International Women's Day gives us the opportunity to consider the many and varied roles that women play in their communities. Looking at women through the lens of the global financial services provider, we know that it is often women who are in charge of household finances, both in the UK and in the developing countries in which we operate.
Earlier this week the Banking on Change partnership between Barclays, and NGOs CARE International UK and Plan UK, published the findings of a survey to find out more about women's attitudes to saving in Ghana and in the UK.
Banking on Change, to which Barclays commitment is part of its citizenship agenda, aims to lift around 400,000 people out of poverty in 11 developing countries, including Ghana, by developing and extending access to basic financial services in the form of community-managed savings groups. Our experience has shown the vast majority of participants in these savings groups are women.
The results of the research showed that low-income women in Britain are nearly half as likely to save money as those living in Ghana. That's despite the latter living in a country where many live on less than $2 a day.
In Ghana, women have a strong entrepreneurial spirit. This means that despite lack of access to basic financial services, they still save. We also know from our work in developing countries that women are far more likely than men to reinvest the money they make into their families and communities.
Our study showed that 94% of women in Ghana save each month, compared to just 55% in Britain. In fact, only 27% of those questioned in the UK believe that saving is a priority.
On a recent trip to Ghana to visit some of these savings groups, I met a lady called Lydia, a 40-year-old mother who struggled to send her three kids to school.
She told me that her first loan was 20 Ghana Cedis (about £7, where the average monthly income for a women in Ghana is £601) which helped her start producing and selling quality shea butter extraction. She made a decent profit and ploughed it back into her business.
Her second loan was 30 Cedis which allowed her to take the butter extraction to another level by getting a few more people help sell her product in other local markets. She can now send her children to school.
I heard numerous similar stories which confirmed the views of 87% of the Ghanaian women we surveyed who, although poor, were nevertheless extremely optimistic and expected to earn more money in the future. Three-quarters of them also believe that they already have the skills to do so.
So what can we learn from this research? We need to ensure women in Ghana, in the UK and in every other community in which we operate, understand the importance of saving and its power to drastically change their circumstances. Saving a little and often can provide increased security and choice to women's lives whether they live in Ghana or the UK.
We have a lot to learn from the women in Ghana about the importance of saving and the difference it can make between living on the edge and being able to improve ones circumstances. As a global financial services provider Barclays can use its position to raise awareness of the financially excluded and to design and create the products that will extend financial inclusion to women both in the UK and elsewhere.
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