Remarks delivered by Pol/Econ Chief John P Jenks on behalf of Ambassador Jeanne Maloney
Hhohho Regional Administration Princess Tsandzile and Minister of Parliament Gcina Dlamini, members of the media corps, program directors, speakers, and community members.
All protocols observed.
Thank you for inviting me to be here today. I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the efforts of the American Bar Association – Rule of Law Initiative (ABA-ROLI), Grameen Foundation, Imbita Swaziland Women’s Finance Trust, and MTN Eswatini on this important initiative.
I applaud all the different stakeholders present for their contributions and submissions. Thanks also to the experts and facilitators who have joined in person [and virtually].
The U.S. is proud to have supported the initiative we celebrate today. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Women’s Employment for Economic Recovery, or WEER, program is improving women’s economic participation in Eswatini by addressing legal and regulatory shortfalls and creating greater economic opportunity through access to financial services and improved hiring practices.
The project seeks to improve outcomes for women in the workforce, as well as women entrepreneurs in three key ways. First, by addressing legal restrictions that prevent women from fully participating in the economy; second, by unlocking credit for women and facilitating more favorable lending practices toward female entrepreneurs; and third by creating allies - - engaging men and boys in private sector, and society at large, to combat harmful gender norms which systematically impede the ability of Swati women to live up to their full potential.
Women’s economic participation is essential to the growth of the Eswatini economy and meeting basic needs in Swati households. In this country, women entrepreneurs are predominantly focused in the micro- enterprise and the informal sectors, including agriculture. Their businesses tend to remain small and vulnerable due to barriers to accessing financing and building financial literacy and business skills that are key to any thriving enterprise, no matter the size.
Over the years, in fact, we know that about one third of Swati adults remain outside the formal financial system due to access barriers such as low affordability, onerous documentation requirements, collateral requirements, and other issues.
We know that most private financial service providers in Eswatini are reluctant to offer financial products and services for women micro-entrepreneurs. The tools they use - - their current business and risk assessment models - - show these clients are too costly and risky to serve.
However, in order for siSwati women-led, micro- and small to medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) to access appropriate and safe financial products and services, like credit, savings, and insurance products, we wish to underscore the mindset shift toward emphasizing the opportunities, as opposed to the risks, of serving this small and potent segment of the economic workforce - women.
To change the traditional mindset of the private sector, ABA-ROLI and Grameen Foundation have together worked to reward leaders willing to lead – to incentivize and increase access to project financing for female customers and entrepreneurs through an Innovation Prize model.
The Innovation Prize aims to catalyze co-investment from Financial Service Providers (FSPs) in innovations that specifically aim to serve women entrepreneurs.
The Innovation Prize winner that we witness launching today, Imbita Swaziland Women’s Finance Trust, serving Eswatini for over 30 years, is seen at the forefront of serving rural women in Eswatini through savings, loan, insurance, and training products and by organizing women into self-help groups.
Through the Innovation Prize initiative, Imbita has collaborated with MTN Eswatini to digitize its savings, credit, insurance, and training services, which will enable it to reach more clients, reduce their loan costs, and address the transport related issues, which today prevent many women from taking credit to grow their businesses.
Today, we gather to recognize this fact – that changing the world we live in takes committed dedication and teamwork, focused and creative problem-solving, cross-cultural collaboration and persistent dialogue. The women who are served by the Imbita Swaziland Women’s Finance Trust and other financial service providers can embark on a new level of financial independence, harnessing their ingenuity to make a meaningful contribution to their communities.
The long-term benefits of full inclusiveness of women in society cannot be overstated, and we know that you, women leaders – along with civil society, members of government, members of parliament and traditional centers – will play a key role in what we hope will be an inclusive and consequential national dialogue that will chart a peaceful path forward for your country.
Our interests are to help Eswatini lift itself out of poverty, rise to new levels of security and prosperity, and heal and move forward with a stable political system – one that is responsive to the needs of emaSwati and that supports and uplifts the country. Helping the women in Eswatini communities is helping us all to do that.
And while the U.S. Embassy is here to partner with Eswatini, it is up to the people of Eswatini to determine their path.
Congratulations to our partners - Imbita, ABA-ROLI, WEER, MTN Eswatini - and all here today to witness this small step toward financial independence and opportunity. The U.S. hopes this progress will build and reach many other women and girls, and communities across Eswatini will benefit. Thank you,