – to support the building of businesses and to create jobs.

We focus on investing in sectors where growth leads to jobs.  These include microfinance institutions, as well as companies in agribusiness, construction, manufacturing and broader financial services. In 2014, our investments created around 1.3 million direct and indirect new jobs and livelihoods.

Why is microfinance important for women and their families?

Many of the businesses we support help empower women and this is particularly true of microfinance institutions and other financial services companies. CDC has invested over US$300m in microfinance institutions and funds to date, reaching out to over 15 million women clients.

There are a number of reasons why microfinance is important for women and their families. According to the World Bank, only 50 per cent of women in the world have access to formal financial services and microfinance institutions aim to improve this statistic. However microfinance is not only economically but also socially empowering for women by enhancing their status in male-dominated societies, improving financial literacy, and allowing them to scale up their businesses. Also, when women participate in the workforce and are earning, it tends to have a positive impact on the family as a whole with evidence suggesting that women reinvest 90 per cent of their income back into the families, while that figure is just 35 per cent for men.

Can you give us any examples of how CDC’s investee companies have supported women?

CDC recently invested in Equitas, an Indian microfinance institution based in Chennai, Southern India. Its clients are women who run small businesses.

We decided to invest in Equitas because the company prides itself on being a responsible lender – before loans are given, borrowers attend three days of financial training and further support and advice is provided afterwards too. Equitas has helped many women entrepreneurs. Kala was given a loan equivalent to around US$160 to buy a sewing machine and start her tailoring business. When colleagues met Kala recently in Chennai, she said she was close to repaying the loan and she uses the extra income she now generates to pay for her children’s education.

Kala.jpg

Kala, Entrepreneur. Source: CDC

In Africa, CDC has invested in DCFU Bank in Uganda, which helps support women entrepreneurs to start and build their businesses. For example, Yvonne Katamba used a loan to help grow her cleaning business. In just 10 years, it grew from an annual turnover of US$2,000 to US$275,000, and she now employs 175 people.

Yvonne Katamba.jpg

Yvonne Katamba, Entrepreneur. Souce: CDC

What plans does CDC have for future investments?

At CDC, we will continue to invest in sectors and business which can create jobs and make a lasting impact to people’s lives. This includes supporting companies in Africa and South Asia that help to empower women.

In the last financial year, our figures suggest the businesses we invest in employ 165,000 direct jobs for women. Our aim is to continue to build on this, so we can provide opportunities to even more people in some of the poorest parts of the world.

Advertisements

Can Digital Currencies Enable Financial Inclusion?

Uphold invite

On January 26th, Tuesday, Women Advancing Microfinance UK are hosting a dinner in London to explore how innovations in financial technology, especially digital currencies, can further financial inclusion. Tickets to the event are available here.

On the night, Diana Biggs from Uphold, the fastest growing money platform in the world since its launch in 2014, will be leading the discussion. Diana is listed as one of the Top 25 FinTech influencers in the UK by City A.M.

Ahead of the event we asked Diana some questions for a primer on digital currencies and how we can reach the unbanked to ensure that they are not overlooked by technological advancement.

First things first, Diana, what are digital currencies and how do they work?

When we talk about digital currency, broadly we mean electronic money: payments that happen online, outside of a banknote, a coin; this could be paying online with paypal or credit cards and online bank transfers. Money is, from economic theory, a store of value, a medium of exchange and a unit of account. For a digital currency to serve as money, it must fulfill these things.

Virtual currencies, on the other hand, do not exist outside of the digital world – for example, payments you make on a video game, or Facebook credits.  According to a recent European Central Bank report on emerging currencies, one could argue that the line between a virtual currency and a digital currency lies in the interchange – if they can be traded P2P and used in the real world for physical goods and services they tend toward digital currencies; if used only for virtual world purchases in closed loop systems, then they are likely virtual currencies.

Finally, we have cryptocurrencies made popular by bitcoin, introduced in 2009. Cryptocurrencies use a cryptographic algorithm for security and anti-counterfeiting – they can also be, as is the case with bitcoin, decentralized, meaning there is no central government or party controlling it. Bitcoin’s value is determined by the market forces of supply and demand. While still very much in the early stages and likely not about to replace any of our home currencies anytime soon, it has opened up a lot of thought as to the benefits that come with truly digitizing money. Bitcoin is now used for interchange in the real world, so in that, it is also a digital currency.

