PRESS RELEASE | African leaders commit to economic empowerment for low-income women

November 24, 2014

Women’s World Banking convenes an Africa Advisory Council

NEW YORK – Twelve high-profile African leaders, including Nigerian Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, have joined with global nonprofit Women’s World Banking to form a new advisory council with the common goal of bringing economic empowerment to low-income African women.

According to Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking, only 20 percent of women in Africa have a bank account.

“We are thrilled with the caliber of leaders who have joined the Africa Advisory Council. It’s a testament to the urgency of this issue. As some of the most prominent private and public sector leaders in Africa, this group is not willing to stand by while women are continually left out of the formal economy,” said Ms. Iskenderian.

From the government, financial, technology and consumer product sectors across the continent, the Africa Advisory Council includes as Honorary Co-Chairs Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance of Nigeria, and Dr. Jennifer Riria, Group CEO of Kenya Woman Holding.

“We all agree that this mission to bring financial tools and resources to the women of Africa is of utmost importance,” said Dr. Okonjo-Iweala.

“Access to a bank account is a right that low-income women have gone without for too long, but we do not join this Council as an act of charity. Serving the low-income women’s market is by no means a charitable endeavor, but a significant market opportunity for banks. Institutions that do not embrace these clients will be left behind.”

Ms. Iskenderian called the Africa Advisory Council “an unprecedented resource” in developing a robust, actionable strategy for reaching these women. She said this is a unique opportunity to draw on the expertise of leaders in their fields who share Women’s World Banking’s commitment to building security and prosperity for women in Africa.

“Investing in girls and women is one of the very best investments we can make,” said Justine Greening, International Development Secretary. The African Advisory Council was established with support from Financial Sector Deepening Africa (FSD Africa), an initiative funded by the U.K.’s Department for International Development.

“This commitment from African leaders to join the Africa Advisory Council is an important step towards giving women access to the financial services they need to thrive. The bottom line is no country can truly develop if it leaves half its population behind. That is why the U.K. is already working with Women’s World Banking to provide over one million women across Africa with key financial services.”

The Council will gather in Nairobi on November 24th for its first meeting and convene three times a year – always in Africa – in an effort to raise awareness of the importance of bringing more women into Africa’s formal financial and banking sectors.

“I have seen firsthand how access to finance can be a key driver to economic empowerment of women; a basis for transforming the way the world works for women and their families,” said Dr. Riria, who leads one of Women’s World Banking’s founding Network Member organizations and is also Chair of Women’s World Banking’s Board of Trustees.

“Though the cultures and communities throughout Africa are diverse, women share many of the same barriers to economic empowerment: geographic, emotional and financial. This Council is poised to advocate for these women and build a path forward for financial inclusion.”

Joining Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and Dr. Riria on the Advisory Council are:

  • Ade Ashaye, Country Manager, Visa West Africa (Nigeria)
  • Anne-Marie Chidzero, CEO, Financial Sector Deepening Mozambique, and CEO, AfriCap Microfinance Investment Company (South Africa/Mozambique)
  • Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Special Gender Envoy, African Development Bank (Tunisia)
  • Dr. Frannie Léautier, Partner and CEO, Mkoba Private Equity Fund (Tanzania)
  • Luke Mckend, Country Manager, Google (South Africa)
  • Debra Mallowah, Vice President, Personal Care, Unilever Africa (Kenya)
  • Elisabeth Medou-Badang, CEO, Orange Cameroon
  • Nomkhita Nqweni, CEO, Absa Capital, Wealth and Investment Management (South Africa)
  • Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa, Vice Governor, National Bank of Rwanda
  • Arunma Oteh, Director General, Securities and Exchange Commission (Nigeria)

Women’s World Banking currently works with 34 financial institutions in 24 countries, serving more than 20 million low-income clients, 14 million of whom are women. Women’s World Banking’s success in reaching un- and under-banked women over the past 30 years is based on in-depth research – understanding the lives of women and developing products that meet their needs while being sustainable for the financial institution.

With support from FSD Africa, Women’s World Banking is currently partnering with three leading banks in Africa – Diamond Bank in Nigeria, NBS Bank in Malawi and NMB in Tanzania – to create financial services specifically tailored to the unique needs of women, including innovative savings accounts and loans for rural entrepreneurs and farmers. Women’s World Banking also works in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.