FinEquity Blog

Deena Burjorjee, IFC Upstream Lead for the Middle East and North Africa

FinEquity Member Spotlight
Deena (center) with the FinEquity team in Istanbul, 2018

As Deena moves on from her role as FinEquity's first Facilitator we invited her to share her thoughts about FinEquity, WFI, and what she plans to do next.

Deena, please tell us about the very early days of the FinEquity Community of Practice (COP) - who had the idea, what was the need, how did you go about launching the project, and what were the early objectives? 

FinEquity was the brainchild of former CGAPer Mayada El-Zoghbi (currently Managing Director of the Center for Financial Inclusion) along with a critical mass of CGAP members, who saw the need for a community of practice (COP) to unite practitioners working on women’s financial inclusion. At that time, there was a growing recognition of the persistent gender gap when it came to women’s access to and use of financial services as highlighted by the 2017 Findex Data. And there was concern over the lack of a coordinated approach or centralized guidance based on good practices and lessons learned. Given my long history working on gender issues in this space, Mayada brought me in to help conceptualize and launch this initiative with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who took the bold move to fund its start-up.

How successful do you think FinEquity has been in meeting its early goals? 

I think the team has done a tremendous job building a broad and inclusive membership base, connecting practitioners from the women’s financial inclusion and economic empowerment sectors in a way that has not been done before. Through these new connections and exchanges, we have been able to make the overwhelming amount of information on women’s financial inclusion and economic empowerment more accessible to a broader practitioner audience, by intensively curating the existing and evolving body of evidence and drawing out useful and relevant lessons for gender and non-gender specialists alike. I am really excited for the team at FinEquity as they move into the next phase of growth and begin introducing more collaborative processes between members and organizations for new knowledge creation around common challenges.

What are your personal best memories/success stories from your time as a FinEquity facilitator?

For me the best part of being a Facilitator for FinEquity was the opportunity to bring our community together, either in person during our Annual Meetings and member trainings, or virtually through our peer reviews or Dgroupsdialogues, to share experiences, dig down on practical challenges and work toward collective problem-solving. I particularly enjoyed our partnership with FinMark Trust and FSD Africa where we developed and delivered a Gender Data Bootcamp on the use case and tools for gender data collection across the project cycle, drawing from lessons learned from the FSD network. To me, it represented the perfect match of bringing theory into practice, which really resonates with people and makes what FinEquity does as a knowledge community practical and meaningful.

Deena bootcamp
Gender Data Bootcamp 

How did you come to work in this field and what do you like about it?

I came into the field of financial inclusion way back in the late 90s in the early days of Microfinance. I was part of a Special Unit for Microfinance (SUM) that was set up in UNDP as a commitment to the goals of the first MicroCredit Summit. (I am dating myself for those who remember.) I was attracted to this mandate because of its focus on poor and excluded women and the use of finance as a way to support women’s livelihoods and economic empowerment. Over the years, women somehow got left behind in the financial inclusion journey, but it’s exciting to see that there is renewed interest and focus on bringing Financial Inclusion back to its roots.

What do you think are the greatest challenges to Women’s Financial Inclusion, globally?

Over the last five years, I have seen a huge shift in thinking when it comes to addressing gender constraints in financial inclusion programming. I am truly encouraged by the resources being invested in new WFI initiatives, gender leads, and research projects trying to understand persistent barriers, including the role of social norms in shaping women’s economic and financial decision making. I think the biggest challenge will be to turn this energy and enthusiasm into replicable initiatives that can be brought to scale and embedded into local markets, as part of the mainstream financial inclusion landscape, and not simply niche projects.

What impacts do you think COVID will have on WFI? 

It’s clear from the emerging data that women are suffering disproportionally from the impacts of Covid, due to the greater levels of vulnerability that they already experience. As the pandemic drags on, with likely continuous flare-ups around the world, donors and governments are preparing for long term economic declines, increased poverty and inequality and slow rates of economic recovery. As such it will be important that relief and stimulus packages take into account the particular needs of women smallholder farmers and micro, small and medium enterprises, not only to ensure equitable recovery but to prevent widening social and economic gender inequalities.

Tell us a bit about the job you are moving to.

My next move professionally will be to join the IFC Upstream Initiative, as the Lead for the Middle East and North Africa region based out of Cairo. My job will be to work with both external and internal stakeholders within the World Bank system to identify reforms and design solutions that will lead to long and short-term private, domestic, and foreign investments in the countries of the region. It will be a big shift after 15 years as an independent consultant. But I am very excited to be part of this ambitious agenda and for the opportunity to get back to a region very close to me, both professionally and personally.

Will there be overlap with FinEquity? 

Gender, Digital, and SME finance will continue to be focus areas of my work, in addition to capital markets, climate, and the environment. So I am looking forward to both drawing from as well as sharing with the FinEquity community innovative solutions under our shared agenda.

Is there anything you’d like to add? 

I want to say how thrilled I am that Diana Dezso will be taking over as the dedicated Facilitator for FinEquity. As a knowledge management expert and skilled financial inclusion practitioner, I am excited to see her continue to deliver on the FinEquity strategy and for the new directions she will take the community.

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