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Enhancing women empowerment through financial services


World Vision, a humanitarian organisation that focuses on women and children, says it is important for women to have a sense of self-worth.

This dovetails to the ability to determine their own choices and right to influence social change for economic development.

That closely aligns with female empowerment – a fundamental human right that is also key to achieving a more peaceful world and economy.

Beside, gender equality is considered a basic human right, and also fundamental to having a prosperous world.

However, of great concern to many is the fact that girls and women continue to face significant challenges all over the world, hence women are typically underrepresented in power and decision-making roles.

Also, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is significant with women the hardest hit losing their livelihoods as they are exposed to hard economic sectors.

A recent World Bank report shows that 2021 will bring an increase in extreme poverty with a minimum of 71 million people expected to fall below extreme poverty lines.

The United Nations paints a grimmer picture of the plight of women, estimating that at least 47 million more women and girls will fall below poverty lines in 2021 with a minimum of 272 million women in extreme poverty due to the pandemic.

These worrisome statistics have become a source of concern to some individuals and corporate organisations.

For instance, First Bank of Nigeria Ltd., has taken up the mantle of supporting women to bridge gender equality, poverty and ensure inclusive economic growth.

The bank is championing this course through some financial products such as FirstGem, FirstMonie and First Women Network to bring many unbanked women to the financial system, thereby empowering them.

Specifically, FirstBank has disbursed N58 billion loans to 81,000 FirstGem individual and female MSME borrowers to support their businesses.

Also, 91,742 women presently own and operate the FirstGem account across the six geo-political zones.

The spread of FirstGem customers across the six geo-political zones are as follows: North Central (8,139); North West (4,008); North East (3,809) and South West (32,477).

Others are: South East (6,919) and South South (36,390), representing 40 per cent.

Since the launch of FirstGem in October 2016, a series of female empowerment initiatives, trainings and seminars have been organised by the bank across the country and in the UK to harness and financially mobilise the growing percentage of women in the country to ensure financial independence.

Some of these empowerment sessions include Oyo State Women Empowerment Programme; Southern States Governors Wives’ Forum; Benue State Women Empowerment Programme; Mentoring Women to Posterity held at Enugu, Enugu State; OAU International Law Students Women Conference and the FirstGem in the UK.

The Chief Executive Officer, FirstBank of Nigeria & Subsidiaries, Dr. Adesola Adeduntan, said the bank, through the FirstGem initiative, was committed to supporting the contemporary woman’s financial services needs across the various stages of her life.

Adeduntan said FirstGem’s value proposition provided real solutions to challenges faced by female entrepreneurs and working professionals.

“Today, women not only own and control greater wealth than ever before, but they are also changing the direction of wealth management and the goals of wealth creation.

“FirstBank provides access to resources and interactive workshops and advisory that help women to make informed financial decisions and build wealth management competences.

“Through tailored advice and planning, our FirstGem products and services help you build financial confidence,” he said.

Speaking at the fourth anniversary of FirstGem in Lagos recently, Adeduntan said in the last five years, the FirstGem initiative had served to foster the empowerment of women across the socio-economic strata with implementation across three pillars.

He noted that empowering women via agent banking proposition was one of the outcomes of the FirstGem initiative.

Adeduntan said the introduction of FirstGem, a female-focused product by the bank had contributed to the development of the Nigerian economy.

“Across our agent banking network – the largest verified bank-led agent banking network in Nigeria – we have about 24,500 female agents representing 28 per cent of the agents in our network.

“It gives us much joy to see that more women are embracing this proposition and getting empowered.

“The FirstGem initiative takes an inclusive approach to empowering women to make confident and sound decisions with respect to their business, family, and future,” he added.

According to him, the bank will remain committed to providing products and services that will allow its female customers and employees to thrive and attain their maximum potential in business and career.

The bank soon created an online repository for the product – The FirstGem portal – designed to provide a virtual online community to increase its engagement and reach a wider audience.

Through the portal, like-mind women irrespective of where they are in Nigeria and abroad, gather to connect, grow and share knowledge on everything about lifestyle, motherhood, career development, entrepreneurship, health, work and family.

Speaking on the portal, Mr. Chuma Ezirim, Group Executive, e-Buisness & Retail Products, FirstBank, said the engagements held over the last 12 months resulted to the growth of the FirstGem online community to 61,293 members.

Ezirim said the members were drawn from all walks of life sharing ideas, insights and experiences from one another on the portal.

“We are using this online community to position these initiatives to meet the required needs on a wide range of issues affecting women from lifestyle, skills acquisition, finances, wealth acquisition and management, business support, health and exchange of ideas with other women,” he said.

To Mrs. Victoria Oluwole, Chairman, Vicmond Ade Nigeria Enterprises Ltd., FirstBank has helped her to expand her business in spite of the tough operating environment.

Oluwole said the indigenous company involved in the wholesale/distribution of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages was able to expand its sales coverage area with Guinness due to the bank’s financial help.

“It was a tough one because the expansion of sales area also came with the reduction in the number of major key distributors of the Guinness Plc from over 84 to 24.

“The game changer was the provision of Bank Guarantee which is commensurate with the new coverage area earmarked by Guinness Plc.

“By the grace of God and against all odds, FirstBank was able to provide the Bank Guarantee required by my firm to take possession of one of the new coverage areas,” she said.

Also, Mrs. Ipadeola Ayoka, operator of Mabos-Ayok Investment Company Ltd., an indigenous company involved in the sales and distribution of cement, commended the bank for supporting women entrepreneurs.

“FirstBank has always been there for me since the inception of my Business.

“I was nobody but today FirstBank has assisted me to become someone that can be reckoned with in the society despite my low level of education.

“With the support of FirstBank, I won award for the best key distributor for Lafarge Africa Plc six times. The turnover of my business has grown from million to billions,” Ayoka said.

The world would, indeed, be a better place for women with more interventions such as FirstGem.

The enduring legacies of the product have not only transformed the lives of women, but will etch the bank’s name in the annals of women empowerment. (NAN)

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