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Speeches & Transcripts November 23, 2018

Keynote: Women, the Economic Foundation of Our Future

It is honor and privilege to give the keynote address at the 2nd anniversary of FirstGEM, First Bank of Nigeria’s innovative and phenomenal product targeted at women.  First, I celebrate all of you who are attending this event with the theme - Building Sustainable Wealth’.  I celebrate most especially, the Managing Director, the Deputy Managing Director and the rest of the men in the audience who understand as I will share in the next 30 mins that women are the economic foundation of the future of our great nation.

I have indeed entitled my keynote – Women -  The Economic Foundation of our Future’ and will cover a review of the global economy, then make the case for the economic powerhouse that women represent.  I will then provide you an analysis of Nigeria’s competitiveness and highlight the opportunities that women present for our nation as well as how to harness the opportunities to unleash Nigeria’s potential.

The Global economy is projected to grow by 3% on average, over the next three years.  As you would have noted, the global economy is fragile even ten years after the devastating global financial crisis. While the US has been experiencing reasonable growth, this growth is unsynchronized with the rest of the world and is possibly under threat due a fractured political environment and geopolitical risks such as the recent trade tensions.  This is evident in the recent decline in bellwether US stocks, with most stocks giving back most of their 2018 gains.  The European Union remains under threat with recent election surprises in Germany, Italy’s outstanding budget dispute with the EU and uncertainties with BREXIT.  Various emerging market and African countries are struggling with more difficult financing conditions, debt burden concerns, weak commodity prices and the currently strong dollar.

The greatest challenges of our time are however extreme poverty, inequalities, climate change, populism, anti-globalization and extremist sentiments. It will be impossible to have sustainable growth and build sustainable wealth without tackling these challenges with a sense of urgency and through broader economic participation.

The most obvious way to broaden economic participation is to close the huge gender gap around the world.  Indeed, the World Bank published the results of a study on the cost of gender inequality in 141 countries.  The report, titled ‘Unrealized Potential: The High Cost of Gender Inequality in Earnings found that the world is losing $160 trillion in wealth because of differences in lifetime earnings between women and men.  Wealth, in this regard, is defined as the asset base that enables countries produce income or GDP.  McKinsey similarly found that closing the gender gap could add $28 trillion to global GDP that is currently $ 80 trillion. Women control $20 trillion of global spending and influence 80% of buying decisions.  Care International also estimates that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above the national industry average.  They also found that one or more women in senior management or on a corporate board is associated with 8 to 13 basis points higher return on assets.

At the World Bank Group, we walk our talk about the important value of gender diversity.  Indeed, our President Jim Kim, has ensured that women make up 48% of the leadership of the World Bank Group and that women occupy very important positions such as CEO of World Bank, COO of IFC, Chief Economist (Incoming), General Counsel, Corporate Secretary in addition to my role as World Bank Treasurer.

We also sponsor several initiatives that create opportunities for women and also catalyze the economic power of women to create sustainable wealth.  For example, we created the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) in 2017 in partnership with 14 governments and other multilateral agencies.  Since then, We-Fi has mobilized $340 million in grant financing (interest free) to support women-led businesses, and to work with governments to eliminate legal and regulatory barriers that stifle women entrepreneurs.  Earlier this week, IFC launched WeConnect a supply chain finance initiative funded by We-Fi to promote market-access opportunity from women-owned enterprises in Asia, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Our $300 million promoting innovation for inclusive financial access project in Egypt has helped channel venture capital to start-ups and micro enterprises, with a special focus on women, and youth.  Since 2014, this project has created 273,000 jobs and provided financial support to about 150,000 clients including 64,000 women.

The World Bank administered Global Financing Facility (GFF), helps fund reproductive, maternal, and adolescent health initiatives.  Two year ago, the World Bank approved for Nigeria to receive $100 million to contribute to the return of girls in the North East.

As it is important to raise awareness amongst bond investors about the role of women empowerment in reducing poverty and building sustainable societies, we have started issuing gender bonds.  Indeed, earlier this year, the World Bank Treasury issued a CAD 1 billion bond transaction, in this respect.

I do believe our nation has an even greater need to take advantage of these transformational benefits of leveraging the economic power of closing the gender gap.  First, our country is now home to the highest number of people living on less than $1.90 a day, or in extreme poverty.  Indeed, Brookings Institute estimates that Nigeria has 87 million people living in extreme poverty and has therefore now overtaken India which has 72 million people in the same position. In terms of commitment to inequality, Oxfam apparently ranks us 157 out of the 157 countries it assessed.  Simply put, our nation is making the rich richer and the poor, poorer.

Nigeria is expected to grow by 2% over the next three years, a third of the level it should easily grow at and most likely not enough to cover population growth given how fertile we are. Unemployment is estimated at 19%. While debt to GDP appears reasonable at 20%, debt service to Government Revenue, at about 65% is one of the highest in the world primarily because our tax to GDP of less than 7% is one of the lowest in the world.

As we all know, a functioning ecosystem to tackle the challenges our nation faces should cover security, health, education, macroeconomic stability, infrastructure, strong institutions, as well as a vibrant private sector that leverages innovation for success. The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index which presents an integrated analysis of the macroeconomic and micro/business aspects of competitiveness as a single index. In other words, it assesses the ability of countries to provide high levels of prosperity to their citizens, which also is a measure of how productively a country uses available resources. It captures this ecosystem in one score.  In its latest report, released in October, Nigeria ranked 115 out of 140 countries.  The specific ranking for macroeconomic stability, institutions, infrastructure and financial system were 130, 127, 124, and 131 respectively. I believe that a secure, healthy and educated (SHE) populace are together the foundation of any prosperous society. Nigeria unfortunately ranks 119, and 124 in health/life expectancy, and workforce skills. Our nation ranks 115, 114, and 139 in organized crime, homicide rate and 139 out of 140 countries in terms of incidences of terrorism. These weaknesses create opportunities.

