We have a duty to reset the world's balance sheet

Women transporting sugarcane bagasse near Kibos shopping centre. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

I often ask myself why the world continues to let women down, particularly when there is growing evidence that enhancing gender inclusion drives widespread economic and social impact.

When women thrive, so do the communities and economies around them. Research from UN Women shows that countries that close the gender gap by as little as six percentage points can grow their Gross Domestic Product by about 8 per cent.

The logical conclusion? Resetting the world’s balance sheet is an economic imperative.

However, at the same time, there is not a single country across the world that has managed to meet any of its gender development targets. Women continue to be marginalised when it comes to accessing economic opportunity, basic education, human rights and essential services.

In the financial world, a balance sheet should always balance – but in the real world the opposite is proving to be true, especially for our women.

Commendable progress exists, but even the data behind more encouraging statistics tells the tale of a gender scorned. We tend to be comforted that we exist in world where women have been given full access to world’s resources. But the reality is, that equality does not translate to full equity.

For instance, more women are working than ever before in our human history, but many have been marginalised to work in the periphery of our economies, where an estimated four out of five jobs created for women are within the informal economy. This work is often seen as a “last-resort” option characterised by a lack of legal protections, social security, and decent working conditions (ILO).

We live in a country that has excelled at making the mobile phone a viable channel to enhance economic access for the most vulnerable in society through mobile money platforms – but at the same time, statistics show us that this is not enough: Kenyan women are still 27 per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone.

However, significant change is on the horizon.

More women than ever before will soon have access to their own wealth, and this promises to create a more definitive shift in the world’s balance sheet in favour of women.

According to the Boston Consulting Group, women now hold 32 per cent of the world’s wealth, and female-held wealth is anticipated to outpace other segments of global wealth growth over the next several years.

Here in Kenya, roughly a third of women are now considered to have access to wealth, according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey.

This is already inspiring shifts in how the banking sector operates.

Traditionally, bankers have relied on the universal banking model – funding business models that were based on delivering a wide variety of comprehensive financial services across retail, commercial and investment banking.

In the more equitable version of our future where women hold more wealth, this model must continue to dramatically evolve. This is part of what has inspired Standard Chartered to take a more holistic view of enhancing access to financial accessibility for women.

We have deliberately hired diverse client-focused teams whose mandate is to offer a wider array of technical skills and sector know-how to deliver a much broader array of capabilities geared towards women.

Our SC Mobile app platform allows anyone with access to a mobile network to access an increasing number of sophisticated financial services. We remain the only bank that can offer end to end onboarding for facilities like fund management and investments via a mobile app.

Across our business, we are positioning ourselves to create more equity on our own balance sheet by ensuring we provide more women access to financial opportunity. Over the last two years, we have intentionally increased the percentage of female suppliers supporting our business from 17per cent in 2021 to the current 30 per cent.

We support a growing number of female entrepreneurs through a variety of specialised offerings, including SC WIN, which allows us to solve for the businesswoman’s need to access capital while connecting them with new markets and clients across the globe.

Through our Women in Tech programme, we are providing seed capital to female-owned businesses in the hospitality, financial services, health care, agriculture, and sustainability sectors.  

This is because we strongly believe in the principle of investing in all people and all ideas, across all trade lines. This is the only way to create a more equitable future because we know that gender equality can substantially multiply and accelerate the drivers of human progress, economic growth and sustainable development.

However, we also understand that no single player can achieve this ambition on their own.

This is why we are partnering with a wide variety of stakeholders to achieve our ambition to create a more equitable world.

This year, Kenya has committed KES 1.3 billion to gender specific activities as critical part of the Bottom-Up Transformation Agenda to drive participation of women in the key sectors of our economy.

To achieve true equity, the Government will require strong partners who can create more meaningful financial inclusion interventions.

As we celebrate World Women’s Day this month, I remain optimistic that if we accelerate our investments in women, we can ensure that our balance sheet actually balances the needs of everyone in our society.

Together, we can reset the world’s balance sheet to ensure women are included as we embrace a new financial era. It is our collective duty.

-The writer is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Standard Chartered Kenya

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