The Women's World Banking (WWB) seeks to be the pre-eminent voice for gender in MFIs globally and particularly in the MENA region where women face increased challenges. WWB aims to expand client outreach into Egypt, Syria, and Turkey to increase women's access to capital, improve MFI organizational efficiency, and foster a learning and collaborative environment to deepen the impact of network members. The MENA region provides WWB with the opportunity to alleviate the high poverty levels through direct technical assistance, leveraging of WWB's network to create opportunities for lateral learning, and empowering women as leaders and ambassadors of change.
In preparation for the MENA expansion strategy, WWB conducted a detailed assessment of the MENA region to develop a strategic plan for expansion into the MENA region, including identification of potential countries and analysis of the microfinance sectors within those priority countries. WWB is unique as a microfinance network due to its stringent eligibility criteria for network membership. WWB measures these standard criteria annually to ensure that network members are achieving performance standards. Thus admitting a new institution to the network is a thoughtful and disciplined process.
WWB performed extensive research and analysis, after which Egypt emerged as the number one choice for expansion in the immediate term. Using WWB performance criteria, potential institutions have been identified and visited. During a seeding visit to Egypt, two strong microfinance institutions were chosen as potential network members. WWB leadership will visit these two institutions to make a final decision on which institution will be affiliated with the WWB network.
The other two markets that emerged as high potential for WWB impact include Syria and Turkey. Both are virgin markets and offer great potential to provide low-income clients access to financial services. For both Syria and Turkey, WWB needs to continue the feasibility study and further explore potential institutions and other options for entering these markets.
In 2009, the Women's World Banking Network (WWB) will begin working with a new network member in Egypt. The first engagement will be to conduct a diagnostic of the institution. This detailed assessment will include interviews with management, staff, and clients in order to identify strengths and weaknesses, determine the needs and priorities, and where WWB's network can add the most value to improving the breadth and depth of outreach. For 2009-2010, the diagnostic will determine the types of assistance WWB will provide in Egypt. During the seeding visits with the identified microfinance institutions, immediate needs that were identified include:
1) Product Diversification
WWB has a well-established reputation for product development particularly through its work with network members to introduce Individual Lending products. WWB has also been a strong advocate for MFIs to diversify into asset building products, such as savings, health insurance, and housing finance, to enable low-income women to accumulate assets. By moving beyond credit and offering increasingly diverse product portfolios, institutions can both advance their social mission by providing products that help empower women in their roles as entrepreneurs and caretakers, and improve their own sustainability and performance.
2) Capital Markets
In recent years, the pace of commercialization has continued to accelerate, with MFIs increasingly relying on commercial sources of funding to finance their portfolio. For the first time in 2005, the median MFI globally obtained more than 50% of its funding from commercial sources. At the same time, international commercial financing of microfinance has exploded in the last several years, with a range of new investors, partnerships, and vehicles emerging. The institutions in Egypt identified access to capital as one of their greatest needs. WWB has a track record of improving access to capital markets, both domestic and international, for network members.
3) Women's Leadership and Women's Market
WWB focuses on low-income women by working with Network Members to help them develop strategies, products, and capabilities that enable them to serve low-income women more effectively and with greater impact. WWB has a strong women's leadership program to help cultivate the next generation of leaders who will serve the women's market. WWB also conducts research on the impact of financial services on low-income women. By more fully leveraging its network, convening power, communications channels, and reputation, WWB is able to promote the role of women as entrepreneurs, leaders, and change agents.
In 2009-2010, WWB will also continue on-the-ground feasibility studies in Syria and Turkey, including seeding visits to microfinance providers in-country. From initial findings, it is clear that the market is less developed than in Egypt and may require the development of a new approach.
Throughout the two years, WWB will disseminate lessons learned and best practices to further microfinance in MENA and in the sector as a whole.
A core measure of WWB's impact is the number of clients reached by the microfinance institutions in its network. WWB can only estimate with any accuracy the impact potential of its work in Egypt, as WWB has already identified two potential network members in Egypt. One of these institutions will be selected to join the WWB network. These institutions are currently reaching between 80,000 and 100,000 clients each. Based on WWB performance standards, WWB foresees a 25% increase annually in clients for network members. Thus through WWB's work over the two years WWB will reach between 125,000 and 160,000 by 2010 in Egypt.