How Gender Inclusivity Met Financial Sustainability

Enat Bank was concocted by a group of people who had the idea of establishing a women-focused firm. This was not only because they were business women who knew first-hand the challenges faced by the gender to access finance. It was also because women are the emerging entrepreneurship powerhouse, consumer base, talent source and decision makers, and that it will be wise to tap into and harness such potential.

There is also one more thing that we wanted to do. We strived to change the narrative that led many people to think of women’s access to finance and entrepreneurial ability only in terms of microfinance. We are way beyond micro though.

I feel privileged to have served as chair of the outgoing Board of Directors, which with its management team has designed and built the foundation, and brought the bank into reality. The Board that began formally in March 2013 has served the Bank – in its fifth year anniversary – with complete dedication and integrity for six and a half years, and indeed such recognition is appropriate.

The founding Board and the management designed a challenging business model which is focused on universal banking with all sectors of the society but with a particular focus on serving women.

This required a strategy that ensures the bank’s profitability and financial sustainability. But also at the same time, it focused on providing gender-responsive financial solutions to women who aspire to start a business, innovate and scale up their businesses. This was challenging, but the model has served very well with the bank boasting many firsts.

Over 60pc of the nearly one billion Birr shareholding (we started the business with a 124 million Br) is owned by women who also make up for 56pc of the depositors. Sixty percent of the staff are also women and 38pc are members of senior management, with the Bank striving to increase this number to 50pc or more.

The board composition is also impressive with seven women and four courageous men. Enat Bank has a full-fledged women financial services department that is directly accountable to the president of the bank, not to mention bank branches named after women that have made immense contributions to their country.

Nurturing inclusiveness required quota laws and policies even in the most progressive European countries, but it happened at Enat in a very organic way.

Enat has been the first bank to breakeven and declare a higher percentage profit during the first year of operation. It currently has 41 branches across the country and employs 447 permanent and 226 outsourced employees.

Over 17 million Br worth of loans have been provided to women startups that have valid ideas but not enough collateral. The backstopping for those loans is provided by the five percent contributions of the shareholders from their profit as well as blocked deposits of our supporters dedicated to serving as a ‘risk fund’.

Women borrowers represent 31.5pc of the loan portfolio. We have made an incremental improvement in this regard and, of course, our ambition is to reach 50pc or more in the medium term.

Had other commercial banks kept gender disaggregated data in any aspect of their services, it would have been easier to tell whether Enat is the most representative of women. I have made a recommendation to Banks to look into this gap and take the necessary action.

The number of women borrowers is a direct reflection of the percentage of women entrepreneurs. Women represent 27pc of the small & medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Ethiopia, according to the International Financial Cooperation (IFC). SMEs constitute 80pc of African enterprises.

These data indicate why only under a third of Enat Bank’s borrowers are women, which directly mirrors the role of women in the economy. It is also a sign that with more enabling measures, women are the enterprises’ powerhouse in Ethiopia and Africa.

In view of creating the necessary enabling environment to nurture and support women in business, we also have provided nonfinancial services. They have included capacity building and advisory services to women startups in collaboration with institutions such as Entrepreneurship Development Centre (EDC), an office established by the government with the support from UNDP.

The financial literacy program was launched in collaboration with DFID. We are also collaborating with IFC on a program called ‘Advisory Program for banking on women. The program is focused on segmenting the women market and providing advisory and capacity building services.

Beyond such efforts, achieving robust participation of women in the economy requires strengthening policy, institutional and programmatic measures by the government. We also need to enhance the key catalytic role of civil society organisations including associations of women in business. I say that fully aware of the role played by European Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) and similar organisations in the area of advocacy and legal reform and promotion and protection of the rights of women.

Women need access to education, training, and access to economic resources. They have the right to live a life free from bias and discriminatory norms, and they deserve to be relieved from disproportional workload and family responsibilities to be equal players in the economy.

While there is recognisable progress, especially in the area of education parity and access to health, a long distance remains to be walked. Ethiopia has failed to achieve gender equality goals in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Let us strive to meet Goal 5 of the SDGs that envisions full gender equality by 2030.

A valuable lesson that we have learned in this journey at the Bank is the value of men and women working together. We have benefited from the collective intelligence of men and women; we have discovered that there are men who are equally committed to the cause of women.

At the Bank, we believed in suitability before the SDGs were declared in 2015. We started as a socially inclusive bank by working with both men and women, by embracing the all-inclusive and sacred brand “Enat”, meaning mother. I do not doubt that Enat will thrive and remain a symbol in the financial architecture of the country and that the model will be replicated on our continent.

By establishing this bank, we have demonstrated that women have ambitions. We can take risks when situations allow us and sometimes even under difficult conditions. We can take steps that defy history when doing as such is useful for collective social good.

Given the huge potential of the financial sector to propel our country’s development, there is a need for more enabling policy and regulatory measures and their periodic review. Our banks need to grow not only vertically but also horizontally in regards to diversifying products and modernising banking services. Banks need to work in partnership and cooperation as well as with policymaking bodies.

By Meaza Ashenafi
Meaza Ashenafi is a lawyer and the outgoing board chairperson of Enat Bank.

Published on May 19,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 942]



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