It has been almost 17 years since Ethiopia entered the sphere of private sector banking. Since 1994 the country has witnessed the birth of a small albeit profitable financial sector with around 18 commercial banks and a growing number of microfinance institutions working the stage.
Where do women find themselves amidst this growing banking sector one may ask? And the sad truth is – not in positions of influence and neither as beneficiaries of access to credit. Many female entrepreneurs echo that they experience problems accessing bank loans in a financial system that is dominated by men and does not put into context the needs of female credit seekers. At an EWIB (Ethiopian Women In Business) gathering I was fortunate to attend two months ago in Addis, the major concerns shared highlighted the existence of barriers for women accessing start up capital.
In a study conducted by the Centre for African Women’s Economic Empowerment (CAWEE), it was found that because of the hurdles faced in accessing funds for start up, female entrepreneurs usually use their own money or loans from friends and family which inhibits the size and growth of their business as these acquired funds are limited.
But that is going to hopefully change very soon with the emergence of Ethiopia’s first women focused and women controlled bank. ENAT (an Amharic word for mother) is a bank founded by a group of thirteen female entrepreneurs and professionals that came together with a common vision of addressing this financing gap and empowering women by giving them easier access to credit. While it is a profit-making venture and open to women and men shareholders, what makes ENAT unique from other local banks is that the social focus is on creating accessibility for historically marginalized and disadvantaged groups in the commercial sector. It will do this by un-complicating loan eligibility processes and setting up advising mechanisms on project documentation for women.
Soon the founding members will pass on the reigns to an elected Board of Directors which per ENAT’s requirement will be a gender equal Board, with 50-50 representation.
Currently, Meaza Ashenafi, the founder and former Chair of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association and founding member of ENAT Bank, serves as the Chairwoman of the female founding members/promoters. I consider myself lucky to work alongside these visionary women as Board Assistant and to be part of what I consider a historic venture in the Ethiopian financial sector.
Love & Light