Unleashing Capital for Women Entrepreneurs in Africa: A Call to Action from Melinda French Gates

Melinda French Gates took to the stage during the World Bank and International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings to promote investments in unleashing capital for women entrepreneurs in Africa. She highlighted that one in four African women is an entrepreneur. This is the highest proportion of women entrepreneurs in the world. She also noted that “it is really hard for women to get their businesses capitalized… And yet, there is so much opportunity.” Capital, French Gates argues, is the surest means of unlocking women’s economic power. Her statements resonate with FINCA’s belief that all people should have the opportunity to leverage their wisdom, talent, and effort to determine their own destiny.

How FINCA is Unleashing Capital for Women Entrepreneurs 

In support of French Gates’ call-to-action, FINCA’s CEO Andrée Simon participated in meetings to share on-the-ground insights. Andrée stated that technology offers enormous benefits to increasing banking access, affordability, and services. But she cautioned that most people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have mobile internet access and that women are disproportionately disadvantaged. Andrée also noted that financial service providers like FINCA that are deeply rooted in communities are best poised to meet these women’s needs.

FINCA agents help in unleashing capital for women entrepreneurs.
FINCA agents help in unleashing capital for women entrepreneurs.

Andrée highlighted successes in focusing on women in FINCA’s digitization initiatives. These initiatives, which include onboarding women as banking agents, cost much less than building brick-and-mortar bank branches. FINCA also has tested more frequent financial coaching to women client through customer call centers. The test resulted in doubling deposit counts and almost tripling total transactions.

What Unleashing Capital for Women Could Do

French Gates’ discourse built on the insightful article “The Capital Women Need, for the Future We All Need,” that she penned as a foreword to a recent paper from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Her article discusses the critical need to expand access to affordable credit for women entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa. She highlights a staggering US$1.7 trillion gap between the capital women desire and what they receive. 

The article lists the myriad barriers that women face. These include a lack of collateral due to property not being in their names, absence of bank accounts and formal credit history, and biases from lenders. A financial system that does not cater to the needs of small borrowers, especially women compounds these challenges.

According to French Gates, addressing these barriers and bridging the financing gap that women face could add US$6 trillion to the global GDP.  Her article also shed light on the positive ripple effects of women’s financial success. She points to increased resilience to health, security, and climate shocks, job creation, and the potential to lift entire countries out of poverty. 

Turning Vision into Reality

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s focus on unleashing capital for women entrepreneurs in Africa dovetails with FINCA’s mission. Our two organizations address the same core issue: the need for inclusive financial systems that support women’s economic empowerment. Both organizations recognize that empowering women is a moral imperative and a pragmatic strategy for sustainable development and equitable growth. By closing the capital gap for women, we aim to create a more resilient and prosperous future for communities in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.