How to Advance Women's Financial Inclusion with Partnerships

Experts weigh in on what makes effective partnerships to economically empower women

How to Advance Women's Financial Inclusion with Partnerships

Photo Credit: True Vision Production Ltd/CARE

March 05, 2020

For International Women’s Day, we asked five financial inclusion leaders how cross-sector partnerships are helping them bring more women into the financial system.

Scale models that work 

CARE has a long-standing commitment to financial inclusion, pioneering the group savings model, Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA), nearly 30 years ago, establishing microfinance institutions and launching some of the earliest supports for small and medium enterprises such as MicroVest and CARE Enterprises, Inc.

Going to scale with these efforts takes partnerships, said Michelle Nunn, President and CEO of CARE. While CARE and the Gates Foundation had worked to refine VSLAs worldwide, partnering with financial services providers who had the infrastructure and expertise in place allowed the program to expand more quickly and efficiently, ultimately attracting 322,000 new low-income customers, 81 percent of whom were women.

In October 2019, the Center and CARE announced a three-year partnership that will equip 3.9 million micro and small businesses in Peru, Pakistan and Vietnam with tools, training, education, products and services to formalize and grow.

“These cross-sector partnerships can drive transformative, systemic change – often at an accelerated pace,” said Nunn. “We recognize that not every partner will share the level of focus or depth of investment in that area as we do. But all of our successful partnerships are grounded in a shared ambition to improve opportunities and outcomes for women and girls.”  

Transition women to digital banking

Low-income, self-employed and women from immigrant communities face significant barriers to the financial mainstream. Many operate in cash economies and are invisible to loan officers and others who can provide needed capital. Grameen America works to ensure these women have access to loans, training and support. Their partnerships reflect this mission. 

Mastercard, for example, in partnership with Citi and Apple, provided support for Grameen America to introduce a digital loan disbursement card in the U.S. and is collaborating closely to support Grameen America’s long-term goal of moving their members to fully digital financial transactions.  The group of funders is working closely with Grameen America to bridge the gap in women’s financial inclusion as the U.S. moves away from cash transactions. 

“At Grameen America, we are leveraging Mastercard’s expertise to help us explore the behavioral interventions needed to optimize the full potential of digital financial tools,” said Andrea Jung, President and CEO of Grameen America. “Our own high-touch lending model has built the trust and communications channels vital to successfully begin to create this behavior change that will ease the path to an increasingly cashless economy.”

Tailor resources to entrepreneur’s different needs

In Latin America, the Instituto Centroamericano de Administración de Empresas (INCAE) business school is helping women entrepreneurs gain the skills and knowledge to expand their businesses. Through its LEADS Mujer program, in partnership with the Center, women take part in a unique business accelerator run by the region’s top business professors.

To ensure LEADS is providing women with the best resources, it partners with a wide range of experts across sectors. They’ve partnered with InverMaster, for example, a regional investment banking, strategic consulting and corporate finance company for advice on equity and investments. 

“One of the big challenges in the Latin American region is the lack of coordination between different actors in the ecosystem,” said Gabriela Lücke, the program’s director. Breaking down silos and coordinating among public and private-sector organizations not only saves resources, she said, but helps ensure that women at different stages of business development get the help they need when they need it.  

An additional benefit of the program is the creation of a network for the participants. It generates a sense of belonging within the group. The women create business among each other and share best practices that overall have a great impact in their financial inclusion.

Combine access to capital with mentorship

MicroMentor is working to close the gender gap in business ownership and financial inclusion by providing access to business mentoring for female entrepreneurs around the world.

With the support of the Center, MicroMentor is building partnerships in places like Morocco to narrow the lack of access to capital for women and young people. The program is built upon the recognition that there are higher business performance and loan repayment rates when business owners receive mentoring and coaching services.

“Mentoring increases business success and creates linkages to professional networks and funding opportunities that female entrepreneurs would not have access to otherwise,” said Anita Ramachandran, MicroMentor’s executive director.

Critical to MicroMentor’s success says Ramachandran, are its cross-sector partnerships, which through a shared vision can enable the organization to scale and maximize its impact. “One of the clearest examples is our alliance with the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. Together, we have launched the platform in Indonesia and reached more than 3,000 entrepreneurs, and, more recently, the Arabic version of MicroMentor, where we will offer mentoring access at no cost to 3,500 entrepreneurs in Jordan,” shared Ramachandran.

To be most effective, said Ramachandran, partnerships must take a holistic approach to understanding women’s needs and then add “the ecosystem of business development services and the expertise of organizations providing a range of support services.”    

Smash cultural stereotypes

ACCESS ASSIST advances financial inclusion in India by developing community and local agent capabilities to reach the hardest-to-reach, “last mile” communities and residents. A key focus is on moving India’s small cash businesses to digital transactions and helping them grow and increase profitability. Its partnerships “help to unleash a different kind of exuberance and excitement to deliver great durable outcomes,” said Radhika Agashe, Executive Director of ACCESS ASSIST. 

ACCESS, in partnership with the Center, developed the iconic animated character, “BuddhiMoney,” a female superhero who swoops to the rescue to solve issues faced by women and entrepreneurs in managing their finances and encourages them to ‘go digital’.

“BuddiMoney is a great example of how we’re working to break the cultural mindset that women are best as homemakers,” said Agashe. “BuddhiMoney, like the Superwoman that she is, helps women to aspire for doing bigger, bolder things—to break the glass ceiling.”