Increasing Credit for Women & Girls: Women’s World Banking

By Kaia E. Clarke

The ability to improve women’s access to credit has been proven to increase production in agriculture, improve food security, and the livelihoods of their families.    In an interview with Dr. Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking, she explains how important it is to train banking institutions to provide micro-financing products that are adaptive to rural communities and the particular needs of women.

Since women are becoming the lead farmers in their homes, what is your desire for the next generation of women with support from micro-financing?

A non-profit micro-finance organization that works globally to economically empower poor women and their families. (Photo credit: Women's World Banking)

The Women’s World Banking institute is committed to making sure our mission is about access to financial products and services. As the agriculture industry becomes up market, the opportunity for women in financing is decreasing. Our desire is that more commercial institutions provide products for women—including the agricultural sector.

How can micro-financing positively impact the lives of the rural communities in the agricultural sector?

Women are able to spend money to increase their household’s opportunities for education and healthcare. We are really focused on meeting the needs of the client and that banks are not prejudicing women by asking for collateral, such as land. Since, many women do not own property, we are pushing for mainstream banks to use “cash flow” as a way for women to participate in micro-financing. Actually many banking institutions don’t think about “cash flow” as a possibility.

With the 82 percent of women who are borrowers of the WWB institution, what opportunities are available in the agricultural sector because of your support?

Institutions have been slow to address the approach to rural financing and moving it into the market. We have specifically designed products that can adapt to rural communities and main-stream banks are starting to provide those packages. For instance, WWB has done work with five network members to introduce products for women and girls.

Since you joined WWB in 2006, what areas can you say have been strengthened in the last 5 years specifically in the organization’s position in the agricultural sector?

The relationship with HSBC Bank has been strengthened. They asked WWB to design a rural product that would allow women to obtain loans. We are also increasing the number of institutions to provide products that adapt to rural communities. We are advocating for building a capacity to pay and credit culture in financing so more women can participate.

Women are becoming the primary small-farm holders in developing countries.  How are the micro-finance opportunities allowing women to expand their farms?

Many women in rural communities do not have the ability to expand their businesses. They are not as mobile as men for expansion into other areas because of cultural practices.  Again, they use their money mostly on education for their children and healthcare services. Though, the money can be used for increasing inventory to expand their production.

“Empowering Girls and Women”, was your topic at the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting. Based on the world’s banking perspective, how can this be accomplished in rural areas of the world? How would the world benefit from this accomplishment from rural areas?

We see that mothers are much more likely to spend money on education for their families. As women generate income for their families, they become good savers.  The girls observe their mothers and become imitators. In the Dominican Republic, for example, at the age of seven girls are asked by their mothers to help meet the monthly expenses for living. As a result we began to provide products for girls to build assets and financial education on saving. More girls are becoming educated, healthy, knowledgeable about finances, etc. There is no single impact, but instead multiple benefits for women, for children, and for communities.

Do you believe the next generations of women in agriculture have the tools to bring people out of poverty?

Institutions need to design a range of more financial products that include insurance and savings in the rural areas so poor people can have safety nets. It is important that other institutions embrace the agricultural sector more. For example, in Columbia, South America, micro-financing dramatically increased the production of coffee farmers.  It is important that micro-financing becomes more adaptive and increases in the rural communities.

To read more about women and farming see: Improving African Women’s Access to Agriculture Training Programs, On International Women’s Day, Thinking About the Majority Small-Scale FarmersWomen’s Important Role in Alleviating Global Hunger to be Reflected in Agriculture Funding, In Africa, Harvesting Hope Starts with Reducing Risk.

Kaia E. Clarke is a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet project.

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