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Sub-Saharan Africa

A Lady’s Bank Expands Financing Available to Women Entrepreneurs

Democratic Republic of Congo: A Lady’s Bank Expands Financing Available to Women Entrepreneurs

On the walls of Rawbank’s Lady’s First branch in downtown Kinshasa hang framed posters of some of the bank’s most successful clients, alongside the bank’s motto: “Behind every great bank, there are great women.”

The branch office is spotlessly clean, with a sleek and modern look. The bathrooms look like they belong in a five-star hotel. There is a kids’ corner with colorful cushions on the floor by a TV screen. All the counters are staffed by men.

“We did focus groups with women before we opened the branch, and this is what they said they wanted. They said they prefer to be served by men,” explained Patience Barandenge, women’s market manager at Rawbank. 

The Lady’s First banking for women project forms part of the bank’s overall strategy to reach out to the market of small and medium enterprises. This strategy grew out of a $7 million loan and  advisory support from IFC in 2009 as part of IFC’s Africa Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise program.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has one of the lowest rates of access to finance in the world, at only about 1 percent of the population. Less than 18 months after the Lady’s First program started, Rawbank had lent $2.96 million to women entrepreneurs and 371 women customers had opened accounts valued at $5.9 million.

Two products that Rawbank developed for the women’s market have become important products for the bank’s general market of small and medium enterprises. The Rawconseil offers clients free legal advice on how to register and run a small business in accordance with Congolese regulations. This product is an important tool in formalizing the SME sector. 

The second product, Credit Avantage, offers customers credit based on their savings history instead of on traditional collateral. Small businesses often lack collateral, and it is in any case difficult for the bank to recover collateral because of the country’s poor legal framework. 

One Credit Avantage customer, 35-year old Jacqueline Mavinga, secured a $6,000 loan to open a clothing shop. Before taking the loan, she received training through Lady’s First on how to draw up a proper business plan and keep accounts. More than 180 women entrepreneurs have received similar training through the program. 

 “People take you much more seriously when you are backed up by a bank,” Mavinga said. 

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