Driving Gender Equality in the Financial System with Women’s World Banking CEO Mary Ellen Iskenderian

June 24, 2022

Mary Ellen begins with the book’s central idea: microfinance is not a solution to women’s financial inclusion. Born in the 1970s, microfinance entailed providing small, unsecured loans to people from low socioeconomic backgrounds so that they could successfully start and grow their own businesses. Microfinance quickly became popular as a method to solve poverty. However, the microfinance model was premised solely on debt. Many poor, vulnerable people found themselves in over their heads after taking out microfinance loans they could not repay.

Instead, financial inclusion requires that low-income people have a convenient way to send money and make payments. Financial inclusion requires that low-income people have a safe place to store their money. It requires that low-income people have access to insurance products so they can protect their home, their business and themself. A major development in achieving these tenets of financial inclusion is the advent of financial services accessible through mobile phones. However, as Mary Ellen points out, women are denied access to these services to a much greater extent than men are, with women being 18 percent less likely to own a smartphone.

There’s Nothing Micro about a Billion Women illustrates the ways by which Mary Ellen and Women’s World Banking works to close this gap in financial inclusion. They work with financial services providers, regulators and policy makers to advocate for policies that level the playing field for women trying to gain access to finance. Women’s World Banking invests in financial institutions committed to gender inclusion. Yet one of Mary Ellen’s points of emphasis is the actions any individual can take to promote financial inclusion for women: taking into account the gender diversity of the institutions that handle your finances, promoting financial and digital literacy in children from a young age and evaluating the items in your investment portfolio to see if they include products and companies that address women’s needs.

We know more women in finance leads to stronger institutions and a more equitable world. The exciting thing is that anybody can be an advocate for women’s financial inclusion.

Learn more about There’s Nothing Micro About a Billion Women.