Empowering Women Farmers: How Digital Finance Products can Meet Their Potential
As women farmers move beyond production and agribusiness roles, and more women seek to grow their businesses, access to finance is critical. The potential for digital finance to transform the lives of women, who are on average both poorer than men and unbanked at higher rates, is particularly promising. Women’s financial inclusion is one of the key levers that can advance gender equality and women’s empowerment by increasing women’s autonomy over financial decisions, augmenting women’s bargaining power within the household, and reducing women’s vulnerability through increased access to loans or savings to cover unexpected expenses. Yet, in order to achieve greater access for women, digital financial products and services need to be appropriately tailored to the unique needs of women. The Feed the Future Advancing Women’s Empowerment (AWE) program is exploring how various interventions enhance empowerment outcomes for women in agriculture, including how increased access to financial services leads to greater female empowerment.
How can we promote the adoption of financial innovations by women?
Low adoption rates of digital financial products and services are frequently cited as one of the key barriers to increasing financial inclusion among women. From MarketShare Associates’ (MSA) recent partnerships with Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) INNOVATE (funded by International Development Research Center (IDRC)) and Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), some lessons emerged about what works to address barriers to adoption of financial innovations by women. Here, we share some insights from two key lessons learned:
1. A focus on the end-user is key to designing and marketing digital financial solutions.
In the digital financial sector, there is a growing awareness of the need to achieve a deep understanding of the differentiated challenges and experiences that target customers face in order to create financial products and services that successfully meet their needs. Recognizing this, the MEDA INNOVATE learning series made customer centricity a key theme in its synthesis of learning across a portfolio of projects implementing non-traditional finance for agricultural innovations.
One of the innovations in that portfolio was Agri-wallet, a product launched by Dodore Kenya, Ltd., that addresses the shortage of loans for both female and male smallholder farmers in Kenya. Dodore recognized early on that customer needs are varied and no one approach can be applied to all customers. Dodore’s customer-centric approach consists of:
Disaggregating data on uptake and usage of Agri-wallet to understand differences in the experiences of men and women.
Performing a needs analysis to inform product design that considers value chain, geographical location, and customer profiles, particularly because the agriculture sector lacks good data on women.
Having several customer touch points and a dedicated customer relationship management team that collects customer feedback from farmers on an ongoing basis.
Using a “merchant app” that Dodore developed to train agro-dealers to capture farmer information.
Performing periodic customer surveys to assist Dodore in getting to know its customers.
Through its focus on the customer, Dodore has grown its understanding of customer value and can target both female and male farmers better and offer tailor-made services that, in turn, improve customer loyalty.
2. Social norms play a role in women’s adoption of digital financial services.
MSA recently collaborated with CGAP to explore how social norms influence women’s access to and use of financial services in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. MSA’s initial research in Turkey found that the four strongest social norms constraining women’s behavior as consumers of financial services were:
Women should not have financial privacy from their husbands.
Women should not have savings of their own.
Women should not have assets in their own name.
Women should not own large businesses.
Of the 55 women who participated in the research, only one microentrepreneur had taken out a business loan to grow her business. The majority of respondents—both men and women—expressed that they didn’t feel comfortable being responsible for long-term loan repayments, and women in particular showed a strong concern for the financial impact that bankruptcy could have on their families. The perception among several women interviewed was that financial service providers discourage women from approaching banks. Women also commented that they would face pressure from the community and family members if they were to apply for a business loan, since women who independently took out loans were seen as intimidating, controlling, and even emasculating.
Through this research, MSA developed a framework that categorized the insights emerging from a diagnostic of social norms. MSA grouped these findings as follows:
Relaxation: consumer behavior is shifting as norms are relaxing and having less influence.
Willingness: openness and desire to break norms exists, but there is limited confidence to do so.
Misperception: norms are misperceived by the target group or influencers.
Stickiness: norms are deeply entrenched and need to be acknowledged and worked around.
By understanding how social norms operate within a target group, digital financial service providers can focus on designing and delivering interventions that address specific constraints and leverage trends that challenge existing norms, including those around gender, technology, and women’s use of technology. For example, service providers could take advantage of relaxing social norms to start to carefully and sensitively conduct outreach in new market segments that may have previously been inaccessible because of restrictive norms. Where willingness to break a social norm exists but people lack the confidence to do so, digital service providers could nudge influencers and challenge and celebrate norm breakers. They could also use targeted messaging and awareness campaigns to expose misperceptions, and cautiously work around deeply entrenched “sticky” norms, while supporting regulation reform that supports behavior change.
Digital financial inclusion and women’s empowerment in beyond production
AWE recently published a landscape analysis of 20 Feed the Future projects where women played a role in activities beyond agricultural production. The assessment analyzed whether and how these projects were achieving women’s empowerment outcomes and what strategies were most successful.
Findings from the analysis determined that many projects have a financial access component, such as financial literacy training for farmers, working with financial institutions to create or adapt products to meet women’s specific needs, and facilitating linkages between village savings and loan groups and financial institutions. To date, however, there are few concrete indications of impacts for outcomes related to women’s empowerment.
As part of its ongoing research, AWE will select one of the projects reviewed in the landscape analysis and conduct an impact assessment in 2021-2022 to further explore the role of financial inclusion in achieving empowerment outcomes for women in beyond production roles.
Where to learn more about AWE
The USAID Advancing Women’s Empowerment (AWE) program enhances women’s participation and benefit from agriculture. We provide technical assistance on gender inclusion in access to finance interventions for USAID and its implementing partners, as well as a range of other support services. To learn more, please contact AWE’s Activity Manager, Aslihan Kes ([email protected]) or AWE Team Lead Samantha Croasdaile ([email protected]).