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Promoting Inclusive Markets and Financial Systems

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Why Greater Financial Inclusion for Africa’s Women is Smart Policymaking

This blog is published as part of the 2017 WEE Global Learning Forum Blog Series.

Join Winrock International, ACI and USAID at the 2017 WEE Forum for the Peer Learning Session, Different Perspectives, Shared Goal: Accelerating Women’s Financial Inclusion in Africa


Imagine that you are unable to open a bank account or access a loan without the approval of a male relative… just because you are a woman. Across the African continent, women entrepreneurs are constrained by gender-specific factors influencing their choices and often hindering the growth of their businesses. Understanding why women make different business decisions than men is key to developing effective policies and interventions towards improving their performance. Getting these policies right could lead to enhanced economic productivity and improve development outcomes for generations to come. World Bank Group researchers and project teams (us!) are working together to identify the constraints women face and solutions to address these constraints.

On May 24, we will have the opportunity to share our work at the Women’s Economic Empowerment Global Learning Forum and discuss the obstacles facing women in Africa to access finance and pilot interventions designed to address these obstacles. We will highlight what we know about legal and economic barriers to women’s access to finance, and what we are still trying to figure out.

A sneak peek into our session at #WEEForum2017

Women, Business and the Law (WBL) is a World Bank Group product that collects data on laws and regulations constraining women's entrepreneurship and employment. WBL supported a World Bank project reforming the Family Code in Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016. These reforms allowed married women to open bank accounts and obtain loans without their husband’s legal permission. WBL works with civil society partners in using data as an advocacy tool for reform. We will discuss how undertaking careful analysis of legal constraints such as family, inheritance, land laws and financial system regulations to identify discriminatory policies and guide reform can positively impact individual and community well-being.

In Ethiopia, an innovative project may be a game-changer for women entrepreneurs. Collateral is a major constraint to accessing credit for female-owned firms across Africa. This pilot project - spearheaded by the Africa Gender Innovation Lab - is providing financial institutions and their customers an alternative to collateral through a psychometric test via a tablet. We will discuss how we believe using new and alternative sources of data to make credit decisions has the potential to effectively address the collateral constraint affecting so many women’s ability to access finance across the continent.

A credit officer administers a psychometric test on a tablet for a client. The score of this test can serve as an alternative to collateral as part of a credit scoring pilot project in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.

Almost 2,000 miles away, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the IFC-Master Card Foundation Partnership for Financial Inclusion team is working to expand financial inclusion and advance digital financial services via agent banking. IFC, the MasterCard Foundation and FINCA are working with small business owners who, in addition to their main business services, offer FINCA banking services to their customers. During the network’s roll-out, IFC and FINCA found that working with women agents helped FINCA to connect with more people who did not have access to formal banking services. In addition, factors such as the location of women’s businesses or how women handle finances had an impact on the growth of the company. When controlling for external factors, women do a better, more efficient job as agents compared to men, and are well positioned to reach communities who lack basic financial services.

A women entrepreneur in the Democratic Republic of Congo supplements her earnings acting as FINCA banking agent.

Our goal is to highlight that in contexts like the DRC and Ethiopia, where women face significant barriers to financial inclusion and growing their businesses, promoting and financing innovative solutions such as agent banking and alternative credit scoring that target specific constraints that women face is smart policy-making. We look forward to sharing more on these exciting projects and learning from your experiences to further the agenda of achieving scalable solutions for women’s economic empowerment.


Rachel Coleman is an Analyst in the World Bank’s Africa Gender Innovation Lab. She coordinates the research uptake work of a portfolio of impact evaluations across various sectors. She also works on several financial inclusion pilot projects. Before joining the World Bank, Rachel worked in an advocacy unit of an NGO focused on global health campaigns in Sub-Saharan Africa. She holds a master’s degree from George Washington University in International Trade and Investment Policy.

Tazeen Hasan leads the women’s financial inclusion work at the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law program. She was the legal specialist for the “World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development” and “Opening Doors: Gender Equality in the Middle East and North Africa”. She coauthored “Empowering Women: Legal Rights and Economic Opportunities in Africa” and “Voice and Agency”. Previously, she was a barrister in the UK specializing in civil and commercial law and an adviser to NGOs in Kenya. She has a Masters (International Law) from London School of Economics and a BA (Law) from Oxford University.

Anca Bogdana Rusu is a Financial Inclusion Specialist at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), where she is part of the IFC-MasterCard Foundation Partnership for Financial Inclusion team. Her current work focuses on digital financial services, big data analytics, alternative delivery channels, mobile money and gender in Sub-Saharan Africa. Anca has authored and co-authored reports and academic papers on topics such as agent banking, microfinance and mobile financial services, financial inclusion and bridging the digital and financial inclusion gender gap. Anca has a Master in Public Policy from Georgetown University and holds a Certificate in FinTech from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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