The Sunday Mail
The world over, women have failed to realize their full potential in entrepreneurship and economic empowerment due to financial constraints such as lack of collateral for borrowing and financial illiteracy.
According to the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), only 9 percent of women have accounts in Middle East; 47 percent in Europe and Central Asia 47; 37 percent in South Asia; 49 percent in Latin America and Caribbean and 30 in Sub Sahara Africa.
The figures have remained low while growth has been also slow despite the proliferation of mobile money services to help bridge the financial literacy gap.
Banks stand accused of providing too little financial support to women.
But in Zimbabwe, Government is now trying to change all that through the newly formed Zimbabwe Women’s Microfinance Bank (ZWMB), which is promising loans as little as $15, so as to improve women’s livelihoods.
The bank is seen as a key step in sharpening entrepreneurial development and in boosting growth for women in business of all kinds.
It will also help integrate women into mainstream banking activities, until now streamlined because of lack of security or technical-know-how in designing business proposals.
It also comes at a time when the country is seized with improving the financial inclusion, financial literacy and access to finance of formally marginalized groups, women included.
The bank will leverage on agent banking to reach to the unbanked and marginalized communities of the country as they intend to leave no stone unturned in its quest to ensure every woman has access to formal banking and access to affordable funding.
Through partnerships with key stakeholders such as the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in the country’s provinces and districts, together with other agents in rural areas, schools for instance, the bank is capable of reaching out to as many women as possible.
The intention is to reach the bottom of the pyramid with basic funding for even small projects.
This will encourage the participation of women in the economic agenda.
Women’s contribution to economic emancipation often starts in their families before growing to their communities and subsequently cascading to national level.
ZWMB chief executive officer, Mrs Mandas Marikanda said the bank understands the challenges that women in business or those that seek to start one face, and hopes that the tailor-made funds will bridge this gap.
Already, the response from the market has been overwhelming with over 2 500 accounts opened since the bank recently opened its doors to the public.
Loans can hit a ceiling of $20 000, depending on the nature of the project but an intriguing model that ZWMB is keen to explore relates to provision of what could easily be looked at as 24-hour loans. The bank is considering to avail loans as small as $15 to women selling items like vegetables, a typically quick turnaround type of enterprise, allowing repayments to be made a day or two later.
“We want a situation where a woman is empowered financially to cater for the basics in her family, that is putting food on the table, providing shelter, education and afford health services.
“When a woman is empowered, she can contribute immensely to her family and the community. We are looking at viable projects that can help empower women, so that we can fund them from the bottom of the pyramid. Once we reach that segment, our country will never be the same in the five years to come,” said Mrs Marikanda in an interview with The Sunday Mail Business.
The bank is currently seized with assessing loan applications received, while others have already been approved.
Mrs Marikanda said many women have great business ideas but lack knowledge on the best way to present them. Apart from giving out loans, ZWMB is also assisting women on the correct procedures for account opening, loan applications and other financial services advice. “There is a misconception that being a woman alone is enough to get a loan. Since it is a loan, it should be paid back as well.
“We assess the viability of the project and also explain why one cannot get a loan so that they can work on it.
“It is easier to support projects already up and running, that have been tried and tested,” she said.
As a deposit taking microfinance bank, ZWMB also wants to promote the culture of savings, to allow women to work towards acquiring their own assets.
“We are playing a catalyst role in the economic growth of the country, starting from the grassroots,” said Mrs Marikanda.
The bank offeres different categories for loan applications, ranging from trading, agriculture, manufacturing, services and others.