We often hear of Bitcoin as a blockchain technology, what is that? And is it safe?

A blockchain is essentially a distributed ledger. A distributed ledger isn’t necessarily anything new technology wise, but it has been brought to the fore recently given the novel approach of bitcoin, which is the first and arguably only decentralized ledger – meaning there is no one central party controlling it.

The bitcoin blockchain is a secure database of all the transactions which have occurred on the bitcoin network. The “blocks” in the blockchain are groups of transactions, which have been computationally verified by bitcoin miners. Each of these blocks are time-stamped and secured cryptographically. For transactions to be approved, it need to be openly verified by all parties, using a consensus algorithm.

All nodes in the bitcoin system can download the blockchain ledger, meaning each node can have a full record of all transactions (hence, distributed and decentralized – there is no one central database). You and anyone else are free to download this, and all transactions are public and transparent. Being open and cryptographically secured, the blockchain is essentially tamperless.

Now that we know more about digital currencies, how can they help enable financial inclusion?

Digital currencies can take on the properties inherent in the internet, holding advantages over real cash, as email does compared to mailing a letter: it’s efficient; global and works across distances and borders; 24/7 and instant; peer to peer, and can have near zero cost – bringing massive efficiencies and cost savings over traditional methods.

With these advantages in mind, we begin to see how this kind of digitization of money and financial services, enabled by new technology, can help open doors for women and forward financial inclusion.

Can you give an example of how digital currencies further financial inclusion?

Sure. I’ll take the Uphold platform as an example, since that is what I am closest to.

Uphold’s digital money account provides individuals excluded from the banking system with a safe place to send and store their money, without cost and without borders. Within the platform, which is free to join, members can instantly send, hold, or convert between any of the 25 currencies on the platform at zero cost, with currencies converted at the mid-market rate – meaning no hidden fees in the exchange, bringing massive efficiencies and cost savings over traditional methods. Accessible from any connected device, Uphold is unique in being a truly global money account, available to individuals and businesses around the world, unlike banks whose operations are geographically siloed by country.

Our partners, who integrate with our platform via our open API, bring new on-ramps and off-ramps in various markets which further the opportunity. For example, LibertyX allows individuals without access to bank accounts to deposit their money into an Uphold account at over 10,000 retail locations in the US. This gives them a safe place to hold money, in the currency of their choice, be it US dollars or Mexican Pesos, with no account fees, transfer fees or FX fees, and send it worldwide instantly and for free.

We’re currently building out partnerships with mobile wallet providers and remittance companies across several geographies. The average cost of sending remittances worldwide is 7-8%. With Uphold, this is dramatically reduced – sending and converting is free and the only cost involved might be a fee for local cash out.

How big is the digital currency market currently and where do we expect it go?

At present, the understanding around digital currencies and integration into society remains relatively small. A recent report  by the Bank of England noted that although digital currencies could, in theory, serve as money for anybody with an internet-enabled device, at present they act as money only to a limited extent and only for relatively few people.

Despite the widespread use of cards, innovations like contactless and Apple Pay, and apps like Uber saving our card details sparing us from needing cash, today, in both rich and developing countries, cash remains king. Cash, however, has its disadvantages. It is easily lost, it is untraceable (whether that is a disadvantage or an advantage can be debated), it can be difficult to move around, risky to carry, and can even spread disease.

I believe, however, that the movement to digital currencies – whether a new currency itself or the digitization of fiat currencies (on Uphold, we work with both) – is inevitable and a matter of time. As mobile phones and internet connectivity becomes more ubiquitous, this is a key enabler. Comparable to email vs. the post, using and sending money digitally, makes it instant, secure, globally accessible and low cost to free. Governments, banks and businesses are beginning to realise these benefits and open up to the possibilities here.

How can those that are excluded by mainstream financial services access digital currencies?

There are a variety of ways. Anyone with a connected device and a form of ID can join an online platform, such as Uphold. There are no costs or restrictions to making an account. As mentioned above, LibertyX is one example of a platform (and there are more coming on each day) that allows individuals without bank accounts to store their money, deposited as cash, safely and securely in the cloud.

