Whenever the end of year comes, introspection is as “in season” as holiday shopping, festive gatherings and, for those of us in colder climes, boots, scarves and thick furry jackets. This is a time when people ask, “what happened this year?,” marvel at how quickly time has passed, wonder at all that has occurred and consider what it all means. I am not immune to this seasonal introspection, and in fact, I find myself particularly reflective this year. Not only did I celebrate my 10th anniversary with Women’s World Banking this year, but here at home, the US election has heightened awareness of the progress we’ve made in advancing women’s equality while reminding us of how far we still have to go and the importance of holding our ground. For Women’s World Banking, much of the past year was spent looking forward in preparing our new strategy, so I thought I would reflect on the past 10 years before jumping headfirst into 2017.
When it all began…
There is a story I love to tell about my first few months at Women’s World Banking. Soon after I joined the organization, we launched the planning process for our 2008-2010 strategy. As we were conducting external interviews, a long-time funder of the organization remarked that, in recent years, we had become “all things to all people” and suggested that we officially change the name of the organization to WWB and without telling anyone what the first ‘W’ stands for! While I was shocked by this comment, in truth, I couldn’t really disagree with the observation. With transformation at its peak, mission-drift was rampant and many institutions, including ours, had diversified their focus to such an extent that women were no longer at the center of the work.
I am thrilled to say that Women’s World Banking did not rename itself in order to obscure a focus on women. Instead, we leaned in to who we are to sharpen our focus on women and establish ourselves as the “go to” organization for women’s financial inclusion. We have expanded our scope to take a more holistic view of women and their financial lives, moving our work and understanding of women’s needs from microcredit to the broader suite of financial – and sometimes non-financial – services. We have successfully tapped the power of strong partnerships, working with a broader set of organizations to expand women’s financial inclusion. And as our universe of partners grows, so has our commitment to providing and strengthening peer learning opportunities to ensure that the greatest number of low-income women are served, and served well. We have been nimble in adapting new technological innovations to increase their usage by women. The launch and ongoing investment of WWB Capital Partners, our very own gender-lens impact investing fund, provides a strong business case for investing in women. Last but not least, Women’s World Banking in 2016 is a stronger, more resilient organization than ever before, with greater financial, managerial and governance resources to call on. The new strategic approach builds on these strengths and challenges us to do even more with them.
But perhaps our greatest strengths lie with the people and organizations of the Women’s World Banking Network. We have the Global Team, a dedicated group of diverse professionals that continuously strives for excellence, seeking sustainable solutions for providing low-income women access to and control over their finances.
And of course, our Network Members, who retain an unparalleled commitment to serving women clients and promoting women leaders. They outperform the industry on a host of financial and gender performance metrics: in FY2015, network members’ return on assets was higher than the industry benchmark (3.36% vs 1.81%) and compared to global institutions*, network members have more women borrowers (67.01% vs 63.99%), employ more female loan officers (46.8% vs 39%); female managers (39.56% vs 33.33%); female staff overall (50.37% vs 46.73%) and have significantly more female board members (42.86% vs 25.00%). You also continue to validate the business case for gender diversity: among network institutions who have more than 35% female board, managers and staff, more women are served (67.37% vs 60.53%) and return on assets is higher (3.42% vs 3.02%).
It has and continues to be, a great honor and privilege to serve with and alongside my colleagues here at Women’s World Banking and all our allies in empowering women these past several years. I cannot wait to see what we can do in these next ten years!