The scope for our nation to leverage gender to unleash its potential is high as Nigeria is ranked 122 out of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum’s latest Gender Gap Report. On female education, Nigeria is amongst the bottom 10, with a ranking of 135. Of the 10.5 million children between the age of 6 and 17 that are out of school, 6.3 million are girls. in terms of children out of school, Nigeria (39%) is the 7th worst in Africa and after South Sudan, Liberia, Eritrea (57%), Equatorial Guinea (56%), Sudan (44%) Djibouti(41%). It has a higher percentage of children out of school than Niger and Chad. Only 34% of women have access to a financial institution. Of bank account holders, EFINA similarly estimates that only 38% are women.  Nigeria also ranks quite low in terms of the participation of women in politics.  While there are no female state governors, only 6% of senators and representatives are women and better than only five countries namely Qatar, Lebanon, Kuwait, Thailand and Yemen.

Some people may deem the data and comparisons presented above flawed or exaggerated. However, what is important is to acknowledge that we must tackle the challenges our nation faces with a strong sense of urgency. Nigeria’s population of 200 million is estimated to double by 2050 and could make Nigeria, the 3rd most populous nation in the world. Women make up half of Nigeria’s population and therefore represent a significant economic force if properly harnessed.  This is even more so because Nigerian women are enterprising, hardworking, resilient, and tenacious. Ibukun Awosika, our host and Chairman of First Bank, a seasoned entrepreneur and corporate titan; Amina Mohamed, the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations and Chimamanda Adiche, the widely acclaimed author are three notable examples. Our young women can compete with the best and the brightest.  Indeed, the five female teenagers who came first place in the junior division of the technovation world pitch summit held in California recently was widely covered by the media.

Lest we forget, we have also had significant successes in several sectors. For example, because of the recent mobile phone revolution, we now have over 160 million telephone lines and up from less than 400,000 lines in 1992.  We now have about 37 million bank account owners, opened because of the liberalization of the banking sector 25 years ago.  The pension reforms enabled Nigeria to accumulate $25 billion by 2014 from $12 billion of liabilities in 2004 when the pension reform act was promulgated.

What should we do to take advantage of these opportunities? We can learn from what has worked in Nigeria and in other countries.  The top five ranked countries in terms of closing the gender gap and as reported in the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report are Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Rwanda.  There is a correlation between this progress and the success of these nations. Iceland, for example, through the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men, has guaranteed equality under the law. It has guidelines for governments and businesses.  It has identified nine areas with gaps including wages and gender-based violence and has taken bold steps to address those gaps

We are relatively well positioned as a nation to take advantage of the economic powerhouse that women represent. The challenges we face present opportunities in various sectors. There are many government initiatives that support women. Banks like First Bank leading the way. The new economy especially sustainability and emerging technologies offer us great opportunities in all sectors because you can leverage the internet, whatsapp and other tools to develop yourself and grow your business.

The scale of what needs to be done and the impact of things getting worse means that we must get involved and not just assume that it is the President, the Vice President, the senators, members of the house of representatives, or the state governors alone that should take responsibility for addressing Nigeria’s challenges. Each one of us must be involved for ourselves, our families, our communities and for Nigeria.  It is our collective responsibility.

Most importantly, everyone in this great nation came out of the womb of a woman. It is therefore our duty to ensure that our children realize their God given potential.  No mother would want their child to become a ritual killer, a kidnapper or a suicide bomber. Every mother wants their child to be the best they can be.  Let us reclaim our role and lead our nation to its God given potential.

Whether we are career women, business owners, corporate leaders or housewives or homemakers, we should join what I call the GET revolution.

GROW - Cultivate a life of learning/Invest in yourself through education and set funds aside for the future – save and invest

ENGAGE – Be politically active – vote, raise money for the causes and candidates that are advancing the causes you are passionate about. Hold your political representatives accountable

TAKE – Take advantage of the many opportunities that are available in every sector of the economy – agriculture, energy, entertainment, fashion, manufacturing, hospitality, retail, wholesale, sustainability, technology and all the many sectors with unmet demand in our great nation.

Let me illustrate my point using the example of nursing mothers as they are my GET revolution heroines because they lay the foundation for an individual’s contribution to society.  A nursing mother can further enhance her contribution to rebirthing our nation by taking steps to ‘GROW’ through online courses and setting aside funds for her child’s education from the early days of the child’s life.  She can ‘ENGAGE’ by not only voting at all levels of politics but by writing her political representatives on recommendations to better support nursing mothers and children. She can ‘TAKE’ by doing blogs on her experience as a nursing mother.  Remember the very successful Linda Ikeji social media empire was birth through such modest beginnings

Women’s place in building any economy, in our case, rebuilding our nation cannot be underestimated.  Women must however recognize that they are important economic & political forces and tool themselves up.  They should one another and be willing to fight for a place at the table and use their wealth of talent to help our nation realize its potential.  Corporates can learn best practice from each other as well as globally, share experiences on successful and profitable gender equality initiatives.  FirstGEM is certainly an example that should be emulated by all banks as it is a comprehensive product that provides women bank accounts, training and business support services that will help them nurture their businesses.  Corporates should also proactively give women their rightful place at the table.  Government must provide the enabling environment, especially with respect to security, health and education.  Government should also foster a supportive environment for all citizens to flourish, young and old, women and men alike.  

Our nation needs us so please join the GET revolution.

Thank you.