Interested in more? Come join us at the WAM UK dinner event in Central London on 26th Jan. Tickets available here.

This blog also appears on Business Fights Poverty, the world’s largest community of professionals passionate about harnessing business for social impact. 

logo

Q&A With Thea Anderson, Director of Financial Inclusion at Mercy Corps

nepal-201305-sshakya-0055.JPG

Two women transacting payments over their phones in Kathmandu, Nepal Source: Mercy Corps

WAM UK hosted a dinner with Thea Anderson, Mercy Corps’ Director for Financial Inclusion, with our members to learn more about the global organisation’s engagement in advancing access to financial services for women. Mercy Corps operates in 42 countries and is a leader in integrating mobile technology in financial inclusion. On the night, Thea shared her experiences working directly in designing and implementing solutions on the ground for Mercy Crops, and for the benefit for those who couldn’t join us, we asked her some questions here:

Thank you Thea for sharing your experiences with WAM, but first things first, could you introduce us to Mercy Corps?

Mercy Corps is an international non-governmental, non-profit agency impacting over 30 million people each year in the world’s most difficult places and emerging markets. We focus on solutions to systemic global poverty through humanitarian relief and long-term development. We recognize that new technology, business models and creative partnerships provide transformational opportunities to overcome poverty. Managing and providing technical assistance to over 40 country offices, with US and European Headquarters (based in Scotland) and a representative office in London U.K. Mercy Corps complies with the U.K. International Aid and Transparency Initiative and is rated each year by the U.S. Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator – the premier American charity evaluator. Consistently, Mercy Corps receives the highest ratings. Mercy Corps ranked in the Top 10 in the 2013 Global Journal list of top 100 NGOs.

As Director of Financial Inclusion you’ve worked on expanding the reach of financial services in some of the world’s most fragile environments. Could you tell us more about Mercy’s Corp’s approach to financial inclusion?

Mercy Corps leads financial inclusion initiatives in over 30 countries partnering with commercial and public banks, MFIs, non-bank financial institutions, community-level financial institutions, and technology providers.  Even as a non-profit, we have launched commercial bank models in the Philippines, Mongolia and Indonesia, and most recently agent banking in Ethiopia which all use digital payments to serve millions of low-income clients without the need of a physical bank branches.

We recognize that traditional foreign aid hand-out programs will not lift and keep the billions of people at the bottom of the pyramid out of poverty. Mercy Corps therefore uses market-based approaches in partnership with commercial actors where feasible. We see technology as the key driver to lower transactions costs and payments as the entry point for other financial services allowing people to access money with the longer-term goal of establishing a place where they can safely save money, access capital and insurance products.

How does Mercy Corp use Technology to achieve financial inclusion, in particular with women?

Globally, Mercy Corps supports technology providers, financial institutions, and mobile network operators (MNOs) to identify and expand access to financial services at scale through the use of mobile and cashless technologies. This includes digital financial services and e-commerce platforms, agent networks, and bundled technology solutions such as the examples below:

  • In Nepal, Mercy Corps works with over 260 community-level financial institutions to access wholesale capital as well as introduce new savings, affordable credit, and remittances. This includes scaling several mobile payment platforms to rural Nepal in partnership with banks and Nepal’s largest branchless banking provider to reach thousands of new clients.

  • In Indonesia, Zimbabwe, and Uganda, Mercy Corps bundles financial services and farm- and crop-management tools for 170,000 small-holder farmers on affordable, unified mobile phone platforms. Farmers move along a four-step process using access to digital information and payments solutions as an entry point. Through these digital transactions, farmers build a transaction history to develop credit scores that enables them to engage with more formal financial services, including remittances, savings, credit, and insurance.

  • Mercy Corps hosted Tunisia’s first ‘Innovation Challenge for Financial Inclusion’ with financial institutions, crowd- sourcing platforms and angel investors for new mobile financial products for the growing Tunisian market. As a result, Mercy Corps is co-financing new crowdfunding platforms targeting youth entrepreneurs. In 2015, the Tunisian Post Office, which has over 1,000 branches and millions of clients, will launch a micro-savings product via mobile phones and electronic cards across the country with support from Mercy Corps.

