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Gender Focus Benefits Women, Banks, Communities

Mozambique entrepreneur Arlete Patel had an idea: open the very first supermarket in Matola, 12 kilometers from the capital. But she had no funding, until IFC client-bank BCI Mozambique saw the opportunity, sparking the beginnings of a commercial district in Patel’s home city.

A second store is about to open, doubling Patel’s employees to more than 200, half of them women. “Maybe in 10 years we will be the biggest employer in Mozambique,” Patel said during a panel discussion at a Banking on Women event, part of the IMF and World Bank Group Spring Meetings.

“Focusing on women is close to my heart because it’s good for business, and good for development,” said Nena Stoiljkovic, IFC Vice President, Business Advisory Services, who moderated the panel.

Since 2005, IFC has steadily built its advisory and investment services to women-owned businesses. To date, IFC has committed $118 million in its SME client banks, of which more than $86 million was on-lent to women. Some 3,000 women have received training in business planning, financial management, and other skills under IFC’s Women in Business Program alone.

Looking ahead, IFC Executive Vice President and CEO Lars Thunell said IFC will do more, building on what we have learned in recent years. "IFC is in a unique position to leverage knowledge and resources with our clients and partners to create opportunities for women entrepreneurs, their families, and their communities."

Patel's banker, panelist João Luís Fernandes Jorge, Head of Corporate and Finance and Board Member, BCI Mozambique, said the business case for supporting women-owned businesses was strong. The bank’s loan book for women is $23 million, about five times what it had estimated, the Non-Performing Loan ratios are at an outstanding less than 1 percent--and in volume there is room to grow.

A more recent IFC client in the women’s market, BLC Bank Lebanon, was represented by Tania Moussallem, Assistant General Manager. Moussallem, the bank’s only female executive, was able to convince her management colleagues to go with their own WE (women’s empowerment) Initiative as a sub-set of its SME strategy.

“Lebanese women were happy when we launched our services and men were equally happy,” Moussallem said. “In a society that is male-dominated, this surprised me.”

Culture matters, especially in financial institutions, observed Bola Adesola, who chairs the Central Bank of Nigeria Bankers’ Sub-Committee on Women’s Economic Empowerment. Adesola, who is also Managing Director/CEO of Standard Chartered Nigeria, said greater representation of women in senior-level positions in banks and on corporate boards are priorities for her committee.

“Over time, you’ll see banks introduce products and services for women, but whether it lasts depends on the leadership, the CEO,” she said, noting the need to institutionalize women’s banking services.

A highlight of the event were remarks from the Honorable Gunilla Carlsson, Minister for International Development Cooperation, Sweden, and the Right Honorable Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, United Kingdom.

Carlsson praised the World Bank Group for producing analytical work and market examples in recent years that demonstrated gender focus is smart economics. Sweden particularly supports efforts to increase the voice of women in the financial sector.

Mitchell said he hoped that Thunell’s emphasis on gender finance and the representation of women on corporate boards and other leadership positions would continue at IFC.

“I am very excited that we have moved away from the "why" and focused today on the "how," said James Scriven, Director Financial Markets, summing up the event.

Click here to learn more about how IFC is supporting women entrepreneurs.


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