Saturday, 10th June 2023

Deepening access to sustainable finance for women-led businesses

By Femi Adekoya
22 March 2023   |   3:00 am
Notwithstanding the enormous upside potential that women-owned businesses represent for economies around the world, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 50 per cent of women’s productive potential is underused, compared with 22 per cent of men’s.

World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General anf former Nigeria’s Foreign and Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks during the press conference of the G20 High Level Independent Panel (HLIP) during the G20 finance ministers and central bankers meeting in Venice (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

Despite obstacles, female entrepreneurs contribute significantly to the expansion of the economy. It will, however, take both focused interventions and adjustments as well as a departure from the norms to realise women’s potential. As the world commemorates and acknowledges women’s contributions to the economy, the Bank of Industry (BoI) reiterates measures to break barriers and enhance equity through improved access to sustainable finance. FEMI ADEKOYA writes.

Notwithstanding the enormous upside potential that women-owned businesses represent for economies around the world, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 50 per cent of women’s productive potential is underused, compared with 22 per cent of men’s.

According to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), one in three formally registered businesses are owned by women. Eighty per cent of jobs worldwide are in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are disproportionately owned and run by women. Yet 70 per cent of women-owned SMEs in developing countries are underserved or not served at all by financial institutions. They have on average lower sales and assets, and are often clustered in saturated and low-profit sectors and markets.

The International Development Research Centre further noted that women entrepreneurs in developing countries face many concurrent barriers, at various levels. For example, they have less recognition of their formal rights and unequal access to training and market connections.

They tend to be overrepresented in smaller, unregistered, and less productive enterprises and more driven by economic necessity than men. They are often drawn to self-employment in the hope of juggling care responsibilities with their economic needs. And their businesses are more likely to be in sectors that are crowded and have the least growth potential.

The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala, also affirmed this position during the Bank of Industry (BoI) International Women’s Day Conference 2023 themed, “Embrace Equity”, where she acknowledged the hard work of Nigerian and African women despite the challenges.

According to her, the theme reinforces the need to do more in ensuring equity and narrowing gender gaps. She equally reiterated the need for political empowerment, going by the outcome of the recent elections and the talented pool of intelligent women that the country has.

“There is still so much work to be done. We have much to do to embrace equity and close the gender gap. We must embrace equity not just because it is the moral thing to do, but because it is smart economics. Reducing gender inequality boosts economic growth and mitigates income inequality.

“According to the World Bank, closing gender gaps in key economic sectors in Nigeria could yield additional gains of as high as $22.9 billion or 5.8 per cent of overall GDP yearly. Realising these gains would be huge for Nigerians. At the WTO, we are working hard to ensure more women are able to access global value chains, because research has shown that women who trade globally make twice the incomes of their counterparts.

I am glad to hear what the Bank of Industry is doing in empowering women and delivering end-to-end design and execution of programmes targeted at businesses.

“At the local level, we must build on existing programmes to promote equity and create a better future for all”, she added.
While there have been notable legal reforms in several countries aimed at removing gender barriers, their effect is limited by a lack of enforcement – in part due to the persistence of gender-biased cultural norms and expectations.

Indeed, female captains of industry also emphasised the need to end structures and systems that impede the impartial and fair representation of women across the public and private sector of the Nigerian economy.

Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Mrs Mariam Katagum, noted that the 2023 IWD theme ’embrace equity’ presented a true representation that levelled the playing field for both sexes.

She noted that to build an equitable system, one must first understand and take into cognisance the challenges that women face and provide tailored support for both personal and professional development.

“Equity is a means to achieving gender equality and we must remain committed to addressing systems and structures that stifle women’s growth.

“We must continue to speak out against gender inequality and violence, provide equitable access to finance, and enhance entrepreneurial support.

“We must remove barriers to women’s participation in trade and commerce and push to close wage gaps between sexes”, she said.