Is Technology an effective enabler for financial services? If so, how can we ensure that women are not left out of the digital revolution?

Digital technology can change lives. It provides access to critical information for women. Female farmers can learn to weather costs of agricultural inputs, be linked to financial services such as payments, remittances, and savings, and connect to social media and e-commerce platforms. However, to benefit from technology you must have access to technology. Globally, over a billion women do not have full access to a mobile phone or access to digital financial services even in its most basic form.[1] This is especially acute in South Asia. Recent data shows than more that up to 50% of women in Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Indonesia have never used a mobile phone, even for voice calls.[2]

As the world moves forward towards digital, huge numbers of the population are being left behind. Not only is this a missed opportunity for women on the customer-side this is a huge lost for the commercial sector – up to an estimated £111 billion for MNOs alone over the next five years.

Mercy Corps has a major role to play – to connect different segments of women to technology providers, financial institutions, and MNOs to expand their access to and usage of digital financial services. International agencies like Mercy Corps offer valuable insights about potential client demand to governments, multinational corporations and technology firms that don’t have first-hand knowledge of field realities and needs. Development actors like Mercy Corps play a critical partnership role by mitigating risks for other actors, especially in complex and fragile states.

Looking ahead, what are the key priorities for Mercy Corps’ in financial inclusion?

Mercy Corps will continue to prioritize countries in transition from war or natural disaster or in the midst of economic or social transformation. For us, ‘business as usual’ means partnerships with governments and the private sector to solve complex global challenges of both emerging and pre-emerging economies, including financial inclusion.

Please find more on Mercy Corps current work in financial inclusion here.

[1] http://www.gsma.com

[2] Ibid.

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

By Sophia Velissaratou, co-founder WAM UK

GBS

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.

Women for Women Intl: Stronger Women, Stronger Communities

by Kim Croucher, WAM UK Steering Committee

“I never believed that I had rights, but I learned through the programme that I was born with all my rights.  The next time he hit me, I did not apologize to him.”

WfW

Statements like the above had shocked me. However after visiting one of Women for Women International’s programmes three years ago in Rwanda, meeting some of the women attending the programme in-person, and through reading more about women’s experiences around the world– I came to the slow realization that statements like the above revealed a level of violence-endured and discrimination that was not unusual for many women around the world.   The same statement also shows me how Women for Women International, a leading global charity, is changing the lives of the women they work with in conflict-torn countries through knowledge and growing their self-belief.

On a cold evening in late February this year, WAM was proud to host Women for Women International’s Country Director for Nigeria, Ngozi Eze, at one of our signature dinner discussions with our network members. It was certainly a thought-provoking evening.

Ngozi spoke specifically about the programme Women for Women International run in Nigeria, where the organization has been present since 2000. Since then, it has put 52,000 of some of the most marginalized women through a yearlong programme to educate them on health, family planning, financial literacy, legal rights and empowerment.  The women participants are also offered vocational skills training relevant to their local market, so that, upon graduation, they can start earning an independent income and begin to build their self-sufficiency.

To contextualize this achievement, what are some of the challenges that women in Nigeria face?  Approximately 54% of Nigerian women are illiterate[1] and 28% would not have completed primary education. In Northern Nigeria, women have increasingly experienced forced early marriage and there is much skepticism about family planning – overall 20% of Nigerian women are married by the age of 15 and 39% by the age of 18[2], only 18% of women in a union between the ages of 15-49 practice contraception[3], the average woman will give birth to 6 children during her lifetime[4], and a woman will die in childbirth for every 178 live births[5].  According to a 2014 UN report on the State of the World’s Children, 46% of Nigerian women believe that a husband beating his wife is justifiable[6].  The report also confirms relatively widespread practices of female genital mutilation.

Ngozi spoke about the holistic nature of their programme. It is not enough to give the women vocational skills. The women needed help to understand how to look after themselves and their children in terms of sanitation and nutrition, they needed skills in saving and financial planning, but more importantly they needed to understand their rights and the channels through which they can speak out for themselves and their needs.  Only if all these elements fall together could the vocational skills translate into long-term economic stability for the women.

