By Benjamin Maona, a Contributor
Malawi has a high level of gender inequality, and women face significant barriers to economic empowerment. On March 8 every year , the world commemorates International women’s day as part of recognizing the human rights and roles of women in the society.
Malawi is not spared, and this year’s commemoration will take place at Malika Ground in Zomba District under the theme ‘DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality’.
Capitalizing on the theme, National Bank of Malawi Plc, is set to empowering women beyond human rights by ensuring they are financially capacitated.
According to the Bank’s Head of Retail Banking, Oswin Kasunda, NBM Plc has arranged business clinics for 150 women under its ‘Amayi Angathe’ Product and Service offering for borrowing and no-borrowing clients in all the three regions of the country in the month of March.
Kasunda said in an interview that the Bank intends to use the clinics to unveil its innovation, a WebPortal for the ‘Amayi Angathe’ Product , to enhance gender equity in business and to promote financial inclusion among groups that constitute a significant portion of Malawi’s unbanked population.
“Our typical Amayi Angathe client is a lady entrepreneur that are running her business in all sectors approved by Bank and with current annual sales turnover of up to Fifty Million Malawi Kwacha. These could be sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited companies. Additionally, the conference will also target prospective customers that could benefit from the offering.”
“The information sharing portal aims at promoting access to information in the financial system, acceptable banking practices and business management technics which have been a hindrance to growth of businesses managed by lady entrepreneurs. In order to positively contribute to the social and economic development of the country, NBM plc decided to target special groups with a long-term view of empowering them financially,” said Kasunda.
With figures showing that women entrepreneurs are increasing in the country, Kasunda said it is important to empower them economically as this will also lead to the development of their respective societies.
“The Bank anticipates that these business clinics will eventually empower women entrepreneurs to stand on their own and contribute to the country’s economic development in general. The ‘Amayi Angathe’ product offering is designed in such a way that women entrepreneurs will graduate upon reaching the K50 million annual turnover threshold. At this point, the women will have acquired the necessary collateral and will now be able to stand on their own and enjoy services offered by the Bank under the SME Programme,” he added.
According to Kasunda, the clinics are also expected to enhance information sharing among women so that other women entrepreneurs can learn how to manage their businesses through testimonies.
“It is also the Banks’s expectation through this financial inclusion drive that every woman in business will be made aware of the product offering and ultimately benefit from the clinics. The ultimate goal is to see the women’s businesses grow into big corporate entities,” he added.
Angela Kachelenga, a mobile money banking service provider and a Grocery owner plying her trade at Ngumbe Township praised ‘Amayi Angathe’ Loan saying she has grown her businesses so fast.
“I started utilizing the service the year it was launched when I heard that the loans do not require collateral. Through the soft conditions attached to the loans, I have grown my businesses after accessing K3 million, then K1.2 million which I paid back without problems. This year I am planning to get K5 million even though I already see it as small for the business,” she said.
On the business clinics Kachelenga said: “This is commendable as women need financial education on how to manage businesses. Gone are the days when people used to see business people as illiterates. As a beneficiary of ‘Amayi Angathe’ Loans, I have employed three people helping me to run my businesses, but my aim is to impart knowledge into them and have them graduate to own their businesses.”
“Currently, I have already trained one who is also running her own businesses. Therefore, the knowledge and skills I will acquire from the clinic will not benefit me only.”
With most business interventions, the challenge has been to follow up if they are making progress through the use of the knowledge given.
However, Kasunda said they have put measures in place to ensure it bears fruits.
“We are constantly making follow ups with targeted women in their places of business, as a bank we have dedicated account relationship teams who are regularly visiting them to appreciate the level of growth and the challenges being faced.”
“The team is always available to assist the women in acquiring relevant financial information which is crucial in the day-to-day management of their businesses. The session will also assist to solicit feedback from the women through panel discussions and questionnaires,” he concluded.