Imagine bringing a group of 26 ambitious Zambian women together for a week, consisting of entrepreneurs, commercial bankers and central bankers. Any idea what you get, besides what is normally expected from women groups, animated talking and laughter? The Female Focus on Financial Inclusion Initiative in Zambia. In short: a powerful Program for female empowerment and change.
FMO is working hard to find the right recipe for driving financial inclusion in emerging markets.The main objective of the recent Program in Zambia was to create a deeper connection between the banking sector and female entrepreneurs, and to use these new perspectives to develop solutions for driving the financial inclusion agenda. The Program offered a combination of business support sessions, leadership workshops and one-on-one coaching. It was made possible by FMO’s Capacity Development Program, Norfund, Arise, Career Generators, Sustainable Finance Advisory, 5 local banks and the Bank of Zambia.
Women-led businesses face challenges
I have tried many times, but what I got was the question whether I would use the loan to buy more clothes
Do we really need such an initiative?Although Zambia accounts for one of the highest proportion of female entrepreneurs on the African continent, there is still a huge financing gap (FinScope Zambia 2015; 67% of Zambian women are financially excluded, compared to men 57%). Women led businesses especially face many challenges. They largely operate in the informal sector where access to networks, mentoring and other business support structures are limited. Women often fear the banks and do not reach out to them as easily as their male counterparts. ‘I have tried many times, but what I got was the question whether I would use the loan to buy more clothes’, said one of the participating female entrepreneurs.
The soil for change in Zambia is fertile
The Bank of Zambia has taken up financial inclusion, and especially gender inclusion, as an important part of their National Strategy 2016-2019. FMO’s Program helped to strengthen this enabling environment, which perfectly matches FMO’s strategic focus on SDG 10 and SDG 5.
At the end of the Program, the female entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas, challenges and needs for all the key players in the Zambian financial sector, including the Minister of Finance, the Governor and Deputy Governor of the Central Bank and all the CEOs of the largest Zambian banks. The female bankers joined forces and pitched new ideas and solutions for better serving the women’s market.
We must break the silos, go back to the drawing boards and make sure we do not miss out on the opportunity of financing female entrepreneurs
One of the female bankers admitted that the Program had opened her eyes, and that she actually felt embarrassed. ‘I thought I knew what I was doing, but I don’t. We must break the silos, go back to the drawing boards and make sure we do not miss out on the opportunity of financing female entrepreneurs’.
This week empowered the bankers to be the changemakers within their banks. As one of the bankers said: ‘You don’t have to be a CEO to be a leader and to make an impact.’ In terms of outcomes, to sum up just a few:
- FMO and the Bank of Zambia will explore the feasibility of providing credit risk guarantee structures dedicated to the women’s market.
- The Bank of Zambia is looking into ways of collecting sex-disaggregated data from the financial sector.
- Many of the entrepreneurs got offered mentorships by the participating female bankers.
- Several follow-up discussions about financial and non-financial support for female entrepreneurs by the banks.
This is only the beginning of the change we hope to see in Zambia, or how the Deputy Governor of Zambia framed it: ‘It only takes a spark to start the fire burning’.