Banks operating in Africa have been urged to accelerate funding for women-owned businesses or risk limited lending from the African Development Bank (AfDB), the institution cautioned on Wednesday.
AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina made the announcement during an Invest in Women panel discussion at the three-day Africa Investment Forum at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg on Wednesday.
Adesina said the bank is planning to put these more stringent measures in place as early as 2019.
"We want accountability in lending to women businesses. And how are we going to do that? We, as the AfDB, are going to have a rating system that is going to rate and rank all financial institutions on the continent based on the volume of lending to women and based on the impact.
"When the financial institutions come to us for lending, we'll ask them how much they have done for women upliftment," said Adesina.
The status quo of financial institutions not believing in women-owned businesses needs to change, he said.
"We have to trust women-owned businesses better and support them with technical assistance and let them grow.
"Financial institutions don't see an opportunity, they see risk. You can imagine how it is for uneducated women. Women sometimes feel intimidated to walk into banks. We believe that we need to de-risk lending to women."
During the panel discussion, businesswomen detailed the frustrations they endure on the journey towards building their business empires.
Among them was Daphne Mashile-Nkosi, the executive chairperson of Kalagadi Manganese; Ibukun Awosika, chairperson of the First Bank of Nigeria and Hayat Sindi, a senior advisor of the President of the Islamic Development Bank.
Adesina announced that the AfDB was working on developing a $300 million guarantee facility to be used to support women-owned businesses. The bank expects a strong performance from the facility, eventually growing tenfold the initial $300 million.
"We have to do everything we can to fast track everything that has to do with women-owned businesses succeeding."
Omar Alghabra, a Canadian government representative, detailed reforms undertaken by the North American State to accelerate gender equality. He said their government was elected on the mandate of driving inclusive growth.
"Inclusive growth means every member of society benefits. If you look at data and statistics, you will see that women have benefited less than men on economic growth. Our Prime Minister has led the charge from day one by choosing to have 50% of his cabinet women and ensuring that women are empowered in Canadian society.
"This is not only the right thing to do but it is economically the reasonable thing to do. If 50% of your population is under represented, you'll have a significant portion of society marginalised and in order for us to achieve that goal, we've brought in a lot of policies," Alghabra said.
Among the measures is modified maternity leave, investing in women entrepreneurs and a law passed compelling corporations to be transparent in the women representation on their boards.
Long road to success
The businesswomen took turns detailing the hurdles they had to clear in their quest to becoming successful businesswomen in male dominated industries.
Awosika shared how she first received a loan from a bank when her businesses were already turning over millions of dollars in revenue. It was a tale that resonated with Mashile-Nkosi, as she later revealed.
"African women have been entrepreneurial for decades. We have a defect in how we are structured in the financial sector - it plays against women," she said.
If you really want to grow African economies, Mashile-Nkosi said, make woman a critical component in the financial system.
"She will educate the children, she will empower them and she will support the uplifting of the community. The reality is we need to find ways of empowering every young girl and woman. Firstly (they need to be empowered) through knowledge; secondly, they need the resources to actualise their dreams," she said.
Sindi said it was very important to empower women through quality education for them to become financially independent.