A Final Recap of Building Women-Focused Finance

November 20, 2013

We just concluded our Building Women-Focused Finance: The Global Experience conference in Amman and we are so excited about the quality of the presenters and the level of engagement from the audience of over 300 people from around the world.

As Mary Ellen Iskenderian, our president and CEO, said in her closing remarks, “First and foremost we cannot lose and in fact must increase our focus and measurement on how well we serve women. I want to believe what Anne Nakawunde from Finance Trust said: ‘we are all on the same page that women are a viable market.’ If we truly believe that, and Women’s World Banking has certainly believed that since our founding more than 30 years ago, then it is going to require old and new players to come together – from microfinance institutions to investors to regulators to commercial banks to telcos to corporate partners. It also requires a host of financial products that clearly meet the needs of women at each stage of their life. And as what was discussed in the Social and Financial Performance panel, what gets measured gets done.”

For those that were unable to join us, I’d like to give just a brief summary of the plenaries and breakout sessions. We started the conference with in-depth data from the World Bank both on the region and globally. This oriented us to the challenges that lie ahead.

Our first set of breakouts focused on specific populations that are difficult to tackle. What came out of these sessions was the clear recognition that we must go beyond serving women and develop even greater segmentation in order to serve them well. The 40 million garment workers around the world need financial education but it needs to be the right kind of education since classroom lectures don’t work – and the women also need control of their finances. Financial literacy and access to savings for youth will build a stronger, more capable future for them. And women are the majority of small holder farmers but make up so little of the global supply chains.

Our near-crisis panel was especially thought-provoking. The concept of risk management takes on a whole new meaning when dealing with the natural disasters, refugee influx and political instability discussed by our panelists from Pakistan, Lebanon and Tunisia. And as Essma Ben Hamida from enda inter-arabe said, the biggest risk we face is not protecting the hard-fought rights of women.

Affordability, relevance, convenience. These three attributes must be available in order to have a successful financial product for women. This was the theme throughout the women-focused product panel. We saw two vastly different models in Al Amal Bank in Yemen and CARD Bank in the Philippines yet they addressed these three characteristics in the diversity of products they offer.

Continuing on the focus on products, our breakout sessions were full of practical advice from a broad range of practitioners. Interoperability in a mobile banking context was well explained for the audience. The value of partnerships came through loud and clear when developing a microinsurance product. The trust and transparency between Microfund for Women and Jordan Insurance is a model for all of us to learn from. Creative approaches are even more critical when developing individual lending methodologies including developing psychometric risk assessment models.

We also had the opportunity to celebrate Microfund for Women and the other finalists of the Excellence in Leadership Award (Banco ADOPEM, CARD Bank, Fundacion delamujer, Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation) for their incredible commitment to gender diversity. The five institutions are certainly models to be emulated.

Measuring gender performance was particularly well received by the audience. Our key gender indicators will be the subject of additional analysis with the Mix Market in a publication to be distributed in 2014.

The transformation panel stressed that there does not need to be a trade off between transformation and commitment to mission. And while the closing panel was dedicated to a more inclusive regulatory environment, the opening investment panel called out regulations as a growth driver.

A special thank you to all of the organizations and people who made this conference happen including our lead sponsor Citi Microfinance and our network member Microfund for Women and managing director Muna Sukhtian and her incredible staff for providing invaluable guidance and support at the conference.

Mary Ellen concluded the conference with these words: “I encourage all of you to go back to your organizations, push to make sure that your products, policies,and leadership reflect the commitment to serve the women’s market well. It is only with this commitment that we will see a closing of the financial inclusion gap and a better future for families and communities both in the region and worldwide. Thank you for joining us in this effort.”

In the coming weeks you’ll see blogs from our staff on all the sessions at Building Women-Focused Finance. Stay tuned!