By Babajide Komolafe
What a man can do, a woman can do better, goes a popular saying. This implies that a woman is endowed with potentials, which when properly harnessed, can make a woman function at the same level of performance or even at higher level than a man. The validity of this belief is reflected in the life and stories of women who have not only succeeded but also excelled in academics, governance and in the business world.
But billions of women around the world have not been able to realise their potentials and hence attain height attained by some of their counterparts due to challenges among which are lack of education, poor health services, maternal mortality, culture and traditions that relegate women to the background.
In the business world, most women owned businesses struggle due to the challenge of financial illiteracy and inaccessibility to credit facilities. To tackle these challenges especially the lack of access to finance, financial experts, policy makers and women executives, gathered recently in Lagos for two days under the auspices of the 2nd African Women Economic Summit.
The theme of the conference was “African Women Financing the Future” and it was organised by New Faces New Voices (NFNV) and the African Development Bank (AfDB).
Participants at the summit noted that despite the huge pool of capital allocated to women by financial institutions women are not able to assess credit due to absence of relevant information for credit opportunities, and lack of technical dept. They agreed that women entrepreneurs need more assistance towards assessing capital.
One of the revelations of the summit was that with the exception of Access Bank’s Gender Empower Program (GEM), there is absence of banking products or services specifically designed to assist women entrepreneurs’ access credit. This revelation came during the Executive Officer (CEO) Roundtable which focused on “Bridge Funding Gaps and Devising innovative approaches in the area of SME financing for African women entrepreneurs”.
The Roundtable was coordinated by Dr. Nkosana Moyo, Founder and Executive Chairman Mandela Institute for Development Studies, and it featured a panel of Mr. Okey Nwuke, Executive Director, Access Bank, Nomkhita Nqweni, Chief Executive, ABSA Wealth South Africa and Mizinga Melu, Managing Director, Standard Chartered Bank Zambia.
In response to strategies than can be developed to assist women have increased access to credit, Nwuke, who represented the Managing Director/Chief Executive of Access Bank, Mr Aig Aig-Imoukhuede, pointed out the example of GEM, through which the Bank has provided N2.5 billion to women-owned businesses in last 5 years.
Nwuke revealed said, “Some weaknesses observed in relation to female run enterprises includes; limited or non-existent financials on their businesses, lack of sufficient collateral for loans, weak business management and strategic planning, poor business plans a combinations of these factors made female run enterprises generally unattractive for financing.”
He said that Access Bank is the first bank in West Africa and perhaps in the entire sub-Saharan region to recognize the importance of reaching out to the Women market. This the bank is doing successfully and profitably through the GEM program.
GEM FOR WOMEN
Access Bank GEM program is the first of its kind in Africa— a partnership between IFC and a commercial financial institution that emphasizes access to finance for women entrepreneurs. It is a product borne out of the Bank’s collaboration with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), an arm of the World Bank under its Gender Entrepreneurship Markets Program (‘GEM’).
This initiative grants women-owned business access to funding and increase their contributions economic development with positive effects on employment generation and GDP growth.
GEM has one major goal which is to help female-owned businesses grow. And in fulfilment of this, Access Bank has provided N2.5 billion to women-owned businesses in last 5 years. Also, they have drawn huge benefits from access to information and training designed to boost their capacity.
Through GEM, the bank has grown loan portfolio of women-owned businesses from US$500,000 to over US$18 Million in less than five years. Through the program, the bank made disbursements to microfinance institutions such Catholic Institute for Democracy, Justice and Peace (CIDJAP) in Enugu State to finance microenterprises via the women cooperatives with whom CIDJAP works.
Also in line with its Pan-African financial inclusion strategy, the bank has deployed GEM to Gambia and Rwanda to contribute to the development of the existing dedicated women market. Based on the successes recorded in Nigeria, Gambia and Rwanda, the bank is also making efforts to provide GEM services to women entrepreneurs in Zambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Congo DRC.
GEM offers many benefits to women entrepreneur among which are Networking, Training, Advisory services and Finance
Recognising the importance of networking when building and growing business, Access Bank run quarterly networking sessions for our members to ensure that they have the most up to date information to help their business. In the area of training, the bank organises the GEM Advantage Workshop Series, where it provides technical assistance and training programs that educate, showcase and support entrepreneurs as they seek capital and grow their companies.
The bank also engage consultants who work one on one with its GEM members providing professional advice in the areas of management, marketing, Human Resources, Procurement etc. Most importantly, the bank provides access to finance needed to meet business obligation.
To qualify for funding through GEM, the beneficiary must be a woman and must have the majority shareholding (minimum of 51%) of the business must be owned by a female entrepreneur. Also the business must be the Retail/SME type business. 10% of the GEM fund is for businesses with turnover of N100 million and below, and it may also be utilized for lending to cooperatives for on-lending to its member.