THE BLOG

Mobile Technology Overcomes Barriers to Financial Inclusion for Women

24/09/2014 16:52 BST | Updated 24/11/2014 10:59 GMT

This week more than 1,000 leaders across industry, government and academia have come together at Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) to discuss new approaches to address complex global challenges. My passion is empowering women around the world and this includes access to financial services, a challenge that continues to be a top priority across my Foundation's programmes. At CGI, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women made a Commitment to Action in partnership with Visa, to facilitate greater financial inclusion for women.

With this commitment, 2,500 Nigerian women will become mobile banking agents in the agent network of First Bank Nigeria, to offer branchless banking services to the bank's customers using mobile phones. These women agents will receive training and capacity building support through our partner on the ground, Youth for Technology Foundation. As agents, these women are expected to reach 75,000 Nigerians living in rural and underserved areas with mobile banking services.

Research shows that if you empower a woman, you empower a family, a community, and indeed a nation. This is because women invest 90% of what they earn back into their families' health and education, making a lasting difference.

Yet while there are so many smart and hard-working women out there, many of them struggle in particular with access to banks and loans. Today, more than 2.5 billion adults in the developing world are considered 'financially excluded'. This means that they do not have access to basic financial services, such as savings, bank accounts, or credit. The majority are women.

The World Bank's World Development Report 2011 suggests that productivity could increase by as much as 25% in some countries if discriminatory barriers such as inequitable property and inheritance laws, cultural practices, lack of access to formal financial institutions, and time constraints due to family and household responsibilities were removed.

But financial institutions themselves face a number of barriers when trying to serve low-income women. Firstly, there is low financial literacy - women tend to be less educated than men in most developing and emerging markets. This makes it difficult for financial institutions to raise awareness and educate women about the benefits of mobile money and how to use it.

Then there is lack of trust - mobile money agents become crucial here, and uptake and continued use depends on agents helping customers to trust the service. We have seen in our work that women agents tend to attract more women customers than men.

Part of my Foundation's work is to help financial service providers and mobile operators both better service low-income women and recruit them as agents of change. We work with a range of high-profile organisations to overcome longstanding barriers to success and ensure that women benefit from the financial services that are being developed through mobile technology.

So what are the socio-economic changes that can drive innovation and spur the entrepreneurial spirit? And what are the challenges that we still face?

It is crucial that commercial organisations, development and public sector players start to build partnerships that create the optimal conditions for women's entrepreneurship to thrive. They need to provide tailor-made tools and approaches to reinforce women's capacities to start and build sustainable businesses.

We need to find sustainable means of working in partnerships and making solutions commercially viable wherever possible is important. My Foundation's partnership with Visa isn't just exciting because of its scope, but because of its structure. The future of development is not charity or social corporate responsibility initiatives. It's finding ways to innovate so that the private sector has a real incentive to get involved. That's important to us because that is what will make the most impact on women's economic empowerment.

This week CGI brings together industry leaders, including mobile operators, device manufacturers, development organisations, leading academic thinkers and consulting firms, and presents a platform for them to connect and explore synergies for partnerships.

My message to the industry leaders is simple: Invest in women as both customers and active financial managers. The benefits to families, communities and industry are abundant.