/Women’s Bank ready to bridge the financial gap

Women’s Bank ready to bridge the financial gap

As women‘s participation in the financial sector is at times low as compared to their male‘s, the Zimbabwe Women’s Microfinance Bank (ZWMB) was created to bridge the gap. ZiMining correspondent, Harmony Matenga (HM), spoke to ZWMB’s [chief executive] CEO, Mandas Marikanda (MM), on issues related to women‘s participation in the financial sector, challenges and the way forward.

HM: How much have you disbursed since the bank started? and to how many beneficiaries?  

MM: More than ZWL100 million dollars granted to an excess of 80000 beneficiaries

HM: What criteria have you used that makes the Zimbabwe Women’s Microfinance Bank different from the ordinary banks we know?

MM:  The Women’s Bank understands and responds to the unique needs that have created exclusion amongst women, youths, the disabled, and rural communities of Zimbabwe. The Bank understands that every household has needs that require an economic solution. In most cases the woman is at the fore front in ensuring the Maslow’s hierarchy of basic needs, which covers shelter, food, health, clothing, and education are catered for. The Bank understands and emphathises and crafts solutions to these basic needs.

HM: What are some of the success stories that have been recorded far?

MM:  Being a new bank with an age-old mandate, the bank has, to date, opened [there is a “rule” floating around that you should use ‘more than’ to talk about bigger amounts and ‘over’ to talk about things that are physically above something or in a different location over] more than 86000 branches that are spread across all ten provinces and the districts of Zimbabwe. We have plans to expand our outreach by establishing a solid distribution network, with the head office and main branch in Harare, while offices will be in Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare, and Masvingo and supported by agencies countrywide.

The introduction of value chains has been a smiling point for most rural women and youths, especially value chains in sorghum, caster beans, cotton, sunflower, and groundnuts.

HM: Usually, there are collateral challenges, especially for aspiring women bankers, how do they circumvent them?

MM: The bank notes that security is important to ensure repayments are done. It also recognises availability of alternative security. We have a saying that says, ‘Mari ye bank mwana wemukuwasha, haarare kunze.’ The bank understands the challenges that women have with collateral requirements and appreciates that everyone has something of value, which includes assets (moveable and immovable) as well as social cohesion security.  A good name in the community and being able to work together with others in groups in the community has been used as security under the solidarity group guarantee methodology.

HM: What are some of the major challenges the bank is facing?

MM:  The demand always outstrips the supply or disbursement of loans. The bank is grateful for the current support and managed growth, which ensures a good reputation. There are some who also do not expect to repay and often borrow and create hype with a hope of not repaying. We are grateful that the bank has received tremendous support from the highest office Avoid such political terms as ‘the highest office. Kuyini khonokho? This reiterates the need for all who borrow to make good in repayments.

The bank is hoping to be assisted by the RBZ exchange control to find a solid solution to forex transaction support to ensure women fully transact with their bank of choice.

HM: What do you value most about women’s participation in the economy?

 MM: Women’s participation in the economy reduces dependency, ensures direct tackling of poverty challenges, and ensures the inflow of resources directly benefits the intended beneficiaries. With women constituting 52% of the population, participation is empowering women as well as the nation. Women’s economic empowerment reduces gender based violence, brings equality, and builds women confidence and social cohesion. Participation boosts productivity, increases economic diversification, and income equality. In addition, this contributes to the Sustainable Development goal of Poverty Eradication, Good Health, Education and Gender Equality

HM:  How much loans did the Zimbabwe Women’s Microfinance Bank disburse in 2020?

MM: More than ZWL50 million dollars granted to 30,000 beneficiaries,

AM: At some point, the bank considered to give out loans in foreign currency, did it succeed?

MM: It is an area of interest that the banking sector is looking at and exploring while engagements with the regulator are ongoing, and the stabilisation of the foreign exchange rates through the auction system is giving comfort.

HM: How is the uptake of the bank’s loans from rural women?

MM: The women are keen to get loans from the bank, and the knowledge that a bank was created to cater for women gives them more excitement to access loans for different projects.

HM: Considering that most women are employed in the informal sector, how has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the bank’s operations?

MM: The Covid-19 period has generally slowed down most business operations, and the bank has not been spared though it is part of essential service. The bank’s target markets (women) are in the informal sector, which was mostly affected by the [COVID-19] protocols and lockdown. Upon the lockdown relaxation, we are optimistic that business activity and volumes should surge as experienced in 2020.

