For 43 years, Women’s World Banking’s Global Network has played a vital role in advancing our mission of empowering low-income women through financial inclusion. This Women’s History Month, we are celebrating milestone anniversaries of eight of our Network Members, showcasing their achievements in advancing women’s financial inclusion and gender equality. In their decades of operation, they have proven to be resilient in the face of challenges, steadfastly committed to serving low-income women, and invaluable advocacy partners for women’s financial inclusion. We look forward to continued collaboration for many years to come as we work to drive lasting, positive impact in the lives of women.
In the first of this blog series, Women’s World Banking is proud to celebrate the following Network Members on their milestone anniversaries:
Friends of Women’s World Banking (FWWB): A microfinance apex institution in India that supports women through loans and capacity-building, FWWB celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. Over the decades, FWWB has proudly reached more than 10 million women through its women-centric interventions to build sustainable livelihoods and self-reliance for women microentrepreneurs.
Shakti Foundation (Shakti): This year, we are celebrating a 30-year anniversary for Shakti Foundation, based in Bangladesh. It is committed to the economic and social empowerment of disadvantaged women across the country, offering a wide range of development services that include microfinance, SME loans, skills training, basic health care and education, and solar power. Shakti was our 2012 Excellence in Leadership awardee.
Microfund for Women (MFW): MFW, a microfinance institution working to break the cycle of poverty in Jordan by supporting women entrepreneurs, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2021. MFW was the first organization in the Middle East to offer microinsurance products providing risk protection for small business owners and low-income individuals, as well as loans and other non-financial services for Jordanian women and Syrian refugees. MFW was our 2013 Excellence in Leadership awardee.
XacBank: XacBank celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. It is one of Mongolia’s largest banks, offering financial services and financial education to underserved populations, including women and rural communities.
Breaking Biases to Close the Financial Inclusion Gender Gap
As our anniversary Network Members work to advance women’s financial inclusion, they have continuously worked to break the biases and social and cultural barriers that hold low-income women customers back.
- Through the Financial Education and Women Entrepreneurship Program, FWWB has focused on breaking down barriers, such as illiteracy and lack of financial awareness, that impede women’s financial inclusion. By providing women with the financial education and skills needed to grow sustainable businesses, FWWB is empowering women to be equal shareholders in their households and the economy.
- In Bangladesh, social and cultural norms keep many women confined to and without a voice in their Shakti has helped to empower women through its kendro (“group”) meetings, which provide a critical forum and outlet to learn about financial transactions, exchange knowledge, and get peer support. These meetings have been instrumental in helping women build financial independence and find the confidence to participate in household decision-making.
- While childcare and housekeeping duties may keep many low-income women from seeking jobs, MFW has been working to increase women’s participation in the Jordanian economy through a host of capacity-building programs and services. From training on business fundamentals, such as management and accounting, to more specialized courses, such as its Brand and Product Development Program, MFW helps women entrepreneurs transform their businesses into sustainable sources of income. It also provides beneficiaries with various channels to promote and sell their goods, including at its flagship store Souk Baladna and through online platforms.
Utilizing Women-Centered Product Design
Among the many accomplishments of our Network Members, their strong focus and expertise in developing and deploying financial products and business support services that work for low-income women is critical in driving impact for women’s financial inclusion, and worth sharing with the financial inclusion industry.
- MFW has focused on developing effective financial products and services for low-income women. Over the years, it has adjusted and improved many of its offerings based on the feedback of its women clients, as understanding their needs is key to designing effective products. MFW, in collaboration with Women’s World Banking, has designed cutting-edge women-centered products, such as the Afiyatuna microinsurance program, which covers the medical expenses of MFW loan beneficiaries and their families during hospitalization to offset any resulting loss of income.
- To advance women’s financial inclusion, Shakti has worked to improve women’s access to digital technologies and develop their capacity to use them. It offers workshops on basic digital literacy and systems engineering to prepare its customers for changing market conditions and equip them with the necessary tools and know-how for success.
- Similarly, FWWB has aimed to improve low-income women’s digital adoption through its educational programs, which help build women’s confidence in using technology. MFW also believes in the critical role of business support services and couples business e-learning with its women microentrepreneur loans.
- Recognizing the critical role that women-owned small and medium businesses play in the Mongolian economy, XacBank prioritized providing women entrepreneurs with more concessional loans, which improved the sales of the women-owned businesses by an average of 23%.
Embracing Technology to Close the Gender Gap
Beyond breaking down social and cultural barriers, our Network Members are also embracing technology to level the financial inclusion playing field.
- MFW has ensured that all its services are offered digitally, so that women can easily and conveniently access their accounts without having to leave their homes.
- Likewise, XacBank has leveraged technology to increase access to financial services and make banking effortless, faster, and more secure for its clients. All of its banking services—from opening an account to applying for a loan—are available digitally for clients to access 24/7 via a smartphone app.
- Shakti is working to address the gender gap in access to and ownership of smart phones by women, recognizing the critical role of digital inclusion through cell phone ownership in empowering women economically.
Gender Parity across the Organization as a Key Success Factor in Serving Women Customers
In their decades of serving low-income women, our Network Members have also learned to view women not just as profitable customers, but as valuable talent and leadership. Our Network Members have also strived to achieve gender parity within their respective institutions. For example, MFW has worked to foster a women-centric organization at all levels: 96% of its beneficiaries, 73% of its staff, and 75% of its board members are women.
Leveraging Women’s World Banking’s Global Network to Expand Knowledge and Collaboration
Women’s World Banking is proud to have collaborated with our Network Members over the years to help drive value by fostering peer learning on best practices and know-how on designing effective women-centered financial services.
- For FWWB, as well as Shakti, our Global Network has provided a valuable knowledge-sharing platform to learn from like-minded financial institutions across the globe and take part in trainings and workshops.
- Shakti has shared that membership in the Global Network has meant being part of a larger movement to champion women’s financial inclusion and gender equality.
- For XacBank, collaboration with Women’s World Banking has helped provide women and girls in Mongolia with business and financial education; one such educational initiative for teenage girls eventually led to the launch of XacBank’s Temuulel debit card, which allows girls to build financial independence.