As you’re probably well aware, significantly more women than men around the world lack access to necessary digital financial services. In some countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nigeria, the gender gap has actually grown since the last assessment by the World Bank’s Global Findex. This means there are hundreds of millions more women who lack necessary financial services than men. This is compounded by the fact that women are often the financial managers for their households in charge of allocating scarce resources to critical family priorities such as childcare, food, education, and health.
That’s a problem. But we at DFS Lab saw an opportunity to take action and we’re using digital financial product service design and execution as a way to do it. With our committed partners Flourish Ventures, Women’s World Banking and FinEquity, housed at CGAP, we’re recognizing the work that’s already being done in the fintech space to better serve women. It’s one way we can encourage others to further build upon this valuable work.
As part of this initiative, we’re recognizing and rewarding existing efforts to tackle the financial inclusion gender gap by launching our Female-Focused Fintech Prize, or the F3 Prize for short. The prize helps to shine an investor spotlight on the entrepreneurs and products that are expanding digital financial access for women. Because one thing we know from our work as an emerging market fintech investor is that with the right support and the right network, founders go far. We want - and need - to see the founders who are building products that work for women gain momentum.
We know this is a complex issue that goes beyond product service design and execution. There are many barriers such as a lack of gender-disaggregated data, risk aversion in providing services to non-traditional clients and financial literacy, but we wanted to leverage our strengths to start tackling the barriers to women’s financial inclusion. We have decided to put out a call for applicants that offer fintech products serving primarily female customers in areas where the gender gap is widest: Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Indonesia.
Fintechs that apply have the potential to earn structured mentorship from our team and the F3 Prize advisory committee and will be featured at the Transformational Business Awards in London where they’ll be awarded a celebratory cash prize in front of a global investor audience. They will also demonstrate to other companies that designing financial products for women works. By highlighting the best practices in designing for women, we hope the F3 Prize starts to become a movement. We believe that by showcasing what’s working, others will have more clear guideposts for how to build products that work for women, which makes good business sense.
One thing we see from the bootcamps we run with startups in emerging markets is the value of cross pollination. In that vein, we hope to put the companies that apply to the F3 Prize in dialog with each other to further hone their strategies for bringing women into their customer base. By bringing successful fintech products working for women to investor’s attention, we hope to see more investments made in these startups. By connecting founders who have made gender inclusion a priority with each other and a strong mentor network, we hope to see more startups incorporate gender inclusion in their strategy or strengthen their existing strategy. Ultimately, we hope to see an improvement in the gender gap in access to meaningful digital financial services.
To realize the potential gains of financial inclusion, more intentional efforts are needed to close persistent gender gaps. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has developed three core principles for advancing women’s financial inclusion and economic empowerment.
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