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Championing financial inclusion for women

By Biodun Coker, Business Day Online

Nigeria today is at the cusp of a paradigm change in its growth and its position in the world, making it pertinent that both men and women act decisively in order to capture this opportunity.

In doing this, a country and its people need to think big and scale up rapidly in each and every area, be it education, infrastructure, industry, financial services or equality of both genders, which to some extent are lacking in the country at the moment.

Access Bank, identifying the need to fill the gaping vacuum, set up the GEM programme targeted at empowering aspiring female entrepreneurs. Under this programme, the bank provides women with resources they need to grow their business. It encompasses finance, capacity building, networking, advisory services and market collaborations.

The bank’s products are defined by institutional need to address obvious gaps in the banking landscape and the society.

Largely, they are products of research hence their aptness at addressing consumer needs. The bank has introduced a number of industry defining products, services and initiatives but its GEM is particularly unique because of its visible impact on the economic development of the African continent.

The introduction of the GEM product is a demonstration of its commitment to its objective of becoming a catalyst for economic development on the African continent, and quest for credible partnership that accentuates its role as an economic ambassador of the African continent.

On broader scale, the bank’s GEM is one of its responses to the issue of financial inclusion for which it has evolved a clear strategy. Other responses include Access Bank Early Savers Account among others.

GEM is a programme designed to provide financial support, advisory services and improve the capacity of female entrepreneurs in developing markets. It is a product borne out of the Bank’s collaboration with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), an arm of the World Bank under its Gender Entrepreneurship Markets Programme (‘GEM’). This initiative grants women-owned business access to funding and increase their contributions economic development with positive effects on employment generation and GDP growth.

Through this partnership, the bank had sought an avenue for boosting the capability and capacity of female entrepreneurs and provided them with a platform for actualisation of their business goals. On the strength of its credibility and acceptance in the international financial community as validated by this uncommon partnership, Access Bank has succinctly projected the potential value and contribution of this segment of the Sub-Saharan economy and attracted much need support from credible multilateral agencies and international finance organisations.

Today, it is an incontrovertible fact that serving this segment of the financial market provides a sustainable business opportunity for the financial institutions and is a tactical avenue for boosting economic performance in the sub-region.

Its pioneering role in identifying this market segment has significantly impacted retail market in Nigeria and empowered the operations of women-owned SMEs.

A novel idea Access Bank GEM programme is the first of its kind in Africa – a partnership between IFC and a commercial financial institution that emphasises access to finance for women entrepreneurs. This partnership with IFC has earned the bank several international awards.

It would be recalled that it entered into a partnership with the IFC to promote an initiative in Nigeria through its Gender Empowering Program (GEM) in 2006. Under the program, IFC provided a start up fund of $15 million facility to Access Bank specifically to provide financing for female entrepreneurs as well as provide technical and financial support to female entrepreneurs.

The IFC/Access Bank alliance has successfully provided support and incentives to female entrepreneurs through Access Bank’s Gender Empowerment Programme. GEM is a cross-cutting initiative designed to mainstream gender issues while leveraging the potentials of female entrepreneurs in emerging markets to activate economic development in the sub-region.

Over 500 female entrepreneurs have been successfully trained on ‘how to grow their businesses’ and provided advisory services that have transformed their operations.

Benefits

The GEM initiative has one major goal: to help female-owned businesses grow. And in fulfillment of this, Access Bank has provided N2.5 billion to women-owned businesses in last 5 years. Also, they have drawn huge benefits from access to information and training designed to boost their capacity.

Other benefits:

They provide support in the following ways: Networking, Training, Advisory services and Finance:

Through Networking, they recognize the importance of networking when building and growing business. Access Bank also runs quarterly networking sessions for our members to ensure that they have the most up to date information to help their business.


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