Case Study: Kenya Women Finance Trust
This deposit taking microfinance firm is only the second granted a license by the Kenyan Central bank, providing credit and loans only to women. We thought their story had some valuable insights for women bankers globally in SME lending roles.
2011 Excellence in Leadership Award
WWB’s commitment to supporting principled leaders at the helm of gender diverse microfinance providers dates to its establishment as a global network in 1979. Today the WWB network includes some of the most celebrated leaders in the industry, representing a global commitment to responsive, sustainable microfinance. As we work with institutions to create innovative products that meet the needs of women we are increasingly convinced that leadership commitment is crucial to the success of growing the institution while staying loyal to the mission.
Women’s World Banking is proud to award its 2011 Excellence in
Leadership Award to Kenya Women’s Finance Trust Deposit Taking Microfinance for its commitment to gender diversity.
Kenya Women Finance Trust (KWFT-DTM) was founded in 1981 by a group of women lawyers, bankers, and entrepreneurs as a financial Institution devoted to addressing the financial needs of women: a woman-serving, woman-led bank. KWFT-DTM has risen to be one of the most successful microfinance institutions in the country with the largest outreach of any MFI, serving more than 400,000 clients in both rural and urban areas of Kenya.
As the only financial institution to focus solely on women clients in Kenya, KWFT-DTM’s success is based on a belief in empowering families through women. According to Dr. Jennifer Riria, Group Chief Executive, Kenya Women Holding Company, “When it comes to poverty we should know that no one can completely eradicate poverty. However we should be able to create empowerment opportunities to save lives. To save the family, we should begin with saving the women by empowering them so that they can be able to put food on the table…. by assisting them to create assets, by empowering them to take control of themselves with self- generated incomes.”
KWFT-DTM’simpressive reputation stems from its innovative approach and unwavering commitment to its mission and meeting the needs of women. Most recently, KWFT-DTM was awarded its deposit-taking microfinance license from the Central Bank of Kenya. This is significant not just for KWFT-DTM but also for the Kenyan microfinance sector as it is only the second such license granted by the Central Bank. Being able to take deposits will greatly affect the clients of KWFT-DTM, who will now have access to a range of saving products and a safe means to accumulate assets. In the microfinance sector as a whole, there is growing recognition of the importance of providing safe, secure places for the poor to save their money and begin asset accumulation. Though poor clients have a high demand for savings, access, particularly for poor women, is often limited.
The primary need of the poor is to accumulate small amounts over time that can then be accessed in lump sums for a variety of purposes such as the education of children, health emergencies, housing and marriage. Women’s World Banking has provided critical technical assistance to introduce a range of savings product by conducting market research, creating a comprehensive marketing strategy and guiding product design to respond to customer’s needs to help KWFT-DTM increase its offerings in the Kenyan financial sector. KWFT-DTM’s commitment to offering savings demonstrates its long term dedication to the eradication of poverty and reinforces its strategy to empower Kenyan families through asset building. After only a few months of operation, KWFT-DTM has more than 554,000 active accounts and a total savings portfolio of US$ 56 million.
About the Excellence Award
WWB’s Excellence in Leadership Award, presented in partnership with The MasterCard Foundation, recognizes a microfinance institution within the WWB network that demonstrates a commitment to gender diversity, principled leadership and excellence in financial and social performance, three institutional priorities that are core to the WWB network. By designing and promoting the Excellence in Leadership Award, WWB hopes to inspire transformation in the microfinance industry, shifting the perception of gender diversity from an elective initiative to a fundamental requirement for sustainable institutions.
The Award process included two phases: a quantitative and qualitative review, followed by a review of the top finalists’ initiatives or strategies to support gender diversity and women’s leadership. The objective of this second phase of the award process is to select from among the finalists the MFI that best demonstrates an innovative and effective approach to supporting gender diversity and women’s leadership in the organization. Initiatives may range from single programs to fully-integrated gender diversity strategies.
Each institution’s gender diversity initiative or strategy was evaluated against five criteria:
• Senior leadership commitment: Is there demonstrated, sustained senior leadership support (including CEOs, their direct reports, and members of the board) for gender diversity efforts?
• Link to organizational vision and objectives: Is there a clear link between the gender diversity initiative and the organization’s social and financial objectives?
• Accountability systems: Is there clear accountability for an individual or team to produce results from the gender diversity initiative?
• Internal and external communication: Has the initiative or strategy been communicated clearly to staff and management, and to external audiences?
• Results of the initiative
WFT-DTM’s Investment in Diversity
This vision of empowering women and improving their lives has resulted in a holistic and explicit workforce diversity program, designed to ensure that women continue to be represented at all levels of the institution’s structure, from the executive team to the field. Group Chief Executive of Kenya Women Holding Company and KWFT-DTM’s founding CEO, Dr. Jennifer Riria, was the original champion for building women leaders inside the organization and as clients. KWFT-DTM’s Managing Director, James Mwangi Githaiga, fully embodies this commitment and understands diversity as a guiding principle for the organization.
