Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank Group President was once quoted saying; “At a time when the world is looking for additional sources of growth, there’s an untapped market out there that everyone should invest in more, this market is women.”
Just like Kim put it, it is now clear that women are of value to the society and they ought to be appreciated around the globe. Their significance cannot be underestimated because of the role they play in our lives as mothers, sisters and key players in economic transformation.
Although several centuries of gender oppression have existed and pushed women to the wall, the 21st century is remarkable because there is now more focus on ending gender inequality against women and therefore dubbed the women century.
Access Bank Rwanda appreciates the importance of women in society despite this long term gender inequality. The Bank recognizes that women are an important asset to the society in sub-Saharan Africa contributing about 50 per cent of the population; a figure that is not very different from 52 per cent that Rwandan women contribute to the population.
Basing on these facts, the bank has several innovations in the interest of promoting women and the latest being the W-initiative.
What the W-initiative is
The W initiative is a banking initiative provided by Access Bank to inspire, connect and empower women in business across the continent. Unlike other clients, women who hold accounts under this initiative enjoy a number of privileges such as lower interest rates, trainings and mentorship services suitable for propelling investments.
“This is one of the most important innovations in the world of women. The W-initiative is a way of life under Access Bank Rwanda. Implementation of this initiative further attests to our commitment to women empowerment and our dedication for women to build a sustainable and profitable future. A combination of this therefore becomes a pack of choice for women,” says Jean Claude Karayenzi, the Managing Director of Access Bank Rwanda.
Karayenzi is optimistic that implementing the W-initiative is not any difficult since women have already been recognized and empowered through concerted government efforts.
Furthermore, basis is on the fact that 57 per cent of parliamentarians and 58 per cent of cabinet ministers are women, which is a strong and reliable force that has translated into reliable stability and well being in the community.
Changing the Rwandan woman
Ignatienne Nyirarukundo, the President of Rwanda Women Parliamentary Forum says that people who have access to this initiative are likely to enjoy lower interest rates which means that they can gain a lot while doing businesses instead of practicing the old culture of relying on men to provide everything.
Unlike the old days when women would lose focus while seeking finance from several source, the W-initiative provides a shoulder which women need to take advantage of.
Nyirarukundo calls on all women in the country to take part in the W-initiatives because this way they can position themselves in lines that generate a lot of profits.
She however believes that results of empowering women are paying off because there is a platform collecting views from the different parts of the country that are eventually addressed.
These thoughts are taken as very important hence women should share the same privileges like their male counterparts.
Jane Nkubana the co founder of Gahaya links a weaving company also attests the enormous benefits that result from the strong relationship of a client and a bank.
Nkubana says that the overdrafts and small loans that she continuously acquired from access bank grew the company from a small scale to now a big exporting firm that has also been recognized for performance and scooped a number of awards.
“We started by bringing women together to weave baskets and sell them. Afterwards this income would be used to improve their livehood status. This company at the time was only worth no more than Rwf 1 million but now it has transformed to more than half a million dollar with various clients.”
Nkubana feels that the W initiative is an ideal arrangement for rural women that want to join the business sector.
The W-initiative is therefore open to all women as long as they are keen on advancement. The basis for creating this group is on the assumption that that special treatment needs to be given to this group.
“Our belief has already been witnessed whereby when it comes to paying back loans, women almost have zero default, a practice that is highly in women’s favour in women advancement,” Karayenzi adds.
The initiative is segmented into three groups that include young professionals, family, and business.
Young professionals to benefit from the initiative should be aged between 21 and 35 years although one should be professionally-qualified and in full-time employment mostly not engaged in any part-owned businesses. She should be a career-focused young woman who is at the pre-family/family stage of her life, a heavy user of technology (internet, social media, and mobile phones) but with other interests like personal shopping, fashion, latest technology, overseas travel, music & socializing, active social life including church activities, health, beauty and personal fitness and further career-centered education.
Individuals qualify for this group if they are aged between 25 – 55 years but must be well learned, professionally-qualified, career women. Individuals in this category may be married with children although employment may be be either in full or part-time employment, or a non-working housewife who manages a micro or home-based business that she operates on a part-time/informal basis. Key interests should include personal and family shopping, “home building & family-management”, family health and financial security, fashion, technology gadgets, overseas holidays. The person should also love to socialize with her husband/kids and female friends. Some may possess aspirations to start her own business as an alternative to working as an employee or to earn extra income.
In this category, the woman should at least own 51 per cent of the business or be the sole or part business owner or directly responsible for managing the financial affairs of her business (i.e. personally responsible for major financial decisions in their business).
Some may have limited financial and business management skills and experience and a restricted network of potential business and financial advisors (friends, family members) although they must have a high demand for market information and business/financial management advice and guidance.
Because time is precious, business women may at times be faced with challenges of balancing business, home and family responsibilities and often makes them feel that their business are not treated seriously by banks.