Microfinance has become a support for the most vulnerable sector of society, those who have historically been excluded from the formal banking system. Microfinancing started out as a gender-neutral industry, but today, 68 percent of global microfinance customers are women. Institutions have begun to design programs and financial products specifically for women, contributing to female economic empowerment.
Microcredit fosters economic independence and provides women with a new status as active participants in economy who generate incomes for their households and communities. Studies show that earnings generated by women through microenterprises are usually first invested in children’s education, particularly benefiting girls. Households of microfinance clients seem to have better health and nutrition than other households.
Seven percent of female entrepreneurs in Latin America have access to microcredit. Statistics have shown women are a great investment for financing institutions, as they are reliable and efficient. Today, microfinancing programs have benefited female participation in commercial activities that were previously dominated by men. Research carried out by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) found that women who participate in microfinancing, either as creditors or debtors, gain a level of power that allows them to make independent decisions and raise their status.
The social benefits brought about by gender-inclusive microcredits are undeniable. Nevertheless, there is still a lot to do in terms of financial inclusion. Gender differences in literacy, property rights and many social norms or discriminatory attitudes towards women still limit the impact of microfinance. In order to move up the economic ladder and reach their full potential, women need to be able to attain greater financial literacy, build assets, manage credit and risk efficiently, and become investors themselves.
Microfinance helps low-income sectors of society have equal access to financial services. It’s not about charity, but about using the power of capitalism to make a social impact and to foster inclusion. This is a clear example of how profit and social engagement can reinforce each other.
Hence, we are transitioning into a new era in financial services. A new mindset is breaking old paradigms: underprivileged women are no longer seen as passive victims, but as active contributors to knowledge and productivity. An untapped opportunity awaits, ready for women to help themselves and help their communities prosper.
Public and and private financial institutions, the corporate world and impact investors are recognizing the value of microfinance and the participation of women in building strong global economies. The challenge is maintaining this synergy and working collaboratively to increase universal access to financial services, a step vital towards gender equality.
Angélica Fuentes, Founder Equal Invest
Angélica Fuentes is a Latin American businesswoman and impact investor, who has been recognized by Forbes Magazine as one of Mexico’s most influential women.
Ms. Fuentes was appointed CEO of Grupo Imperial in 1992 and quickly positioned the company as a top player in Northern Mexico’s energy sector. Under her leadership, Grupo Imperial’s annual growth rate increased from 5% in 1992 to 9.5% in 2005. Ms. Fuentes served as President of the Business Energy Network of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Agreement (APEC) from 2002 to 2004, and as President of the Mexican Natural Gas Association from 1996 to 2000. From 2007 to 2015, she served as CEO of Grupo Omnilife-Angelissima-Chivas. Under her leadership, the company became one of the top 100 corporations in Mexico.
Throughout her career, Ms. Fuentes has dedicated significant time and resources to NGOs, international organizations and professional groups that support the cause of women. She participated in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Parity Programme, and led the Mexican Gender Parity Taskforce. She currently serves on Secretary Clinton’s International Council on Women’s Business Leadership; is member of the Private Sector Leadership Advisory Council of UN Women; is a Global Advocate for the Girl Up Campaign, a United Nations Foundation program; co-chairs the PVBLIC LATAM regional platform; is member of the Latin American Program Advisory Board of the Woodrow Wilson International Center; and is member of the Global Dignity’s International Council of Advisors.
Her work in this field has been recognized by numerous honors and awards. In 2015, UN Women gave her the Women’s Empowerment Principles CEO Leadership Award; she was the first female CEO to receive this award for championing gender equality in the private sector. In 2016, PVBLIC Foundation, Ismael Cala Foundation, and the United Nations gave her the award for Latin Woman Empowerment. In 2017, she received the Corporate Social Responsibility Award from The Maestro Cares Foundation.
Gender equality, women empowerment and the eradication of poverty have always been a priority in all her endeavors. In 2014, she established the Angelica Fuentes Foundation. In 2016, she founded A Complete and The Imperative Fund. In 2017, she founded Equal Invest, The Beauty Station and A Complete Journey.