Roots of Change: Breaking down the barriers to financial inclusion for rural women in Ghana and DRC

On 15th September 2021, a momentous learning conference was held to mark the completion of Opportunity International UK’s Roots of Change programme at the Alisa Hotel in Accra.

Participants at the Root of Change Learning Conference: “Together we innovated and overcame: how we worked with rural women to break down barriers to financial inclusion, 15th September 2021 at the Alisa Hotel, Accra.

Roots of Change was a three-year programme (2018-2021), funded by the UK Government. It used innovations in training, technology and gender awareness to increase financial inclusion and build livelihoods for women in Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The conference gathered practitioners, funders and change-makers including a representative from the Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection, FCDO Ghana, the Executive Secretary of Ghana Association of Savings and Loans Companies Mr. Tweneboah Kodua Boakye, representatives from Banks and Savings and Loans Companies, and Non-Governmental Agencies such as Esoko, GIZ, and AFC to share knowledge and lessons learnt in working with rural women to break down gender barriers as they strive to build a sustainable livelihood.

Madam Maria Koramoa, the Country Head for Oikocredit and Guest Speaker for the event offered inspiration and shared knowledge on the core theme of the conference: “ Working with rural women to overcome barriers to financial inclusion and women economic empowerment”. She emphasised in her keynote address that, ‘today more than ever, the global economy need women to be part of the solution in building back better as economies strive to recover from the on-going pandemic and the ever-increasing challenges of climate change’. Madam Koramoa urged participants to tackle socio-economic norms and legal and regulatory inequities such as collateral requirements that prevent women from accessing financial services, training and business opportunities to help advance women economic empowerment for the benefit of the family, community and nation at large.

Participants also heard from partner financial institutions who have innovated and adapted their inclusive finance programmes to break socio cultural and industry barriers to create and grow sustainable economic opportunities for tens of thousands of rural women farmers in Ghana and DRC. Speakers included the Chief Programme Officer of Sinapi Aba Savings and Loans Ltd, Mr. Joyce Owusu Dabo; the Corporate Affairs Officer for Vision Fund and Gender Lead, Christiane Bilonda Kapenga and Ms. Juliet Esinam Bansah, Project Manager at Opportunity International Savings and Loans Ltd.

Other prominent African and industry leaders such as Mr. Tineyi Mawocha, Opportunity International’s Chief Programme Officer for Africa and Board of Trustee of Opportunity International UK; Tony Gyasi Fosu, CEO Sinapi Aba Savings and Loans Ltd and Kwame Owusu- Boateng, CEO of Opportunity International Savings and Loans ltd were also joined by the Root of Change Project Lead and Senior Programme Manager of Opportunity International UK, Mrs. Lydia Baffour Awuah to share best practices and discussed the business case of serving rural women farmers and entrepreneurs as a catalyst of economic growth and inclusion. The event concluded with a lunch and networking event.

When the Roots of Change three-year programme was announced in 2017, an ambitious target was set, which is to provide 12,000 of the most marginalised rural women in Ghana and The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with access to savings, loans, financial literacy and gender sensitivity training.

By August 2021, these targets have been repeatedly exceeded – more than 15,000 women have been trained and over 12,000 rural women had opened savings accounts. It is estimated that 40,000 additional jobs have been created as a result of the UK government-sponsored programme. This immense success can be largely attributed to the programme’s implementing partners who adapted their strategies to overcome the challenges presented by the global pandemic.

Training was a cornerstone of the Roots of Change programme. Training in financial literacy and digital financial services gave women the trust, skills, knowledge and crucially confidence they needed to access financial services and independently manage their finances. A bespoke curriculum of gender awareness training for nearly 2,300 male community leaders and spouses, as well as the women themselves served to enhance mutual understanding and enable a shift in mentality towards (and within) rural women. Training in good practices in agriculture have led to increased yields and income for women.

Founded in 1994, Sinapi Aba Savings and Loans Ltd, for the past 27 years has been actively championing financial inclusion and financial empowerment in Ghana; serving low income entrepreneurs and individuals by providing them with access to holistic financial services through innovative programmes, products and services which have earned the institution various local and international accolades. Sinapi Aba has 44 branches across the country with a client base of over 450,000. In 2020, the company was awarded the global prestigious - Gold Award for the Best Bank for Women Entrepreneurs by the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Opportunity International Savings and Loans Ltd (OISL) is a leading savings and loans company in Ghana. OISL is at the forefront of delivering transformational financial services to help transform the lives of clients. It was licensed by the Bank of Ghana in June 2004. Over the last three years, the institution scooped 27 prestigious awards including The Savings and Loans Company of the Year from the Chartered Institute Marketing Ghana (CIMG) and Ghana Business Awards.

Vision Fund became the majority partner in Vision Fund DRC bank in 2016, it has developed a 34,000-strong client base which continues to grow day-by-day. Not only has this led to $2.2m being saved by people that previously had no means of doing so, but 67% of Vision Fund’s clients are women, which exemplifies the organisation’s commitment to women’s empowerment.

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