Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Añuli Aniebo is the Executive Director, HEIR Women Hub, and the Author of ‘More Than Just Pretty’ a self help book for girls and young women. In this interview with ENE OSHABA she discusses the barriers to women’s entrepreneurial growth, calling on financial institutions to consider mainstreaming gender into investments in entrepreneurship. 

Can you tell us about the ongoing project at HEIR Women Hub aimed at addressing the challenges faced by female entrepreneurs in Nigeria, particularly in accessing funds for their businesses?

My team and I designed this project, funded by the African Women Development Fund, under the Economic Justice theme, to further support the data and information around funding Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) run by women in Nigeria. The idea around this project is motivated by the economic impacts that financial limitations have on women across sectors, more so women in entrepreneurship. This project seeks to understand the limitations that women face in accessing funds or loans, and the institutions own perspective regarding women accessing loans and investments for their businesses. The data according to Africa:The Big Deal, shows that 4% of female CEOs get funding compared to 95% of Male CEOs. So there is an obvious gender diverse criteria we need to interrogate to establish what the gaps can be and how to begin to adequately address them, using Nigeria as a context. This survey showed us the factors that limit women in accessing or applying for loans and brought our key talking points to support the further accurately address why there’s a gap in women led businesses getting investment or loans from financial institutions. 69% of loan applications are men and 31% are women, and while women will receive loans as men would, 89% of men compared to 85% of women, applied for same loans. So we have this intersection of factors that our project has shown us and I am geared to create forums, discussions and workshops to support with interventions that actually impact. 

How does HEIR Women Hub aim to empower female entrepreneurs to overcome the barriers identified in your study, such as limited access to capital and underrepresentation in funding?

Under- representation is across all sectors and spaces and women are still excluded. A number of women here and there is good to see, however this number accumulates to be a drop in the entire ocean I see. Recently, Tony Elumelu shared the number and faces of women who run his organisation. That was great to see. I asked, how many of them have more women under them? How many women in total work in his organisation compared to the men? What positions of leadership is priority and who occupies them? Is his organisation particular about mainstreaming equity in positions? My questions are endless but not rhetorical, I would like to find out. 

One of the findings we saw was around unconditional bias. The data we collected from the 10 funding institutions compared to the data we obtained from 100 women who own or run business, shows that social norms and cultural expectations contribute to access to investments. Mindsets, self esteem, orientation about entrepreneurship and investment from financial institutions , are just a few we analysed. Unconditional bias is 3 ways- from women, men as well as the institutions. We want to discuss our findings with the financial investment institutions and then re-educate women on these findings as well as promote a break in biases that still limit access to investments for SMEs run by women in Nigeria. 

What specific strategies or initiatives does HEIR Women Hub employ to support female-owned businesses in Nigeria, considering the findings from your research?

In previous interventions, we have engaged and run free workshop in employability and Entrepreneurship for females in career and businesses. We will further tailor this workshops with the findings we have obtained, to collaborate with the institutions we interviewed, to support in empowering women through talking specifically about what ideas and businesses get funded. We are also taking this research outcomes back to financial institutions as a policy advocacy strategy to get these institutions to look into their gender diverse funding and be conscious in mainstreaming gender into investments in entrepreneurship. 

Could you elaborate on the role of HEIR Women Hub in advocating for policy changes or initiatives to improve access to finance for female entrepreneurs in Nigeria?

I understand that our main action is to change or impact policy making. Our survey outcome will be used as an interactive platform to engage financial institutions to mainstream gender and be deliberate in female owned entrepreneurship funding. We are not asking for a handout, not at all. We are saying, let’s be aware of the limitations and let’s work to reduce them. If the limitations is -not enough applications from women,-let’s re-educate women to apply more. I want to see a policy that motivates financial institutions to do more for women and more women to apply for more investments in institutions that understand the importance of Women’s financial input in family, community and Nation. 

