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Promoting Inclusive Markets and Financial Systems

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From Work Planning to Work: Advancing the Agenda on Women’s Financial Inclusion together

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

There is consensus among the development community that women trail men when it comes to formal financial inclusion. There is also a consensus that this is a violation of their rights, and that it has a negative economic impact. But how do we work to change this in an effective and coordinated manner?

After spending three days at SEEP’s 2017 WEE Global Learning Forum thinking about how to move the needle on women’s economic empowerment as a group, over 50 participants met at CGAP’s Women’s Financial Inclusion Community of Practice meeting to focus on moving from work planning to work. The room was filled with the sound of global voices: people working to advance women farmers’ empowerment in Myanmar, women running savings programs for women in Africa, organizations testing the impact of using women as mobile money agents, and leaders in building women’s empowerment frameworks for donors such as USAID. This diverse room quickly built rapport based on their common goals, and put their collective minds to building the priorities for the three key working groups in the Community of Practice: (1) technology, (2) data and measurement and (3) social norms.


With mobile at the heart of the technology revolution in financial inclusion, the theme that dominated the technology working group was agents - the role of women agents, the risks they face, and the business case for female agents. It was heartening to learn of so many partners carrying out research into women’s role in agent networks. Grameen, Karandaaz and Mercy Corps all spoke to the need for more female agents to encourage and engage women in DFS, and the impressive research that their organizations are carrying out in the coming months. One of the key advantages often cited with DFS is the increased security it offers - however, in many environments, carrying a mobile can often introduce risk through threat of mugging and domestic violence associated with mobile phone use. With a broad range of participants around the table, the group was able to have an informed debate over what the ‘net gain’ for women and mobile phone technology was. Unsurprisingly, it differed across the diverse geographies around the table, but the general consensus was that it offered opportunities that would otherwise not be available for women. Community members committed to sharing their learning with each other with an eye towards building consensus on best practices and collective troubleshooting.

Data and Measurement

In a pre-forum session, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) outlined a significant gap in evidence and study on digital financial services and women’s empowerment, validating the need for the Community of Practice to advance the collection of data and measurement of programmatic impact and trends in adoption of financial services by women. In this working session, a diverse group of program implementers including Vision Fund, UNCDF, consultants and researchers brought a critical eye to how the Community of Practice could advance the evidence-based evaluation of programs and approaches to advance women’s financial inclusion. Given the diverse array of actors collecting data on financial inclusion interventions meant to benefit women, the working group identified peer review and sharing of expertise and findings with an eye towards strengthening data collection, measurement, and evaluation as a top priority. To this end, the Community of Practice will soon start work on a series of interactive learning events tailored towards the substantive and technical components of measuring both financial inclusion, and the empowerment it is meant to enhance.

Social Norms

The topic of social norms was pervasive throughout the WEE Forum discussions. During the opening keynote, professor Naila Kabeer spoke to the entrenched and pervasive power structures that undermine women’s empowerment, and the need to upend these dynamics. Plenary and peer learning sessions, including a CGAP-led session specifically on social norms and overcoming barriers to women’s financial inclusion with presentations from Banyan Global, Oxfam and Women for Women International, further reinforced this call to action. The social norms working group had a robust discussion about the basics: Where are we with our understanding of social norms? How do we distinguish between norms, beliefs and attitudes? What’s the diagnostic approach to understanding social norms? Do we focus on the norms themselves or reframe around barriers? In this context, the Community of Practice will address more basic elements first among its members: defining social norms in relation to financial inclusion and sharing of diagnostic tools, before developing more comprehensive frameworks and guideline on social norms and their influence on women’s financial inclusion.

Events such as the SEEP WEE Forum are important to amplifying the grassroots voice and fostering the type of cross-stakeholder knowledge exchange that ensures we are working together towards a common goal. For members of the women’s financial inclusion Community of Practice that goal is to increase women’s access to financial services in order to support improved practices and find solutions that will increase gender equity.

Anna Mecagni has spent the past 17 years in her career supporting inclusive development with marginalized populations. At Women for Women International, Ms. Mecagni ensures the development and quality of women’s empowerment programs in conflict-affected countries. She guides country teams in WfWI’s economic development activities including cash transfers, business and vocational training, savings and lending groups, and men’s engagement. Previously, Ms. Mecagni managed civil society strengthening, youth development and refugee rights programs with FHI 360, IRC, and Human Rights First. Ms. Mecagni served as an adjunct professor at GWU and earned her Masters from the Fletcher School at Tufts.

Catherine Highet is a technical advisor with FHI 360, focusing on Digital Financial Services (DFS) and digital inclusion activities, including identity and gender equality. Prior to this role, she worked with the GSMA Connected Women program, which aimed to improve adoption of both mobile technology and DFS in the Pacific region. Catherine has also worked with several digital development partners in the public and private sector including IREX, Mozilla, Souktel and the U.S. Embassy of Abuja.

Shelley Spencer is the CEO of Strategic Impact Advisors, www.siaedege.com, a boutique consulting firm that specializes in providing technical consulting on the use of mobile technology for development including digital payments, financial inclusion and a regional economic impact practice. In that role, she also serves as Project Director for NetHope, Inc.’s payment innovation team. Shelley started her career practicing telecommunications regulatory law in Washington, D.C. in the 1990s she landed in the mobile space and became an accidental entrepreneur founding several successful mobile companies.


Rajat kumar says:
Jul 07, 2017

Women empowerment is all about making women independent in handling their own lives financially, emotionally, psychologically and mentally. However, empowerment is directly linked to financial stability. Women who are able to generate their own income and support their own livelihood are more confident and courageous in facing the challenges they face in life.
Read More:- http://bit.ly/2gUosEz

Rajat kumar says:
Jul 07, 2017

The most obvious answer is that the chance to be financially self-sufficient makes women less dependent on the men in their lives, and puts them in a better position to take care of themselves. I Village boasts of women workers who have escaped from abusive husbands and in-laws, because of their confidence in their ability to make a living for themselves.

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