A key to the success of Women for Women’s programmes, both in Nigeria and other countries where they work, is the emphasis on the networks women build during the programme, something they come to rely on time and time again.

Ngozi gave an example of how a woman, who was being beaten by her husband, experienced the power of her network when her classmates came to her house one morning, stood outside and began publicly berating her husband for his behaviour.  The women report many instances when such a network has been critical, from when one of them experience poor health and needs help with childcare, or requires assistance with her business.  Women are encouraged after the programme to form co-operatives since many of them would have learnt similar vocational skills and would benefit from pooling their labour and skills together, providing each other support and assistance beyond the initial year long programme.

What about the role of men?  Ngozi’s office was one of the first in Women for Women International’s network of offices to start a men’s engagement programme.  This involved speaking to and engaging with men from diverse backgrounds across the country, but mainly men who had an influence on communities, such as traditional rulers in local communities, religious leaders to men in the military.  Religious and community leaders have tremendous sway over group behaviour and cultural views.  Ngozi told us that in their experience, many men they’ve engaged with understand the benefits of economically stronger women and the related positive impacts on children’s welfare, education and the wider community.

During our dinner, we asked about the threat from Boko Haram and how this might be affecting women on the programmes.  My sense from the discussion was that while organisations like Boko Haram are definitely a threat to the safety of many women in the regions where Women for Women International operates and was certainly making the international headlines – the challenges faced by women in Nigeria are so much wider.  As alluded to through statistics quoted at the start of this blog many women will be trapped in a quagmire of chronic poverty, lack of education, discriminatory customs and norms, and gender-based violence is more pervasive than headline grabbing terrorism.

Leading on from the discussion, we heard about the peace-building capacity of the programme.  Christian and Muslim women are often brought together during the training and while there can often be mutual suspicion at the outset, fueled by societal divisions, many of the women quickly come to realize how similar their experiences were and that they faced the same issues. One of the charity’s beliefs is that when they empower women in post-conflict societies, they are much more likely to work to build bridges between previously opposing groups – and this has been borne out in some situations.

A member of the Women for Women’s International UK team was also present to discuss the organizations global operations.  Development work like this and its effects on societies may take years to make itself visible to the outside world, but there are now clear signs of impact that they can point to.  In terms of enhancing income generation capabilities amongst women – in the case of Nigeria, upon entering the programme the average earnings of attendees was £0.19 per day and two years after graduating this has risen to £1.90.  In terms of their health and well-being, 10% of women report practicing family planning upon enrollment compared with 60% two years after graduating.   The ripple effects of the programme are also evident as 87% of women report educating other women about her rights two years after graduating compared with 7% on enrollment.  The impact results that can be measured in other countries where the organization work have proven similar, places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo.

The support networks that Women for Women International emphasizes for their graduates aren’t limited to the networks that form between women who’ve graduated together or women in the same local communities (although these groups clearly have a unique ability to help each other).  The charity encourages women and men from all over the world to sign up to be a sister (or sponsor) to the women in the programme – and this doesn’t mean just donating the money for them to take part in the course, but also writing to the women to show moral support and understanding.

Learning about this initiative, I have personally sponsored women on the programme in various countries. I always find it interesting to make a connection with a woman in another country. A woman who is probably going through very different experiences to myself and yet, many of her concerns and challenges will be similar to those of many women around the world – to look after her family, to do the best for her children, to stand up for her rights and in sadly too many cases, to stand-up to violence. My current sister has eight children and lives in Afghanistan; she has told me how the programme has helped her to help her children and it has been a real pleasure to correspond with her and hear about her life and to tell her about mine, as part of the wider Women for Women International network.

Sponsoring a woman on the programme costs £22 a month. To sponsor a sister and support the programme please click here.

