Lenders Are Taking Steps to Mainstream Gender Lens Investing and Providing Insights for Others
Increasingly, financial institutions are acknowledging the importance of intentionally targeting and serving women-owned businesses, who often face significant barriers in accessing the capital they need to grow. But many lenders struggle with how to get started. Here we share insights and learning from gender lens advisory work that Aceli and Value for Women has done over the past year with 17 lenders in East Africa.
First, some context and a definition: Aceli is a market incentive facility that aims to unlock financing for high-impact agricultural SMEs in East Africa. Our product offering includes a gender inclusion impact bonus to incentivize lenders to seek out and serve SMEs that create opportunities for women. To complement these incentives, Aceli partnered with Value for Women, to strengthen lenders’ capacity related to gender inclusion in their lending activities.
During 2021, the two organizations, with funding from USAID INVEST, offered a series of workshops for 17 lenders, including 9 commercial banks in East Africa and 8 non-bank financial institutions. The workshops focused on gender lens investing (GLI), which is an investing approach that takes into consideration gender-based factors across the investment process to advance gender equality and better inform investment decisions.
Three themes emerged from this dialogue around how agricultural lenders can support women-led and gender-inclusive agri-SMEs.
Agricultural lenders are leaning in on GLI. Lenders were keen to engage on gender topics and to participate actively in workshops. Many lenders had developed value propositions targeted to women entrepreneurs and were enthusiastic to take the next step in converting these ideas into concrete product offerings. More and more, gender lens investing is going beyond a “nice to have” and becoming an industry standard.
Gender progress requires several inputs: senior leadership commitment + internal champions + external support. Converting gender commitments or targets into concrete action requires sustained change management, particularly for banks that operate based on formal policies. Internal champions at both the senior and middle manager level are essential for driving changes in these policies and, at least as importantly, in institutional practices and culture. Gender technical advisory provided by an external organization like Value for Women can facilitate conversations, bring expertise, and create momentum for change.
Enabling policies and financial incentives allow lenders to adjust requirements and increase financing for women-owned businesses while building an evidence base for more significant reforms in the future. Lenders noted that their collateral and equity contribution requirements are significant barriers for many women-owned businesses. Those policies derive from lenders’ prior experience and central bank regulations intended to protect depositors and maintain stability in the financial system (for more on this topic, see Aceli's recent learning brief on central bank regulations). However, these conservative lending requirements may be excessive in constraining lending to businesses that have the capacity to grow and repay their loans. Financial incentive models such as Aceli's are one way to motivate lenders in the short term to modify their collateral requirements within the current central bank regulations. In the medium term, the goal is to demonstrate to both lenders and central banks that lower collateral requirements are compatible with healthy loan portfolios.
Following the workshops, VfW provided deeper technical advisory over a four-month period in 2022 to two institutions: Family Bank in Kenya and Mango Fund in Uganda. The results in terms of improved business operations and staff knowledge within both institutions at the end of this short period may be encouraging for other agricultural lenders pursuing similar objectives.
Support to Family Bank included comprehensive gender training for staff and embedding gender metrics in its data system to identify and track women-owned businesses. Results included:
Increased staff buy-in;
Data on women-led businesses to better serve this segment; and
An institutionalized gender approach.
Family Bank is now well positioned to design and launch its women's market initiative, bringing it closer to its goal of becoming the go-to bank for Kenyan women.
Support to Mango Fund centered on developing its organization-wide gender strategy, a public gender commitment, and conducting rapid research with women clients. Results included:
An institutionalized gender approach;
Organization-wide gender targets;
A roadmap for improving Mango Fund’s sourcing strategies to better uncover investable women-owned businesses; and
Improved understanding of its women entrepreneur clients to boost its differentiated value proposition for this segment.
Mango Fund is poised to achieve, if not exceed, its ambitious target of increasing its total outstanding portfolio held by women entrepreneurs by ~30% by the end of this year.
Learn more about these collaborations and the results!
Value for Women and Aceli developed case studies detailing the journey, results, and lessons of Family Bank and Mango Fund, which will be published in the coming weeks. In the meantime, register here for our upcoming webinar on September 15, 2022 from 3-4pm EAT, to hear directly from Mango Fund and Family Bank on their gender lens investing journeys to date.
Value for Women is a global advisory services firm with a mission to promote women’s participation and leadership in business, finance and investment around the globe, with a focus on emerging markets.