Empowering women in Africa through microfinancing
N’Gunu Tiny, Chairman of Emerald Group discusses the use of technology in the African finance industry to empower women.
Technology is changing the world of finance by encouraging innovation in the sector and creating new ways of thinking. In Africa, it is helping to tackle gender inequality by creating opportunities for equal and fair access to banking services and the development of regional and local communities.
The banking sector is changing globally, and new regulations are creating fairer competition. African businesses are able to reflect on technologies and legislation used in the West to see how the sector may potentially develop, but then adopt these technologies with a greater focus on empowering the population.
We are entering the advent of open banking, APIs, digitisation and clever partnerships with FinTech service providers has meant that Africans are leading the way with early adoption of new technologies.
For example a recent partnership between Emerald Group and Makeba Inc., a US based financial services provider allows users to make peer to peer transactions and provides services for individuals and businesses in the African economy.
With a variety of companies investing in the African economy, and the development of new technology and increased access to financial systems, you should rapidly see a positive difference to local and regional communities.
Banko Financial Group are also making inroads into the integration of finance and technology. Banko is a technology aggregator that focuses on banking solutions, not just a bank that has a technology focus. It provides secure platform solutions for banks that in turn can offer these solutions onto their customer base in order to offer services such as microfinancing. This long-term project expands over several African countries in order to empower its users and contribute to the socio-economic development.
What is microfinancing?
Microfinancing is the provision of financial services, targeted at individuals and business who lack the provision to access conventional banking services. It increases access to finance in developing countries where a traditional banking institution would not extend credit to people if they have little or no assets. By using credit ratings, relationship banking, and microinsurance it helps families to take advantage of income-generating activities and enables users to better cope with the risks.
How microfinancing empowers women
A disturbing statistic many may not know, is that 70% of the poorest people on the planet are women. Women have been traditionally disadvantaged when it comes to accessing credit and other financial services. Large financial institutions have historically focused on men and ignored the women who make up a large percentage of the informal economy.
Women contribute to the economic growth and livelihoods of their families and communities with the top five countries with the highest female representation in the workforce all being in sub-Saharan Africa. Zimbabwe and Malawi have a 52% share in workforce, The Gambia has 50.8%, Liberia – 50.6% and Tanzania at 50.5%.
Microfinancing plays a hugely critical role in empowering women. It offers independence and empowerment and is especially beneficial in poorer households. By helping to promote sustainable livelihoods it offers a significant contribution to gender equality and better working conditions for women.
It’s just good business
By targeting women, microfinancing can have the widest impact and makes the most business sense. Data shows that women register the highest repayment rates. All the evidence leads to a strong business and public policy case for businesses to target female borrowers. Women feel more empowered and make a positive influence through decision making processes which enhances their socio-economic status.
Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with female ownership represent up to 37 percent in emerging markets. These businesses have financial needs that are not being met by traditional ways of banking. Currently they have unmet financial needs of up to $320 billion per year. The lack of finance is a huge barrier to growth.
The wider impact on communities
Further benefits are shown to support local and regional hubs, there is a positive effect on communities through access to finance and increased education and training.
Microfinance supports green jobs and has greater environmental impact. By reducing the barriers to financial services and promoting microfinance, it is extremely beneficial to women.
According to the world bank, they also contribute a larger portion of their income to the household when compared to their male counterparts. The benefits subsequently flow down to everyone in the household, children of female microfinance borrowers are likely to see an increase in their fulltime school enrolment and lower drop-out rates.
Studies show that by investing in their children education also benefits younger girls too. And households often have better health practices and nutrition.
Research has shown that in developing countries only twenty percent of women have an account at a formal finance institution and seventeen percent have borrowed formally. Women are less likely to have a bank account than men which can present a problem when trying to access financial credit.
Giving women access to credit can open greater economic opportunities with access to bank accounts being one of the biggest gateways to accessing additional financial services.
In summary, I would say that we still have a lot of ground to cover when it comes to servicing one of the most vital segments of the population. Not only does it make economical and business sense, but the social impact at a regional level will feed through for generations to come.
For more information on business topics in the Middle East and Africa, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief MEA.