Click here for a video on Women for Women International’s Work

[1] “The Demographic and Health Surveys Program: Nigeria.” USAID.

http://dhsprogram.com/Where-We-Work/Country-Main.cfm?ctry_id=30&c=Nigeria&Country=Nigeria&cn=&r=1

[2] “Table 9: Child Protection.” The State of the World’s Children 2014 in Numbers. UNICEF. Page 81. http://www.unicef.org/sowc2014/numbers/documents/english/SOWC2014_In%20Numbers_28%20Jan.pdf

[3] “Contraceptive Prevalence (percent of women ages 15-49).” The World Bank Data. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.CONU.ZS

[4] “Maternal Mortality Ratio (modeled estimate, per 100,000 live births).” The World Bank. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.STA.MMRT

[5] “Maternal Mortality Ratio (modeled estimate, per 100,000 live births).” The World Bank. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.STA.MMRT

[6] “The State of the World’s Children 2014.” United Nations Children’s Fund. http://www.unicef.org/sowc2014/numbers/documents/english/SOWC2014_In%20Numbers_28%20Jan.pdf

Empowering Women in Fragile States With Progressio

by Monika Jonusauskiene, WAM UK Steering Committee Member

progressio

Hot off the heels of International Woman’s Day, on March 17th, WAM UK held a joint workshop with Progressio, a leading international development charity, on women empowerment in fragile post-conflict states, such as Zimbabwe, Somalia and Yemen. Progressio supports poor and marginalised people, especially women, to empower themselves in some of the world’s most challenging situations, with over 70 years of experience. If you missed the event, fear not – we have summarised the workshop in this blog.

Hosted by Baroness Ruth Lister of Burtersett, the senior leadership of Progressio showcased their most impactful work  to a  wide ranging audience, including WAM members, in the illustrious settings of the House of Lords in London. The event was designed to welcome active participation and suggestion for Progressio on its strategic focus and to highlight development solutions, reflective of the charity’s inclusive approach to development and knowledge sharing.

The event was the first of many to mark the 75th year of Progressio’s important work in some of the world’s most fragile and challenging areas. On the evening, Mark Lister, the CEO of Progressio, shared several impactful stories and case studies of women in Zimbabwe, Somalia and Yemen. Inspiring examples of women in vulnerable settings working with Progressio to influence local policy were told. He shared the example of a group of women who, against the odds, successfully organised themselves to lobby local municipalities to cover a well known hazard of dangerous well-holes. Lister’s account not only highlighted a practical solution to a community problem, it also showcased an example that, with the right support, even some of the most marginalised women’s’ voices can be heard, and bring about meaningful change.

IMG_7399

Presentation by Progressio, photo courtesy of WAM UK

As Progressio highlights, 50% of the world’s poor already live in fragile states and fragile states can make people poor – reinforcing a negative cycle. Moreover, women living in fragile states are some of the most disempowered and poorest of the poor and hence Progressio believes that supporting women in fragile states tackles poverty where it is most needed. Supporting women can help achieve deep-seated social change, transforming fragile states into stronger societies via active civil participation.

The event also discussed some of the key barriers to empowering women in fragile states drawing upon audience experience. WAM members and other members of the audience shared their perception of issues facing women empowerment, globally and at home. In small groups, attendees also discussed how they could individually use their experience and knowledge to help design and implement women empowerment solutions. Bernie Morgan of Progressio described her observation that women often refer to their family members when asked to give an example of a role-model and explained that Progressio was using that knowledge to build development solutions that draw upon the strength of women’s social and familial networks. On the night we also brainstormed various social enterprise ideas to help fundraising at Progressio.

On the night we covered a lot of ground in terms of pressing topics in women’s international development and also how attendees can help support Progressio’s efforts. We would like to take the opportunity to thank all the WAM Members that joined us for this hands-on workshop– it is your very enthusiasm and brain-power that made this event such a success! We invite those who couldn’t attend to learn more about Progressio’s ground breaking work via their website particularly on promoting women’s rights and participation in fragile states.

More about the people behind the event

Mark Lister is CEO of Progressio, having been appointed in 2012. He worked for the charity previously some 20 years ago as a fundraiser. His passion is grass roots international development and ensuring that the voices of the most marginalized are heard at the highest level.

Bernie Morgan is Progressio’s Business Development Manager. When she was CEO of the Community Development Finance Association she was involved in the early days of WAM. Her passion is working for a fairer society for all.

Baroness Ruth Lister is a supporter of Progressio. She was appointed to the Lords in 2011. She is Professor of Social Policy at Loughborough University specializing in poverty, social security and women’s citizenship.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Money

by Lisa Wong, WAM UK

james

“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