Dr. Nkosana Moyo, Founder and Executive Chairman for the Mandela Institute for Development Studies, likened the development challenge on the African continent to a boxing match:
A boxer who entered the ring with one arm tied behind his back would be considered a fool; he can only fight with half his strength. But it is equally irrational to attempt success in Africa’s development challenge without addressing women’s role in it. If we ignore 50% of the population, we cannot be surprised when we lose the fight.
Dr. Moyo spoke at the second biennial African Women Economic Summit hosted in Lagos by our new client, New Faces New Voices (NFNV) and the African Development Bank. The Summit provides a forum for discussion about enhancing women’s access to financial support – at both the policy and institutional level – to meet Africa’s development challenge. Speakers from government, the financial sector, and international development organizations emphasized the huge latent potential for growth if investing in women becomes a national and international priority.
Founded by social and political activist Graça Machel, NFNV has three main objectives:
- To improve women’s access to finance
- To build the capacity and skills of women entrepreneurs and business leaders
- To increase the number, visibility, and influence of women in leadership positions in the financial sector
The Summit is NFNV’s seminal event, though the organization works year-round through 15 chapters across the continent as a voice to mobilize the conversation about women’s business capacity and financial access. Through conversations like those held at the Summit, NFNV hopes to addresses fact that “there is a $20 billion funding gap for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Keynote speaker Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Minister of Finance of Nigeria, began the Summit in a positive context, stating that at a time when the world is struggling, Africa’s economies are doing better than average. Women, especially entrepreneurs, have a significant and unique role to play within that growth, as they are the 3rd largest emerging market of the world. This potential for development of female entrepreneurs is especially encouraging when one considers the current asset discrepancy between the genders: according to NFNV, while women make up 52% of the population in Africa and are responsible for 80% of the food production, they make only 10% of the income and own 1% of the assets.
Dr. Jeni Klugman, the Director for Gender at World Bank USA, explained this significant asset discrepancy as a result of women’s predominance in the informal market. A market valuation that is based only on formal structures and financial markets does not adequately capture the significant contributions women make to the economy and the community’s development. Anne-Marie Chidzero, the CEO of Africap Investments in South Africa, suggested that if women were encouraged to join the formal sector (and, specifically, the banking sector), the industry would be more inclusive and would provide women with greater access to financial services. According to her, NFNV and other organizations need to work with institutions on addressing softer issues like culture and gender roles and create a voice for women to voice these concerns.
Other speakers, many from the financial and banking industry, spoke of the notable advances women have made recently in the financial sector. Examples of services targeted towards women were encouraging, as were the increases in banks’ female clientele. Still, most speakers articulated specific examples of how the sector could improve, such as improving access for rural women, increasing the number of women in leadership positions at banks, and increasing access to markets, not just finance, so that women entrepreneurs could grow their businesses and create jobs.
NFNV has an amazing opportunity to be an advocate for women working in the SME (small and medium enterprise) sector. Nomsa Daniels, NFNV’s Execute Director, told delegates that NFNV must be a catalyst for change to avoid becoming a “talk shop” or “just another women’s group”. She expressed a desire to strengthen the capacity of NFNV’s secretariat and develop a more aggressive set of tools to confront institutions who have yet to demonstrate support for an equal-access agenda. A few of the exciting activities proposed for the future included:
- Expanding the NFNV network and promoting engagement post-summit
- Assessing existing Africa finance vehicles to establish which have and have not been successful (and why)
- Starting a challenge fund
- Developing a database of financial resources and funds targeted to women. For example, in South Africa the IDC formed a R300 million fund for women as part of its Transformation and Entrepreneurship Scheme. Additionally, during this year’s annual meeting in Arusha, the Africa Development Bank announced the launch of the African Guarantee Fund to provide access to funding for African SMEs
- Creating a taskforce to a) examine policies geared towards women and access to finance and b) monitor the implementation of these policies
- Building a database of women working in finance and creating a mechanism to publicize and celebrate them
- Encouraging financial institutions to create gender disaggregated databases to improve monitoring and tracking of women’s use of financial services
The Summit resulted in over 2 dozen pledges, ranging from individuals to institutions such as the African Development Bank. During my three days there, I met dozens of passionate delegates and enjoyed the Summit’s energy; the African decor, food and music helped set a wonderful tone. I’d like to thank NFNV for the invitation, and the African Development Bank for sponsoring the Summit. I’m already looking forward to the next Summit as NFNV continues to push for equal financial access for women across Africa.