Why Do We Need a Women’s Financial Inclusion Community of Practice?
Yasmin Bin-Humam is a Financial Sector Specialist on CGAP’s Strategy, Research & Development team focusing on gender issues. She facilitates the Women’s Financial Inclusion Community of Practice (COP), a group which aims to support an informed dialogue around the solutions to increasing women’s access to financial services. The Gateway caught up with her during the preparations for International Women’s Day 2018, to learn more about the COP and why gender is such a key topic for financial inclusion.
Gateway: Why did you see a need for the Women's Financial Inclusion Community of Practice (the COP)?
Yasmin: Many organizations are active in women’s financial inclusion, and many others want to become active. Those who are very active have many lessons and tools to share, common challenges they want to discuss, and common audiences they want to influence. Think of Care’s work with savings groups, Women’s World Banking’s technical assistance to FSPs in human centered design, the Global Banking Alliance’s documentation on the business case for serving women, and the Alliance for Financial Inclusion’s policy working group on gender – these are just some of the ongoing initiatives that other stakeholders can learn from and we want to provide a common platform for dissemination and synthesis.
We also provide a forum for discussion. Our members want to know whether digital financial services can be effective in serving women, but there are challenges with access to technology, digital literacy, and trust. Our events on social norms that underpin women’s financial exclusion, and how to change them have been very popular amongst our members. We’ve featured work by Women for Women International, Care, Oxfam, Kashf Foundation, and the World Bank’s Gender Innovation Lab, as well as a growing body of research looking at the topic.
Gateway: Why is gender an important topic in financial inclusion?
Yasmin: Gender is an important topic in financial inclusion because we cannot continue to assume that what will work for men will work equally well for women, or that women are not using financial services at the same rates as men simply because they do not need them. The Findex, FinScope, and Financial Inclusion Insights (FII) data sets all show consistent gender gaps in access to and usage of formal financial services. The recent finance gap report released by IFC shows a credit gap for women-owned enterprises. What has been serving men has not equally been serving women. We have so much evidence that new products, new marketing strategies, new regulating enablers can bring women into the financial sector.
We cannot continue to assume that what will work for men will work equally well for women.
Gateway: Who are the groups the COP is looking to work with going forward?
Yasmin: Membership in the COP is open to everyone, and our aim is to serve as a platform for our members and be responsive to their collective needs. We have engaged a lot with NGOs, technical assistance providers, research institutions, and networks of FSPs. I hope that in the near future we can expand more on regionally based networks, development finance institutions, and fintechs that are helping to onboard women in the digital realm.
Gateway: Can you tell us about some of the most exciting initiatives on women's financial inclusion that you've seen recently?
Yasmin: I’ll mention two areas where there are interesting trends, though of course there are more.
The first is in edutainment for changing perceptions, financial behaviors, and norms, which is an area that has had a fair amount of experimentation. But we need replication and scale more consistently. I like this experiment on financial education through comedy that was done in Cambodia because comedy and finance isn’t something people would usually put together!
Other initiatives that resonate with me are in integrating women more into financial institutions themselves and I think this is particularly important where matters of coaching and trust come into play. In Rwanda Tigo’s Women Entrepreneurship Fund provides ICT and business management training as well as startup capital to more than 300 women from across Rwanda to become Tigo cash agents in order to bring more women on board as customers. It’s exciting because it empowers not only the women hired as agents, but also the women they serve. It is also being done in Pakistan in an innovative partnership with Unilever and Jazz cash. This is particularly important given the gender gap in mobile phone ownership and in usage of digital services.
Gateway: What role do you think financial inclusion can play in women's empowerment?
Yasmin: Empowerment is something the industry is still trying to figure out, because it is a concept that can look quite different in different contexts, and is measured in many ways. Also FSPs are not interested in measuring empowerment; they are interested in measuring usage – so what we know about this has to come from research, and from socially conscious providers who try to measure such impacts on their clients. Women’s World Banking has a great, very useful framework it applies to assessing its products to discern their empowering effects.
Financial inclusion has been shown to boost women’s earning power, by incentivizing their employment patterns and allowing them to buy capital and inputs for their businesses. It can also give women more control over their spending priorities, whether that is saving for times of shock, or purchasing clean cookstoves or washing machines that are time-saving for them. The Center for Global Development’s Revisiting What Works: Women, Economic Empowerment, and Smart Design and IPA’s brief, Women’s Economic Empowerment Through Financial Inclusion, are must reads on this topic.
The response to our webinar series has been so positive that we are developing a data boot camp to provide more hands-on training with these data sets.
Gateway: The COP has a working group on Measurement and Data, and has organized a series of webinars on data over the course of the last few months. What is the COP trying to achieve with these webinars and what has been the response from your audience?
Yasmin: The webinar series on data is part of our capacity building efforts. Findex, FinScope and FII tell us whether women are accessing and using financial services, but they also tell us much more: what the livelihoods of women are, the barriers they face in terms of distance to banks, decision-making authority within the household, and what they save up their money for. Practitioners are often unaware of this rich resource, or when they are, need help identifying and applying the use cases for it. This is what we hope to guide them through. The response has been so positive that we are developing a data boot camp to provide more hands-on training with these data sets, and to help identify the gaps in data and what tools can help when collecting data from program beneficiaries.