HM:   Do you feel that there is total investment parity between male and female entrepreneurs?  

 MM: The present obtaining situation reveals that women in Zimbabwe continue to have unequal access to finances, skills, and markets in all sectors of the economy (agriculture, mining, tourism and trade).  The lack of property title as collateral security leaves women with little chance to qualify for credit. However, efforts were done to show that a good trajectory of bringing a balance to this imbalance.

HM: Women entrepreneurs sometimes rate themselves lower than how their peers rate them. Why do you think women underrate themselves in business? .

MM: It is important to know that Zimbabwe has a strong breed of confident go-getter women leaders who are not apologetic and have made significant progress and impact. There are, however, many women who have been trapped under the vice of lack and oppressive cultural practices that often are taught, which insinuate that a boy child is better than a girl child. A child is a child despite the gender and requires support and love. These exclusions have resulted in some women lagging behind in education and income, with some not having access to a bank account in their life. These social and cultural barriers tend to prevent women from fully participating in accessing financial products and services. The fear of failure or the unknown, their background, and societal pressure are some of the factors that contribute to low self-esteem.

 HM: How has your personal journey been, have you encountered some stereotypes or the proverbial glass ceiling?

MM: I have a great testimony of the hand of God all the way to where I am. Romans 8:28 says, ‘For everything works together for those who love the Lord, who are called after His purpose.’ A humble background, God fearing parenting, instillation of good morals, and cultural values, a great supportive spiritual nurturing— all helped me in handling challenges in my career. My senior pastor always said, ‘People are people.’ Which means they can be bad or can be good; you have to learn to forgive and give people an opportunity.

On conflict resolution, my mother would say, ‘Chinofa chichirwa ingwe, munhu ngaatsvage rugare.’ Try to make peace even with the impossible. Meaning there are times when you have to fight, but choose battles well.

My other pastor said, ‘Kunaka kwakangonaka. Haunaki nekuti vanhu vakanaka.’

HM: What‘s your is your reaction to the view that social norms constrain women’s demand for financial services?

MM: I am a very proud Zimbabwean woman who loves our culture. In every culture there are good and bad practices. What is important is to adapt the modern life with the cultures. I believe women are enforcers and culture builders. So I believe in making good what I can do, and challenge what is wrong, and proffer relevant solutions.

HM: How should women’s economic empowerment be defined?

MM: It is access to knowledge, financial literacy, business opportunities, assets, and resources. These play a critical role in women economic empowerment, increasing women’s and girls’ educational attainment, access to financial services and closing gender related gaps in financial inclusion.

HM: What aspects of women’s economic empowerment are most important to measure?

MM: Access to resources and assets, education and financial literacy, access to a bank account, and access to skills for women capacitation. These help with creating and sustaining jobs and reducing poverty at household level as we measure how many dollars they live on per day.

HM: What are common challenges women encounter in economic empowerment?

MM: High costs of accessing financial products and services such as bank charges and stringent account opening requirements, irregular and low income, poor return, and lack of adequate capital, and poor rural infrastructure, which does not support development of these micro enterprises into sustainable large business ventures, long distance to the nearest access point

HM:  What approaches does the Women‘s Bank employ[ in order] to have women’s financial inclusion?

MM:  ZWMB continues to raise awareness of financial products and financial services among women, through consumer education and financial literacy programs. 

We have the support and collaboration with various stakeholders including Ministries of Education, Women Affairs, and development partners.

[Increase women’s awareness of the legal rights in respect of property ownership to improve access to collateral and control over assets, which in turn will enable women to access credit and other financial services.

Build the capacity of financial institution to better serve women entrepreneurs.

The establishment of the bank being spearheaded by the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and  Community Development will promote financial inclusion of women in the country

HM: How far has the bank come in advancing women’s financial inclusion, and where do we stand today?

MM:  A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. The launch of the bank is that initial step. According to the microfinance life cycle theory, the bank is still in its startup phase, having operated for 2 years. Positive developments continue to be registered from the statistics highlighted above. 

Accounts have been opened in all ten provinces, and Loans have been disbursed in most, if not all sectors. We are optimistic of embracing all women and leaving no one behind.

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