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FEATURE STORYOctober 16, 2023

Engaging Women as Leaders: Leaders Call for Innovation, Financing, and Collective Action at the 2023 Annual Meetings

Engaging Women as Leaders: Innovation, Financing, and Collective Action

During the IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings’ “Engaging Women as Leaders: Innovation, Financing and Collective Action” event on October 11, speakers from government, international organizations, the private sector, and civil society pressed for the economic inclusion and empowerment of women, agreeing on the enormous benefits to economies and societies of accelerating gender equality.

A discussion between Anna Bjerde, Managing Director for Operations, World Bank; Rania Al-Mashat, Minister of International Cooperation, Egypt; and Amina Mohamed Deputy Secretary General of the UN kicked off the event, focusing on the commitment and action of international and national actors to pave a path toward equality, despite the scale of the challenge.

More Jobs through Investing in Human Capital
From left: Rachelle Akuffo, anchor, Yahoo Finance; Anna Bjerde, World Bank Managing Director for Operations; Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations; Rania Al-Mashat, Minister of International Cooperation, Arab Republic of Egypt.
Bjerde called gender equality a moral, social, and economic issue. She said women are at the center of the Bank’s mission and cited sobering statistics, including that at the current rate of progress it would take 131 years to close gaps in gender equality, such as equal access to finance and pay. The Bank is using evidence on how to reach women, she said, to close gender gaps, and will continue focusing on operationally relevant research, policy reform, and dialogue to advance change. Bjerde pointed out that we see a marked correlation between the prosperity of today’s generation and the next generation because of the decisions that women make today. In support of this, the World Bank Group aims to release a new Gender Strategy for the 2024-2030 early next year – an ongoing consultation process on the proposed Strategy is open until November 30, 2023.

Al-Mashat called women’s participation in the economy “macro-critical” and shared Egypt’s commitment to advancing women’s economic empowerment.  She stressed the importance of data and evidence in informing policy dialogue. Al-Mashat also stressed that making progress on national goals each country is contributing to global goals.

Focusing on the global goals, Mohammed emphasized that, “We are off track on gender SGD 5, but we have the solutions.”  She pointed out that there is evidence on what investments need to happen, and that governments are doing much more than before on gender equality, but more work is needed to achieve results. “We have the policies, tools, and frameworks. It’s the implementation that needs to be improved,” she said.

From left: Rachelle Akuffo, anchor, Yahoo Finance; Leïla Doukali, National President of Association des Femmes Cheffes d’Entreprises du Maroc; Ruth Zaipuna, CEO, NMB Bank, Tanzania; Andrew Torre, Regional President for Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, Visa Inc.; Faith Lumonya, Economic Justice and Climate Action Programme Officer, Akina Mama wa Afrika.
Two women entrepreneurs, supported by the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), shared their stories, offering concrete proof of what can be accomplished. Hanan Shahin, CEO of Bloomcart in Jordan, an innovative e-commerce startup operating in the Middle East, called on policymakers to advance equality and help change norms so that women don’t have to choose between building a business and raising a family. “It takes a village,” she said, “so don’t leave it all to women.” 

Valeria Diaz Romero, Co-Founder and CEO of Munay in Bolivia, called for collective action, including for institutions to see women as strategic partners. “Stop seeing inspiring women in financial terms only. Assess the whole person, their dreams, their hopes, and their commitment to their ventures,” Romero said. “Imagine the untapped the prosperity that awaits us if we unite in reshaping our world.”

The Women Entrepreneurs Finance Code (the WE Finance Code) – a commitment by financial service providers, regulators, development banks, and other financial ecosystem players to work together to increase funding provided to women-led enterprises – was launched the following day. A “joint statement of support” was signed by the presidents of six multilateral development banks – We-Fi’s Implementing Partners, who will pilot the WE Finance Code in 24 countries across the developing world.

During the event, a second panel on innovation, financing, and collective action, participants concentrated on the transformative potential of financial empowerment.

Ruth Zaipuna, CEO of NMB Bank of Tanzania, emphasized the importance of access to finance. NMB Bank is the first institution to issue a gender bond and the first financial institution in Sub-Saharan Africa to achieve EDGE certification in Africa. Visa’s Andrew Torre called on companies to have institutional women’s empowerment strategies and shared how Visa’s fintech Accelerator Program in Africa is supporting women owned and led fintech start-ups. Women need to be listened to, supported, and empowered financially, said Morocco’s National President of the Association des Femmes Cheffes d’Entreprises Leila Doukali. Faith Lumonya, Economic Justice and Climate Action Programme Officer, Akina Mama Afrika, stressed the essential role for public finance in reaching women and girls with social services, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.


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