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Financial Inclusion through Savings and Village Enterprises (FINISAVE)

24.11.2014Theopista Ntale Sekitto

Financial inclusion has become a contributing factor to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly MDG1, which promises to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. The MDGs also include a gender-specific target for achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all. MDG3 is aimed at promoting gender equality and empowering women, and includes a specific reference to women's economic empowerment. Globally, women account for 66% of the labour force and have played a major part in the growth of small businesses. Women entrepreneurs, in particular, are contributing significantly to economic growth by creating jobs and generating revenues. Yet, women-owned businesses' access to credit remains difficult.

In rural areas of Africa, women constitute the largest percentage, 70% of the rural labour force that derives their livelihood from subsistence agriculture. A large number of these farmers aspire to employing better production techniques that can lead to increased output. However, they are dealing with challenges of access to capital that would enable them re-invest their businesses. Only thirteen per cent (13%) of rural people obtain loans from banks for re-investing in agricultural production. This lack of access to finance for the poor, particularly for rural women is attributable to a number of factors including, the location of their businesses and banks' perception of agricultural lending as risky business. Currently, there a few products for agricultural lending tailored to suit women's needs and to couple this, the lending criteria employed by banks is complicated for women. Moreover, the reality in most African countries is that women lack access to and control of land, which serves as collateral for bank loans. There exists also a fear by women to walk into banks and/or financial institutions due to the language barrier. The list can be endless: Mobility restrictions due to the geographic spread of homes across large areas; low levels of education and business training that hampers skills in record keeping, business plan preparation and general management of the business. All of these barriers affect the performance, growth and sustainability of women's enterprises.

In addition to these barriers, the New Faces New Voices (NFNV) Uganda Chapter, a Graca Machel Initiative, identified specific gaps for rural women in terms of access to finance including: little or no formal education, inadequate training on formal financial literacy, women being perceived as housekeepers and not fit to participate in economic activities and poor infrastructure in rural areas.

Against this backdrop, and in an effort to address the challenges of women's access to finance in rural areas, NFNV Uganda Chapter, in partnership with the Uganda National Entrepreneurship Development Institute (UNEDI) began implementing a Financial Inclusion model through the Savings and Villages Enterprises (FINISAVE), a financial cooperative model aimed at increasing the availability and size of finance in remote areas. The FINISAVE Model is based on two schools of thought: (i) People do earn some income but need to be guided on responsible spending and on investments that fall within their income; and (ii) collectively pooling resources together for improved household incomes while working hard on key productive value chains. The FINISAVE model was pilot tested in Lwengo District, with more than 125,000 women entrepreneurs, and a total of 250,000 men and women in 465 villages benefitted from this initiative.

We noted the following during implementation: (i) The sharing of costs through a public-private-civil society partnership has assisted in addressing the lack of infrastructure in women accessing financial institutions in rural areas; (ii) through the formation of savings and investment village based groups that is linked to a commercial bank via mobile banking, women in rural areas are able to work in profitable and sustainable investment cooperatives; (iii) the model underscores a paradigm shift in the cultural and traditional beliefs that a woman is a mere house labourer. This was done through a high-level business and financial literacy training programme, which encouraged communities to move towards self-discovery, a mind-set change, enabling a woman to identify opportunities around her. These women, who had previously not seen the inside of the bank, can now confidently walk into a bank with clear knowledge of the banking services, products and their rights as consumers.

Looking forward and from what we have learnt from this process, regulatory authorities and financial institutions should:

  • regulate agent banking services shifting from a corporate culture to a pro-poor service delivery that is context specific;
  • create rural women guarantee and production material subsidy funds;
  • embrace and highly promote the policy of public-private civil society partnerships in financial service delivery;
  • design products that can be accessed by all categories of the female clients especially those at the lowest financial strata;
  • build capacity to serve women as a special segment by developing new finance models specifically geared towards increasing access to finance. The proposed initiatives should address the gendered factors that constrain the growth and sustainability of rural women's businesses.
  • There must be a mind-set change and paradigm shift that the rural populace are merely recipients of corporate responsibility to financial institutions and that poverty is part of the package for rural communities in Africa. This will be a missed opportunity, as the rural populace are credible, vital contributors to the economies in Africa.

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