‘New Faces, New Voices’, a Pan-African advocacy group that focuses on expanding the role and influence of women in the financial sector, was launched in Rwanda on June 10. With its head office in South Africa, the organisation has chapters in fourteen other African countries, including Rwanda.
Among other plans, locally, the initiative seeks to raise more than $4 million (nearly Rwf 3 billion) in two years to fund women’s business projects in the country. The New Times’ Eugene Kwibuka spoke to the chairperson of ‘New Faces, New Voices’ in Rwanda, Monique Nsanzabaganwa (also vice governor, National Bank of Rwanda), about the issue of financial inclusion for women and how the body will help to address it.
Below are the excerpts:
It is said that women’s access to financial services in Rwanda is lower than men’s access to financial services, how does that manifest itself in the daily life?
Well, I have to put two facts on record: one is that women tend to be less formally financially included; this means in terms of dealing with any regular bank and micro finance institutions.
But when we check on the ground, women are financially included in the informal sector as members of savings groups in rural areas and doing their small businesses with money they get from friends, relatives, churches or any other associations.
So, women might be informally accessing finances but formally they are not?
They have formal access to finances but slightly less than men.
Having worked for a long time as an economic development planner and as a banker, when did you start realising that women are financially excluded?
I think this has always been the case. You find that in different surveys that are conducted by different government agencies, or PSF (Private Sector Federation) and the National Women Council, it always comes to the fact that women need more access to finance, need to understand finances better and they need to really have that facilitation in doing business.
But, in Rwanda, the first standard study on financial inclusion was done by FinScope in 2008. At that time only 21 per cent of Rwandans were financially included in a formal way. When they did another one in 2012, that percentage had doubled, to 42 per cent.
In the 2008 study, financial inclusion for both formal and informal combined, men and women combined was at 48 per cent, and in 2012, it went up to 72 per cent. So, the issue we have to struggle with is to raise formal financial inclusion to at least 80 per cent by 2017 and 90 per cent by 2020.
That’s the challenge and women have to be the focus because they tend to be the majority of those who are totally financially excluded or are informally included. So, the focus on women is very meaningful to the government’s targets of achieving 80 per cent formal financial inclusion by 2017 and 90 per cent by 2020.
But when you talk about financial inclusion, what exactly does it mean in simple terms?
It means not only having access to a financial institution like having a bank account or dealing with an insurance company or a microfinance institution but also having access to those institutions, use their services in actual sense and that those services actually meet your needs and are affordable.
So, there are three key issues in financial inclusion: you have to deal with access; that is in terms of proximity or physical access such as in the case of Umurenge Sacco programme where you find it closer to the people in the community. Another aspect is affordability; these issues of interest rates, the cost of access to finance. The last one is how you uptake the services.
They might be there and affordable but you don’t uptake them. Uptake is about how often you make transactions on your account such as withdraws, savings, or acquire loans.
If it’s an insurance service or a mobile money account, uptake is about how many times you transacted on it, how much you enjoy having that access or how you access loans on it. So, the combination of all that makes up the appreciation for the level of financial inclusion.
You and other partners are taking a step to ensure that you promote women’s financial inclusion. Tell me about it?
As founding members of ‘New Faces, New Voices’ initiative, what we are doing with our partners— such as our patron the First Lady Jeanette Kagame, government institutions, the financial institutions and members of the donor community—is trying to get together and make the voice louder– that we need to do something to address some issues.
The issues to be addressed are women’s access to finance, their capacity to deal with finance such as managing their businesses or honing their skills in investment and personal financial management as well as ensuring that women are there when financial decisions are being taken.
It’s a pan-African movement which was founded by Graça Machel (former South African First Lady) and it has been establishing chapters in many countries.
So, we are some of the people who got that call from the founder and we agreed to get together as Rwandan women and think through it and come up with tangible steps and plans together as women.
Here we mean all the women from the main market which are the women with low income; they may be in rural areas, they may be in agriculture, they may be in urban areas, but it’s those women that need to be empowered.
We all face the same issues the same way. Some of us may have faced specific challenges but we want all of them to come together and think about how we can be a solution to the problem ourselves.
Once we have made our bits anyone who joins hands with us that’s well and good but in some cases of financial exclusion we are sometimes part of the problem. We must do our bits to be self-confident, know that we can do it and that it doesn’t take a lot of money to create wealth.
I can see the passion in trying to help people know how to increase their money, but I am still wondering how you got in touch with ‘New faces, New Voices’ organisation?
Actually ‘New Faces, New Voices’ was launched in Africa in 2010 during the first African Women Economic Summit which was organised in Nairobi, Kenya in partnership with the African Development Bank (AfDB).
They invited all the African governments, corporations, banks and finance institutions, international finance institutions; everyone was there at the summit. The summit declared that New Faces, New Voices initiative was being launched.
