Access to Finance and Women’s Economic Empowerment

By Lowri Gilbert, Mobile Technology and Enterprise Development Programme Director, Cherie Blair Foundation for Women

Access to Finance and Women’s Economic Empowerment

Cherie Blair Foundation Case Study on Women’s Economic Empowerment

In 2014 the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women partnered with Accenture and CARE International to promote the long-term financial independence of Rwandan women, by providing a combination of mentoring, training and improved access to financial services.

Financial inclusion is a deeply gendered issue in Rwanda, where only 31% of women have access to a bank account compared to 46% of men, making women the majority of those excluded from formal financing. This is partly because there is a reluctance on the part of banks to view women as an attractive market and develop products tailored specifically for them, and partly because women do not have the knowledge and skills to tap into these products.

To overcome these challenges, the Skilling for Change project trained over 16,000 Rwandan women in investment readiness and financial literacy skills. The women were taught how to start and grow a business, and plan and budget their money effectively. This training strengthened their ability to save and reinvest in their businesses, and increased their understanding of how to use financial services. The women who joined the project came from rural areas and were already members of CARE’s Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) in the districts of Rulindo and Gicumbi.

We are currently in the process of conducting the final evaluation of the project, however, we have already seen some impressive results. To date, a total 3,530 women have been linked to a formal financial institution and 1,145 women have accessed a loan through a formal financial institution.

As part of Skilling for Change, the Foundation also worked with a local bank in Rwanda to help them better understand the needs of women from the VSLAs, view these women as viable customers, and roll out banking products tailored specifically for them.

Claudette’s story

In 2012, Claudette took a small loan from her Village Savings and Loan Association and started her own business in the Rulindo district of Rwanda, selling sorghum to support her four children. But, with limited business skills Claudette struggled to manage her enterprise and, over time, it collapsed.

Undeterred, Claudette joined the Skilling for Change project in 2014. The business training gave her the confidence to establish a new business, purchasing milk from local farmers, boiling it and selling it on at a higher price. Through this new business, she was able to generate an income of RWF 40,000 (approximately USD 50) per month from her milk sales. The financial literacy training taught Claudette to start slowly, by saving and getting small loans as her profits grew.

The intensive business training taught her about the importance of diversifying her business, which led her to start selling manure to traders and farmers, doubling her client base. Claudette was matched with a mentor, Beatrice, who runs a business selling drinks. Together they focused on improving customer care, financial management and self-confidence.

Claudette now makes a net profit of over RWF 180,000 (approximately USD 240) per month. She hopes to use her increased income to send her daughter to university, which is something she says she “never dreamt of achieving”.

Opportunity to scale up

There is an extensive network of informal savings groups like VSLAs around the world. As a result, there is a real opportunity to replicate the Skilling for Change model in order to reach women involved in these groups and bring them into the formal banking sector, enabling them to secure financial independence.

Challenges / lessons learned

Financial inclusion projects for women need to collaborate with banks to develop truly sustainable pro-women, pro-poor banking products as traditional banks often do not understand this section of clientele. In Rwanda, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and partners have worked with banks and other organisations to be at the cutting edge of product development and mobile financial services. This is groundbreaking work, and it is essential to pilot this type of work in order to get the model right before rolling out to wider communities in remote and inaccessible areas.

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