Interview with Johanna Ryan: Empowering Today’s Women for the Women of Tomorrow

Interview with Johanna Ryan, Social Performance Director, VisionFund International 

Johanna Ryan will be speaking at a dinner hosted by Women Advancing Microfinance UK on Tuesday 31st January 2017 in London. She will talk to us about the work VisionFund International does and the impact it’s having on the lives of women. Tickets to the event are available here.

Ahead of the event, we asked Johanna to give us some thoughts about what it is that makes VisionFund International different, how it has evolved its approach to empower women and drive financial inclusion through a gender lens.

Tell us about VisionFund and how you empower women.

For more than ten years VisionFund has worked to build solid foundations in our microfinance institutions to reach rural, under-served areas in over 30 countries, impacting the daily and future lives of millions of children.  Whether it is a mother of a suffering child or a caregiver of an orphan, we regularly witness the economic empowerment of women through access to financial services, and the benefit this change has on children.  

This is why more than 70% of our clients are women and why we implement products and services   that are tailored for women and help them to change the lives of their children by enabling them to afford healthcare, education and proper nutrition.   While we continue to make progress, we know we have a long way to go and many more opportunities to transform the lives of women worldwide.

Why are you intentionally targeting female clients? How does financial inclusion go beyond small loans?

Seventy per cent of the world’s poor are women. Sixty-three per cent of them do not have access to a bank account. Eighty cents of every dollar earned by a woman is invested in her children (compared to 30 cents by men). Women in most countries earn on average only 60 to 75 per cent of men's wages. Around the world, mothers and female caregivers work tirelessly - inside and outside the home - to improve the lives of children and provide them with brighter futures. 

At VisionFund, our mission is to empower women, who in turn will enable their children to have access to resources and opportunities that they lacked. If we aim to work with women, we need to model our offering to their requirements. Thus VisionFund specifically encourages women to become loan officers as they better understand the needs of women clients and their children.  We have therefore created a recruitment programme that targets women with “life experience,” which is currently being rolled out across our network. As Melinda Gates once said - a strong and empowered mother is the best champion a child will ever have.

You are developing an initiative called the Women’s Empowerment Fund. Can you explain a little about what you hope to achieve?

The Women’s Empowerment Fund aims to empower two million women and impact six million children across our microfinance network by 2021. The key innovation of the Fund is the gender lens – and especially a mother’s lens – that will be applied to all our economic empowerment work to increase financial access for vulnerable women and develop financial and other services that are tailored to meet women’s needs.

To hear more from Johanna about VisionFund’s unique approach, please join us for the dinner discussion on Tuesday 31st January 2017. Tickets for the event are available here.

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