An Urgent Question: What does financial inclusion in MENA look like?

March 31, 2014

“What does financial inclusion in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) look like?” was the first session of the Building Women-Focused Finance conference and the perfect way to set us up for the two-day confab in Jordan last November. Although participants came from across the globe, we all gathered in Amman for a reason. In the MENA region, 18 percent of adults have an account at a formal financial institute compared to 42 percent in the rest of the developing world (Global Findex). The question “What does financial inclusion in MENA look like?” is an urgent one.

Our President and CEO Mary Ellen Iskenderian moderated the panel of experts who presented both the realities of the situation in MENA and the hope for a more financially inclusive future. Leora Klapper, Lead Economist at the World Bank, set the stage with startling statistics from their Global Findex report. She began with facts about women around the world:

  • more than one billion women worldwide remain outside the formal financial sector,
  • only 23 percent of adults living below $2 per day have a formal bank account
  •  …the list goes on.

Then she turned to MENA where women are 40 percent less likely than men to own a bank account.

The Global Findex provides a benchmark to financial inclusion, intended to motivate policymakers to advise financial inclusion strategies. As part of the Women’s World Banking team, these statistics are the ultimate motivation – proof that our mission to give more low-income women access to the financial tools and resources essential to their security and prosperity is more urgent that ever, especially in regions like MENA.

Panelist Sahar Tieby, Executive Director of Sanabel, a network of microfinance institutions from 12 Arab countries, summed the session up well, saying: “At this stage, it’s an opportunity to look at the glass as half full rather than half empty. We are in agreement at all levels – the clients want financial inclusion, governments want financial inclusion, and the financial providers want financial inclusion. We’re beyond all of these actors only thinking about their own priorities – as a group we are all in agreement.”