CASTRIES, St Lucia – Creating gender-focused and national inclusion policies, providing technical assistance, greater awareness of financial opportunities, and incorporating business skills into primary education were highlighted as practical ways to increase opportunities for access to finance for women-led enterprises in the Caribbean at the fourth edition of the Caribbean Development Bank’s (CDB) President’s Chat, at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College in Saint Lucia, on Friday, June 16, 2023.
The President’s Chat, with CDB president, Dr Hyginus ‘Gene’ Leon, under the theme “Innovative Financing for Women”, aimed to demonstrate how to feasibly and practically provide access to finance for women-owned or led micro small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) on a sustainable basis.
Dr Leon was joined by female executives from regional and international financial institutions including Karyl Akilian, director of marketing and business development, financial alliance for women, in the United States, Sandra Reifer-Wallerson, senior manager, retail, Republic Bank Barbados, and Ashley Outten, financial controller, Bahamas Development Bank. The event was moderated by Sunita Daniel, chief executive officer, Export Saint Lucia.
The discussion targeted policy and decision-makers to provide guidance on actions to improve the enabling environment, as well as women in various spheres of business, seeking to learn how to access finance. Globally, 54 percent of the 1.4 billion adults that are unbanked are women, placing limitations on their ability to access credit.
CDB’s gender assessments for ten of its Borrowing Member Countries revealed that in the Caribbean, women face barriers such as limited access to collateral, business networks, and information, while women-owned MSMEs are also smaller in size and growth potential.
Akilian pointed out that while women face greater hurdles from financing institutions in accessing loans, the perceived risk of financing women-owned businesses was higher than the data supports. “Women have lower non-performing loans; they have equal or better product per customer rate and have higher lifetime value. Most of the reasons women are penalised are factors they cannot control.”
Outten noted that a key hurdle that women faced in accessing loans was meeting the collateral requirements, as well as discriminatory policies that include the number of children they have and the belief that being married means women have greater stability. “We don’t have data to determine the perfect product for a woman-led business,” she explained.
Highlighting the need for a whole-of-society approach to changing strategy, Dr Leon said that regional development would only proceed with the embracing of a knowledge-creation process based on evidence. “We need a financing ecosystem that will not only develop markets but develop instruments for purpose and that can promote that ecosystem going forward,” Dr Leon said, adding that incorporating business management skill teaching into primary school education was one solution to bridging the knowledge gap.
Meanwhile, Akilian suggested a three-pronged approach: “Involving women needs to be included at the policy level, the private sector level, and the end-user level.”
Reifer-Wallerson encouraged women to be fearless in accessing opportunities: “Far too often ladies sit there and think ‘It’s not going to work out for me’, but women marginalise themselves because we think we’re not going to be successful,” said Reifer-Wallerson.
This sentiment was echoed by Outten: “Do not wait until the perfect scenario because you are going to miss some opportunities along the way. Do it now!”
The President’s Chat is part of the schedule of activities being staged for CDB’s 53rd annual meeting, currently underway in Saint Lucia. The event was streamed live on CDB’s social media platforms.