By Omodele Adigun
“Women are much more reliable to repay their loans than men!.” Take it or leave it, this is the verdict of a man who should know better: the Managing Director of Ecobank Nigeria, Mr Patrick Akinwuntan,
According to the bank chief, who dropped the bombshell on the sidelines of the launch of Ellevate, Ecobank’s gender-based proposition for women-owned businesses, among the reasons for this outstanding performance is that women go for loans in order to better the lot of their families. “It is not for frivolous grandiose project. They want to improve their families. And whoever support them to improve their families, they feel the conscience to ensure they honour the commitment.” In this interview, he delves into other issues that propel the women-folk into honouring their obligations faster than their male counterparts.
We operate in 33 countries in Africa. Ellevate is a support to over 20 million women-owned MSMEs and women-owned businesses in Nigeria. Add to it, businesses that sell two million. Then we are looking at an ecosystem for close to 40million, our target market. Of which we add to it, the most female friendly banks in Nigeria and we asked them specific challenges that women in business face in Nigeria and across Africa that seem to require intervention.
First is capacity building. As we know in a lot of parts of Africa, in most places, the story then, which has turned to adult demography, although this point is changing but the story with the women was that they were less favoured to go to school. In the average family, the men first got the choice to go to school. So in effect, the demography of women over 40 across Africa, the educated is predominantly skewed to the men. So when it comes to businesses, which the women had stayed back in the past has failed in the market. The businesses they were doing; they did not get equal access to formal education. So the first for us is capacity building; they have to be knowledgeable; then, we now empower them to be able to deal with the financial sector in order to enhance their businesses in the country.
The second, of course, is the access to finance itself. In most cases in the past, before a woman in the country could access a loan, she had to go and get guarantee of the husband; she had to get additional items that the men were not subjected to. We have seen that women are much more reliable to repay their loans than men. Why? One. The reason for women’s loan is to better their families. It is not for frivolous grandiose project. They want to improve their families. And whoever support them to improve their families, they feel the conscience to ensure they honour the commitment.
Two. Mobility is not as ease for women as men. Think of rural-urban migration. If you are living in a compound, it is very rare to just find next door a woman arriving with five children to become your next-door tenant. But men! Somebody can be operating today in Lagos and in another two weeks, he has relocated to somewhere in Kafanchan or elsewhere. But it is not as ease for women. For that reason, women are more conscious of their ranking in their social status, in terms of fidelity and credibility in their localities. That is good for financial access. And we see that the more we empower women, the better the quality of our loans.
The third reason is access to market, either from the cultural standpoint. For instance, just like the nature of cultural background, woman already are a distinction from doing their businesses sidelines, because they have to be with their families. The man can go typically and come back at 1am and say I am doing business: I am selling to customers. It is a bit more difficult for the women to do that.
Families, the ones that own businesses; the ones that own economies in the future, are not able to progress in the wellbeing and in wealth creation. And, therefore, for us at Ecobank, this Ellevate-the first three letters: elle, form a French word for a female gender, we add that to elevation and came up with Ellevate literally.
So in our Ellevate programme, we put the women businesses on our digital platform so that thy have access to market 24/seven. They have access to various countries; we have 33 countries in Africa and using the Ecobank platform where the woman will be able to balance the work and the family matters; they are being there for the family; they are also able to bring their products and services to a larger market; get their funds electronically. So they are not exposed to mobbing, like if a woman is able to finish her sales, carry her big bag with cash in it, trying to go home in the evening, she is likely to be harassed by some street urchins. But with what we are offering, it is a digital platform, homily-lite platform; homily plus platform; access to export market. The Adire industry is led by women in Nigeria. Nigeria should rightly dominate Africa and the world in Adire textile export. Ecobank will provide that opportunity for women in the country.
If you look at the sheabutter business, which is related to skin business, it is led by the women. The whole axis of North west down to South west of Nigeria, the upper Shaki area, is the most fertile place for sheabutter. The business is done primarily by women. Ecobank is ready to support our women to export this product.
Also in millet business up North, you see women hitting the millet to get it out; be it the rice business; even garri, you know that the women ar active participants, the channels they have they don’t have as much freedom of the mobility to access market. And therefore they end up giving their outcome to middlemen.Ecobank Ellevate, therefore seeks to provide direct access to market for our women-owned businesses; women-run businesses so that they enjoy the full package of their financial success, economic success, improve on their dignity. The labour they actually bring to bear is for the wealth of the nation; and therefore, Ellevate, seeks to elevate our women in terms of their financial capability, access to market; access to capacity building.
Ecobank is present in 33 countries in Africa, because Ecobank has one technology platform common platform that unites its whole of its operations across Africa, all our Ellevate customers, automatically, have access to 32 other countries in Africa. Both from the knowledge of Ecobank about the market, we are able to give information to our Ellevate customers. Then it comes to actually knowing your partners. So if you are in Nigeria, you want to export your Adire to people in Cote d’ivoire or people in Malawi; you want to know which customer amI sending this to. Will I be paid? Ecobank knows the customer on the other side. We are able to connect both of you. If you have language challenges, we speak English, we speak French at Ecobank. Therefore, we are able to speak the language of your counterparty and are able to effectively translate syour intention to them. When it comes to payment, then we have one integrated payment platform, collection platform across Africa.
When you are paid by someone buying goods from you from Malawi on the Ecobank platform, it is instant credit in foreign currency into your account in Nigeria. The same way you have NIP in Nigeria where you can transfer money from Maiduguri to Port Harcourt instantly.