Africa’s Economic Outlook

FINCA DRC client Rose Michelle.

Africa’s economic outlook shows at least some signs of promise. COVID-19 had a devastating impact on FINCA’s clients. The pandemic caused economic turmoil that increased food insecurity and impoverished millions. An outpouring of support from donors allowed FINCA to take extraordinary measures to help them. Recent research, however, shows that a subset of FINCA clients have done an amazing job helping themselves. These women can perhaps uplift their community even as they uplift themselves.

What the Research Shows about Women

With support from the Government of Canada, FINCA’s research team collected data over the course of three years in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo). FINCA planned for and started the project not long before the pandemic. When the project was complete, FINCA’s annual surveys roughly correlated with before, during and after the COVID crisis. Analysis of the data showed that those who fared best during the pandemic were women who had a long-standing relationship with FINCA.

Over the course of the study:

  • Repeat female customers nearly doubled their income from 2018 to 2021. Repeat male customers had big income gains from 2018 to 2019 (the year before COVID), but their income fell from 2019 through 2021.
  • By late 2020, repeat female clients reported fewer negative impacts from COVID restrictions on their businesses than men.
  • Repeat female clients more often reported positive changes in their business by late 2020. Most likely these women rapidly pivoted their business to make the most of fast-changing market dynamics.
  • As would be expected, women and men had more financial struggles in 2020 than in 2019. As the worst of the pandemic retreated from 2020 to 2021, repeat female clients said that they had fewer problems managing expenses and saving money. For men, the “post-pandemic” situation didn’t improve much.

Overall, the research points to something that anecdotes have long suggested: that women who have a bit of financial education are good businesspeople and supremely capable money managers. Rose Michelle, a single mother with three children in her care, exemplifies what these amazing women were able to achieve.

Improving Africa’s Economic Outlook One Woman at a Time

Rose lives in Kinshasa, the capital of DR Congo. A stalwart member of her community, Rose is an optician and owns a small store that sells eyeglasses. When the pandemic hit, she had been a FINCA customer for quite some time.

This is how Rose remembers her decision to seek support from FINCA. “I needed money to boost my business…. [A loan from] FINCA allowed me to reinforce the stock in my optical office so that patients who came for medical examinations also find the glasses and accessories they need on-site.”

Prior to the pandemic, Rose’s business was thriving. She had two full-time employees and was making a nice profit. Rose had plenty of money to take care of herself and her children. She never had any issue making her loan payments to FINCA.

When COVID-19 arrived in the DR Congo, Rose’s business suffered greatly. “My establishment is located not far from one of the barriers installed to limit access to the city center,” Rose recounts. “With fewer and fewer customers coming to us… I was not able to honor my commitments. I couldn’t pay anymore the salaries for my two employees for nearly three months.” She also was falling behind on her loan repayments, so FINCA worked with her to devise a new payment plan that matched her financial capacity.

None of that is truly surprising. It’s what businesses around the world went through. What came next is what makes Rose, and other long-term women clients like her, special.

Rose Michelle displays the eye chart she uses to assess clients. As the COVID-19 pandemic winds down, Rose's business is coming back, a hopeful harbinger for Africa's economic outlook.
Rose Michelle displays the eye chart she uses to assess clients. As the COVID-19 pandemic winds down, her business is coming back, a hopeful harbinger for Africa’s economic outlook.

The Post-Pandemic Future Holds Opportunity

As the lockdowns began to relax, Rose saw opportunity. She knew that customers would be eager to spend as soon as they could safely move around. As a result, Rose applied for and received a new loan from FINCA to relaunch her activities.

“As a good partner, FINCA granted me loans every time I needed,” Rose says. “The loans were slightly smaller than before the crisis but really served as oxygen balloons for my business.” Rose was once again able to pay her staff, and she slowly repaid them for the months that they worked without a salary.

Rose, her children and her employees did not come through the crisis unscathed. There were many, many months of scarcity. Ultimately, however, the business acumen that Rose developed during her long tenure with FINCA brought her through. She’s exiting the pandemic in a position of strength. As business edges back to where it was before COVID, Rose says that “with the support of FINCA, I plan to open another optical practice in the periphery and buy modern equipment for my business in the near future.”

FINCA likewise plans to continue its outreach and its research. The surveys showed what happened, but with further research, FINCA intends to be able to say definitively why repeat female clients recovered more easily from COVID. With that information in hand, the hope is that other segments of customers can be similarly empowered. And that will have positive implications for individuals as well as for Africa’s economic outlook as a whole.