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Financial Inclusion for Women in the Developing World

On Thursday, June 29th, the Posner Center had the pleasure of hosting a panel-style discussion on Financial Inclusion for Women in Developing World, exploring a spectrum of approaches to achieving this vital component of global poverty eradication. The event was generously supported by Beyond Our Borders, group-advised fund held at The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, as part of an on-going partnership with the Posner Center.

The panelists together boasted a wealth of experience in diverse modes of financial inclusion, and included Patricia Hinnen, Founding CEO of Capital Sisters International; Sara Boyd, Gender Lens Investing Committee for Beyond Our Borders; and, Francy Milner, Lecturer at Leeds School of Business, CU-Boulder and Board Member at Friendship Bridge. The panel was moderated by, Janney Carpenter, Director and Co-Founder of Impact Commons and Adjunct Faculty at DU’s Korbel School of International Studies, who helped to guide the group through a discussion that covered many aspects of the challenges and solutions to financial inclusion for women.

The discussion began generally, with the panelists framing their views on the importance of financial inclusion and it’s relevancy to individuals experiencing poverty. Access to financial systems, they highlighted, helps people better manage their daily and overall cash flows, alleviating their susceptibility to economic shocks and other financial risks and increasing their economic activity. They also stressed the fact that financial inclusion is a broad concept, and the systems and actual financial products for promoting inclusion can be more traditional, like we are accustomed to here in the U.S, or specialized and targeted for a specific sector of the population.

The panelists also spoke about the various barriers to successful financial inclusion. Francy Milner discussed the challenges to physically accessing a brick and mortar bank, and the added dimension of intimidation or lack of self-confidence individuals experience when they finally achieve access. Patricia Hinnen stated that “we all know that one barrier is simply being born a women,” and provided examples of situations where woman face broader legal or cultural barriers based on their gender that also impact their financial inclusion – such as living in a place where women lack property rights, and hence lack the equity necessary to interact with a bank.

In addition to the existing barriers for women, Milner spoke to the challenges of  providing quality programming that leads to greater financial inclusion, particularly in measuring their success. She stressed the importance measuring outcomes and feedback from financial inclusion programs and products, and communicating successes, as the only way to create and sustain effective change. Sara Boyd added to to point stating “once there is more measurement there will be more investors as they will be able to see the improvements.”

When discussing the changes that will drive further social change, Sara Boyd emphasized the importance of Impact Investing, the practice of investing for social good alongside financial return, but noted that practice is in its infancy and needs leverage to grow as a field. Patricia Hinnen spoke about Gender Lens Investing, the practice of investing with the specific goal of benefiting women, which she believes will continue to grow and have a positive impact as more women and millennials begin investing, and help to shift the priorities of large companies and financial institutions. Francy Milner stated that policy has changed from “don’t invest in bad companies” to “invest in companies that are doing good.”

At the conclusion of the event, the panelists interacted with the audience through a variety of challenging and thoughtful questions. The panel lasted 1.5 hours, but it was clear that financial inclusion for women is a deep topic with many different segments to explore. The Posner Center looks forward to continuing our partnership with Beyond Our Borders and providing a space for continued learning and discussion.