Graça Machel then called upon all the participants to go back and see how they can keep the fire burning. So, the initiative didn’t have to be operated from its headquarters. Chapters (within countries) were instead given full autonomy to go back and think and establish programmes as long as they contribute to the vision of financially empowering women.
So, the call was made to us to go back and think about what we can do. I would say that we were sold an idea, then we bought it, and we came and organised and strategised on how to implement it.
Being Rwanda’s chapter of New Faces, New Voices, what does it mean? Does it mean you are connected to the continental group, how do you work together?
It means that we are part of a network but we are totally independent. A chapter has full autonomy; you do whatever you want, in whatever legal form you want, you don’t take any funding from the headquarters, but you are part of a continental family.
The national chapters contribute to the strategic direction of the continental initiative because our country directors meet from time to time to exchange practices and experiences.
So you belong to that family, you belong to that network and you use the name. The name is a huge asset and belonging to it opens so many opportunities and partnerships for us.
How will you operate on the ground in Rwanda?
We want to operate as a business for more than one reason. First, we wanted a model that can be self-sustaining. Being an association or an NGO means we would be living on funds obtained from well-wishers but that model would not be sustainable in the future because it happens that you sometimes struggle and sometimes you can even be compromised in your vision as you respond to the needs of the funders.
The second reason why we want to operate as a business is because we want to emulate that idea of investment. So, investment, investment, investment, saving, saving, saving. We want to walk the talk and really be there for the women. We want to invest in projects, to really make money, and you can not do it unless you are a company.
The third reason why we want to operate as a company is that much as we want to invest, we also want to remain there for the women and attract funds from different sources so we can do other programmes besides investments. The programmes have to be developmental in nature such as capacity building, different trainings, different networking initiatives; we want to bring such things to our communities and change people’s mindset, especially women.
You also said that you want to raise $4 million in two years...
Yeah, that’s for a women investment fund.
How realistic is this?
Actually we are going to show you that we can raise the money in less than two years.
How will it work?
Our strategy is that we want to reach at least 300,000 women in the main market. We are going to work with the local government, work with the churches, work from anywhere you can find women groups, their associations and cooperatives to reach those members.
So, they will be giving you money to become members of the organisation?
No, it’s not like they will be giving money to buy membership; they will actually be buying shares in the investment fund. We want one person to buy a minimum of seven shares at Rwf1000 each. Even the poorest of the women will afford buying a share in the fund.
So, shareholders will have to be only women or you are also going to welcome men?
We want women in big numbers but we also want to have men and other members of the corporate community as shareholders. We will figure out how to make the fund inclusive as long as we have women in huge numbers to ensure this is a women investment fund.
Once you have the money in the coffers, how will the fund work?
The money is going to be managed by a fund manager who will be internationally recruited through competition so that we can have the best manager possible. The fund will have a governance structure; it will actually be regulated by the Capital Market Authority. So, we will go through the regulations and see what the standards in governance are and the systems we need to have in place to operate such funds.
Then we will have policies on which investments to operate in and how much as well as what are the criteria to ensure that it’s serving women. So, we are going to come up with those policies on investment and start investing.
And investment is going to be in two modes; you can buy quasi-equity in projects and you become a shareholder but with views to exiting once the project is viable or you can give them some loans which they are going to be repaying back as they continue to do business. In the meantime, we will also be doing the after-care, which is accompanying them so that they have the right management system.
We will be doing all of these things from other programmes which are not just the investment window because we will have capacity building programmes, training programmes and business entrepreneurship programmes.
We will be accompanying those projects with other solutions so that they get stronger and pay back to the fund so that the women who will have invested in the fund get their dividends out of those investments.
But you are not going to be a bank, are you?
At the beginning we are not aiming to be a bank. But in our long term strategy, we are saying that in ten years to come once the fund has performed well we have in our dreams to issue an IPO and there you can come and buy shares in the women’s bank. But we are beginning with a women investment fund.
Are there any challenges you are seeing in the future as you undertake this project?
Not really challenges, but we need to get up and go reach out to as many people as possible. We are going to do so many road shows to explain this concept and really get women aligned. That is going to take hard work and I hope that the media will always be on our side because we need to get the message across.
Is there any other message to people out there?
First, I want to tell them that, as we have in our vision for ‘New faces, New voices-Rwanda’, we want to co-create our own full financial inclusion and economic empowerment. As women, we have to play a role in bringing answers to some of our problems and we need to be at the centre of efforts to solve our problems.
The second message is that we really appreciate what the government and the leadership of this country have
done for women. Our pledge is, now that you have empowered Rwandan women, we are so many of us and we commit that in five years we are going to empower one million Rwandans and lift them out of poverty.
We want to play our role in contributing to efforts of poverty reduction; we want to give back to our communities.