“Women hold up half the sky.” — Chinese proverb
Womenomics, coined by The Economist magazine when it stated, “Forget China, India and the Internet, economic growth is driven by women”, refers to all things to do with women’s economic participation in society.
I believe the missing link in the bid for women’s empowerment is the private sector which not only has the financial resources but is, depending on the industry, a direct beneficiary of women’s empowerment as it unfolds.
The seriousness with which business society is taking this is encouraging and there are three compelling reasons for the private sector to come on board and, according to the Mckinsey report titled The Business of Empowerment these are:
Larger Markets – Economically empowered women earn more, meaning they have more disposable income to spend on themselves and their families.
In 2000 Hindustan Unilever initiated the Shakti Entrepreneur Programme by offering women in rural India micro credit grants to become direct sellers of its products.
Eight years later it had a network of 45 000 saleswomen reaching about 100 000 villages.
A source of talent — Empowered women represent a potential source of talent for the private sector.
Often, a motivated one too.
A gender diverse leadership team brings fresh ideas into the boardrooms and the Mckinsey research has found a strong positive correlation between the number of top female managers and the return on assets and equity.
Enhanced reputation and brand — Meeting the needs of communities is one way to foster good relationships with governments, NGOs and communities in which a company operates.
Creating goodwill is one way that social responsibility initiatives have a direct impact on financial performance.
It’s important for a company to devise a long-term strategy and this is where the Mckinsey women’s economic empowerment cycle comes in.
A company can choose to intervene at infancy, childhood or adolescence level after which income readiness is reached.
At this point intervention can be through entrepreneurship or employment programmes.
Financial security and leadership complete the cycle as companies can introduce financial literacy programmes and leadership training.
As one of the members of the Global Banking Alliance for Women (www.gbaforwomen.org) said, women’s empowerment is no longer about ideology or political correctness; it is an economic and business opportunity.
The GBAW is due to hold its 11th annual meeting in Sydney, Australia this October and its members who are all players in financial services have realised the importance of formulating strategy to tap into the underserved female segment.
The International Finance Corporation is a member along with banks such as Standard Chartered Bank, NBS Malawi, Access Bank PLC Nigeria and First National Bank.
NBS Bank, the third largest in Malawi has made some headway in women’s empowerment.
In collaboration with the IFC it started a Gender Entrepreneurship Markets programme in 2008 and has grown its SME loan book by 242 women with US$2 million (about M14 million) in loan accounts.
Furthermore they engage consultants to guide the women in starting and growing their businesses and they sponsored the formation of networking groups, one in each of the four regions of the country.
In August they received a US$10 million investment in equity from the IFC to spearhead their SME development.
The prospect of embarking on women’s empowerment can seem daunting but companies can start small.
Take the local financial services sector for example.
None that I am aware of has a client base aggregated according to sex and yet this could be the starting point of establishing the current status and then devising ways of tapping into the unbanked.
There are also a host of marketing opportunities that can be unlocked when a bank is able to filter according to sex.
These range from sending text messages to female (or male) clients on special days and sending information on special products.
It’s been said that change is the only constant and with competition becoming intense in traditional markets, it’s a matter of time before companies are compelled to incorporate womenomics into their strategy discussions.
There is no substitute for first-mover advantage and it remains to be seen which company will take the lead in establishing a sustainable women’s economic empowerment programme in the Lesotho.