The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: World Economic Crisis Jolts Women Into Action

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said that any woman who understands the problems of running a home, will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country.

And it is with this notion that after the 2008 global financial crisis that originated from the US, a group of women started thinking of a different approach to ensure such problems do not occur again.

At the time, it was discovered, many corporate boardrooms and financial institutions were male dominated and lacked diversity and hence, there may have been a possibility that they were all probably acting and thinking in similar fashion.

Former South African First Lady Graca Machel then thought of a project to get more women in decision making position to uplift the economy of Africa and cushion it from future financial disasters as was witnessed in 2008/2009.

Consequently an organisation called New Faces New Voices was conceived in 2009 as the business and with the motto "multiplying faces, amplifying voices," to give African women a platform to influence change across different sectors.

NFNV was founded on the belief that women are an under-utilized resource and that investing in women can have a significant development impact that would accelerate economic growth on the African continent.

It particularly focuses on increasing women's access to finance and financial services, improving women's skills as entrepreneurs and business leaders, and growing the number and visibility of African women in leadership and decision-making positions in the financial sector.

"The global financial crisis has provided an opportunity for women to become more involved in reshaping financial systems internationally," says Graca in statement sent ahead of the NFNV launch in Kenya on Tuesday.

"Our South African chapter is already working with the Business Women's Association and Business Unity South Africa to look at ways to promote the role of women in shaping the country's National Growth Plan."

The women behind the launch of NFNV in Kenya include Andia Chakava, who has volunteered to be the chair and country director. She was twice recognised as one of the top 40 under 40 women in the country with a career spanning 11 years in business management and operational experience in asset management.

Others are Nuru Mugambi, Isis Nyongo who formerly worked for Google Kenya, Jackline Sagwe of Kenya Institute of Management, Rose Ndungu of Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund and Mary Waceke Muya of Kengen.

"There is a perception that women are not good leaders. That is not true. Women lead differently and differently doesn't mean it is wrong," says country director Chakava. She echoes sentiments of a quote by Albert Einstein that: "problems cannot be solved with the same kind of thinking that created them."

Once it is launched on Tuesday in the country, this organisation promises to assist institutions in reaching target markets in a way that will impact positively on their revenues, create and provide companies with access to a database of talented women whose expertise can be very valuable to such firms and create financial service innovations to help more women access these services.

Other activities that NFNV will engage in once fully operational include assisting institutions in meeting legislative requirements and quotas regarding women's empowerment and providing access to research that enables institutions to understand the needs of the women's market segment so that they can design properly targeted products.

Also it aims to promote financial literacy and financial education programs that provide technical and business development support to women among others.

New Faces New Voices hosts the African Women's Economic Summit every two years in partnership with the Africa Development Fund to bring together influential stakeholders to focus on how to maximize the economic contribution of women to their societies.

If the influx of women customised products and services by various institutions and companies is anything to go by, the business community is waking up to the fact that this group cannot be ignored anymore and has a massive untapped potential that can make or break an investment.

At the 2012 African Women's Economic Summit, Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala referred to women as the "third emerging market," noting the benefits of investing in women for themselves, their families, and the continent as a whole.

As she points out, "We are on the cusp of a very exciting phase in the life of African women. They are the new face of an Africa on an upward trajectory of growth and development."

And as the organisation prepares to launch the Kenya Chapter, country director Chakava says the ball is now in the court of Kenya's women.

The secretariat is calling on volunteers and financiers and information on women professionals and entrepreneurs to help make its work in the country a success story.

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