Below are some organizational characteristics that both contribute to the success of gender diversity initiatives, and the success of the institution through the initiatives.
Committing to its brand
KWFT-DTM sees itself filling a differentiated niche in the market. The organization’s commitment to serving women clients, even while transforming into a regulated bank, is strongly related to its commitment to ensure that women are represented in leadership at all levels. For KWFT-DTM it is not just a values choice, but it is a values choice that has led to tangible business advantages: The bank is able to recruit and retain top female talent.
Moving women up the pipeline
Building women leaders is very much at the heart of KWFT-DTM’s gender diversity strategy. There is a strong emphasis on building women’s potential for and interest in promotion. Considerable effort is made to assess women staff’s pursuit of promotion opportunities and measuring qualified women against the percentage receiving promotion. Dr. Riria says, “Women drop out of the race for leadership at the middle management level. We are very conscious of this and we try to push them up the ladder. Kenya Women Holding’s strategy is to have specific leadership training so that we can identify women and find a way of creating women leaders. I [also] see it as a crucial role for WWB, creating leaders among the network. We have to find a way of providing training to young women coming up. Training them is more mentorship than anything else so that women see what can be done. They can see that a woman has done it before. This is not in training materials.”
Deliberate results demand deliberate action
There was an understanding from the inception of the institution that ensuring women’s presence at all levels of the organization was going to require deliberate action. This is reflected in the holistic gender diversity initiatives that are integrated into the human resource policies. The program is managed by KWFT-DTM’s human resources director, and closely overseen by the Managing Director of the bank. He describes his role in overseeing the diversity initiative as “an everyday activity. This is part of my management; this is part of my life that I know what to do.”
Monitoring for results
The adage “what gets measured gets done” is entirely true at KWFT-DTM. They have put into place careful and regular monitoring of gender metrics related to hiring, promotion and attrition. The HR manager reports to the Managing Director quarterly on diversity metrics and these same metrics are reviewed in monthly senior management meetings. The board reviews and approves all HR policies that relate to gender.
Examples of Gender Initiatives
Attraction of New Staff
KWFT-DTM reviews diversity metrics before hiring
KWFT-DTM’s HR team is active in identifying and addressing challenges that women employees face
Attrition data is regularly analyzed by gender to identify retention trends
KWFT-DTM identifies high-potential women staff and provides development support through mentoring and training
Before launching the interview process for new positions, the hiring committee reviews the vacant positions, and ensures that of the five candidates up for review, a majority are women. The HR manager expressed a preference for hiring women: “Women are more focused, more articulate, more passionate about what they want to do.”
One example is that branches have mothers’ rooms where clients and staff can change and breastfeed their babies. The responsiveness of the branch design to female customers translates into a comfortable environment for the institution’s female staff.
This data helps HR better understand challenges for women staff and dictates key decisions around new hires and promotions. HR works with its female staff to ensure there is open dialogue so HR can respond to staff challenges prior to an individual woman choosing to leave the organization.
The HR manager has observed that women are less likely to consider themselves eligible for promotion than their male counterparts. She feels it is necessary to actively encourage women to consider promotion opportunities.
KWFT-DTM was chosen from among WWB’s 39 network members, a network explicitly committed to women as clients and leaders. From the network, WWB chose five institutions as finalists that received the highest scores on WWB’s quantitative and qualitative criteria. (One of those five, enda inter-arabe (in Tunisia) was not able to compete due to external challenges at the time of the application process.)
Each of the four award finalists illustrates some of the microfinance industry’s best practices for achieving gender diversity. KWFT-DTM and the other finalists—Fundación Mundo Mujer Popayán (Colombia), Microfund for Women (Jordan), and Shakti Foundation for Disadvantaged Women (Bangladesh)—demonstrate that the same criteria exist for diversity success no matter where in the world an institution operates: strong senior leadership support, clear accountability, a broad ranging set of efforts, and clear communication, both internally and externally, of the institution’s commitment to diversity and women’s leadership.
What Works in Successful Diversity Initiatives
Empowering Women, Inside and Out
For each of the finalists, the definition of empowering women extends beyond the women microentrepreneurs they serve. These institutions are strongly aligned around the mission supporting women as clients, staff members, leaders in the field and leaders in the head office. It is about changing mindsets and shifting paradigms. In the words of Humaira Islam, Executive Director of Shakti Foundation: “I want men to see women are powerful, as clients and leaders.”
Leading By Example
A strong common denominator among all four finalists is the visible role played by the CEO to champion the message of gender diversity, to internal and external audiences alike. These leaders— three women, one man—talk about women’s empowerment any chance they get, and the repetition pays off. As a result the spirit of commitment to diversity runs deep in these institutions.
Capturing the Market
These institutions have identified a differentiated niche in the markets in which they operate. They have become not only financial service providers of choice for low-income women entrepreneurs, but they have also become increasingly known as employers of choice for women.