Katagum assured that the Federal Government as part of its commitment to advancing the cause of women had taken steps to advance the welfare of women and promote equity.

She noted that a high level council on women’s economic empowerment in Nigeria was recently inaugurated to serve as an empowerment platform for public and private sector discourse and collaboration for women.

“At the same time, President Muhammadu Buhari launched the women economic empowerment policy dialogue and two Federal Government flagship programs which are the Adolescent Girls Initiative Learning and Empowerment (AGILE) and the Nigerian Women Project supported by the world bank.

“I, therefore, encourage everyone to become involved in these initiatives and look for ways to be a part of it as women have a right to employ fair working conditions.

“We must continue to foster the right conditions and capacities for women everywhere to achieve their full economic potential. At the policy levels, we must ensure that trade policy and public procurement works for women given the important role women play in the economy,” she said.

First female Minister of Industry, Chief Nike Akande, stated that BoI’s commitment to elevating women showed in the role they played in the bottom-up development process for women.

Akande announced her resolve to rededicate the rest of her life to motivating and inspiring the Nigerian girl child and women to become the best they could be in any sphere of life.

This, she explained, was part of her commitment to championing mentorship and the handholding that promising women needed to get to their full potential.

She charged women and young girls to continue to add value to their lives to make them distinguished and at par to compete across any sector of the world.

To bridge the yawning financing gap among women-owned businesses, the Bank of Industry (BoI) reaffirmed its commitment to women-led businesses, saying there could be no sustainable development in Nigeria unless women were proactively empowered.
Managing Director, BoI, Olukayode Pitan, revealed that as of December 2022, the bank had disbursed N73 billion to women-owned/led businesses across various sectors of the Nigerian economy.

He said that besides providing financial and business advisory services to women business, the bank had also developed and strengthened various strategic partnerships to support the cause of women.

The BoI MD added that the bank had disbursed $4.5 million, out of a commitment of $10 million in Alitheia IDF Fund.

Alitheia fund is a $100 million investment equity fund, which provides financial support to women-led organizations across various sectors, such as hygiene and personal care, healthy food snacks, education supplies and humanitarian/relief products.

“We are also the local execution partner for the Islamic Development Bank’s Business Resilience Assistance for Value Adding Services (BRAVE) programme in Nigeria.

“This is a $14.27 million initiative that was designed to support women-owned businesses, particularly those living in economically disadvantaged areas arising from conflicts and social unrest.

“So far, the bank has achieved the disbursement of N2.9 billion to 322 beneficiaries in the pilot states of Kano, Gombe and Edo.

“We have also partnered with key women organisations, such as Women in Successful Careers (WISCAR) and Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ).

“These organisations work with us to support gender advocacy and empowerment by providing capacity-building and mentorship training to ensure women’s representation in public, private, and political leadership positions.

“As part of our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, we have collaborated with several other non-profit organisations in supporting women businesses,” he said.

Addressing the IWD theme, Pitan said the subject of equity was relevant to every sphere of life and that inequity had marginalized women, people of colour, disabled people, and the economically-disadvantaged.

He stated that the current era of digital transformation provides more opportunities to eliminate gender inequality and make adequate infrastructural facilities available to foster social inclusion and integration for the disabled.

Pitan noted a lot of attention had been placed on advocacy and investment in education, economic and political empowerment programs in achieving gender equality.

He, however, stressed the need to better understand the challenges that women encounter either at the home front or at work, to ensure an effective and sustainable solution.

“While gender equality is primarily focused on providing both sexes with equal opportunities, gender equity works to correct the historical wrongs that have left women behind such as cultural restrictions on education, employment and others.

“‘Embracing equity’ can be achieved by making deliberate efforts to scale-up the representation of women in leadership and policy-making roles; including creating enforceable laws that frown upon gender inequality and challenging societal biases and gender stereotypes”.

While several cases have been made for financial inclusion of women to enhance economic growth and foster financial stability, achieving equity is also dependent on implementation of planned programmes and policies.