Women have played a critical role since the early days of microfinance, both in the founding of microfinance institutions (MFIs) and as a substantial portion of the client base. In recent years, as the microfinance industry grew in both size and sophistication and attracted more commercial investors, two trends started to emerge: the number of women in leadership positions at microfinance institutions began to decline, and the percentage of women clients served by MFIs began to decrease as well.
These trends are of great concern since women also comprise a majority of the more than 2 billion people who are financially excluded. Research has demonstrated that investing in women drives overall economic growth, as women tend to invest their income in the health, education and greater well-being of their families. Investing in women leaders in microfinance institutions can ensure that women continue to have a strong voice amongst the industry’s decision-makers so that vital financial products and services reach the underserved.
The story of Anne Nakawunde Mulindwa of Finance Trust (Uganda) provides a vivid example of the importance of developing women with high leadership potential. As a mid-level manager with hopes to one day lead an MFI, Anne participated in the Women in Leadership Program at Women’s World Banking’s Center for Microfinance Leadership. After the initial program, she was determined to take on new leadership challenges and inspire other women to be better leaders.
“I developed greater passion for my job, greater passion for the institution I work for and for the women,” said Anne, reflecting on that first training. “The way I carry myself is not the way I used to carry myself… I developed confidence.”
Soon after attending the Women in Leadership Program, Anne’s new confidence and passion for her work was noticed by her manager. Within months of attending the training, the executive team of Finance Trust recognized Anne’s leadership abilities and gave her a seat in their management meetings as an advisor on women’s issues. Her career continued to accelerate as she was promoted to head of Operations for Finance Trust.
After her promotion, she was nominated by her CEO to attend the center’s Advanced Leadership Program, where she continued to hone her leadership skills with a focus on strategic thinking, negotiation, effective communications, and planning for and navigating change. Just four short years after she first participated in the Women in Leadership Program, Anne achieved her dream of becoming the CEO of Finance Trust.
Helping Anne and women like her achieve their dreams propels the Center for Microfinance Leadership forward. As exceptional as Anne Mulindwa of Finance Trust is, we want her success to become the norm in the microfinance industry. The Citi Foundation and Women’s World Banking have joined together to increase the number of women leaders trained through the Center’s Women in Leadership Program and develop more “Annes.” This year, we will focus on 40 high-potential leaders in South Asia and the Middle East/North Africa. Our hope is that increased leadership training and more gender-diverse institutions will allow the broader industry to develop sustainable products and services to better serve their clients.
We have seen over and over again that sharing diverse perspectives enhances good decision-making. In the microfinance industry, where a majority of clients are women, women’s voices are crucial in contributing to the strategic direction of the institutions. The Women in Leadership Program continues to inspire and give voice to tomorrow’s leaders.
To learn more about this collaboration click here.
Mary Ellen Iskenderian, is president and CEO of Women’s World Banking; Irena Shiba, is the Microfinance program officer for Citi Foundation.