Given the disparities highlighted in the study regarding funding for female-led ventures, how does HEIR Women Hub collaborate with financial institutions or other stakeholders to bridge this gap?

The findings we have gathered will become a tool to discuss the need for further changes and gendered review on loan applications. We need to re-approach the way the financial institutions deal with investments into female led ventures. We have feedback from 10 financial institutions in Nigeria, now that’s a good number to use in curating conversation with the stakeholders. We will meet, discuss our findings and hold the participating institutions accountable to ensure better outcomes for women and their SMEs. 

Can you share any success stories or impact metrics from HEIR Women Hub’s interventions that have positively influenced the growth and sustainability of female-owned businesses?

In the previous years, we have run workshops to impact women owned businesses on skills required to sustain businesses. We worked with the National Women Center for Development in Abuja to deliver free skills for entrepreneurship and employability skills. We have given cash donations to young women and data support to 30 women to date to use for their individual business and career goals. With this survey, our focus on interventions will be tactical and more streamlined to support growth and access for women to run profit making businesses. 

 In your opinion, what are the key factors contributing to the success of HEIR Women Hub’s approach in supporting female entrepreneurs, particularly in comparison to traditional financial institutions?

I believe this interview is key achievement contributing to our approach. We are an Impact Driven Organization and so this project is a kick off to address the issues female entrepreneurship encounter in investments into their start ups or SMEs. This is a great achievement for us to get our project design nominated, believed by and funded by African Women Development Fund (Thank you AWDF). 

This is also a strategy to support women economic justice because with this data, we are engaging media to advocate on the outcomes and push for more accountability to female led organisations to have access to funding. We need to address the factors within us and then we can look at other means of funding for women and their businesses. 

How does HEIR Women Hub address the diverse needs and challenges faced by female entrepreneurs across different age groups and business sectors, as highlighted in your study?

It’s a great value that we are all diverse and have different opportunities. I look to what aligns us all, how we can all be included and not what excludes us. Granted, needs vary, locations and situations vary, however we all need to be invested in irrespective of our differences. 

So I strongly center the need to re-educate as a line that unites us all. Some can be financial literacy, information to investors and investing opportunities, networking opportunities, developing and strengthening capacity to write Business Plans, business management skills, resource management. There are varied business sectors that require business interventions. We identify the need and work to close the gap. A consortium of support is required. 

Considering the theory of change mentioned in your research, how does HEIR Women Hub measure and track progress towards achieving economic inclusion for female entrepreneurs in Nigeria?

The measure of progress is in line with the number of institutions we collaborate with and motivate to be intentional about mainstreaming gender in investment opportunities for SMEs owned by women. We will track by the number of institutions we engage with through advocacy from our findings and the number that commit and implement changes we have found. SMEs owned by women will have access to the information gotten from the research project, we will measure by the interventions this project advocates for. For the women, we will use our workshop platform to track and measure how many women are impacted by our findings and the corresponding action taken to get funded for their businesses. 

 Looking ahead, what are the future plans or initiatives of HEIR Women Hub to further advance the economic empowerment and success of female-owned businesses in Nigeria?

The theme for IWD 2024 (in part) is “Invest in Women”. We look ahead to work with financial institutions of lenders like African Development Bank, for inclusion and to mainstream funding for women led businesses. We look to working with Entrepreneurship institutions like Tony Elumelu Fund, Bank of Industry, World Bank, CBN and Ministry of Finance to motivate the importance of mainstreaming gender and have a quota of loans/funds allocated to women led or owned businesses in Nigeria. That’s how we invest and include women. To be deliberate and intentional as we know our families, community and Nation will benefit when a women is empowered economically. 

Given the findings regarding bank account ownership and loan applications among female entrepreneurs, how does HEIR Women Hub plan to address the barriers related to lack of bank accounts and fear of taking bank loans?

You know, no one wants to be a debtor and be chased around especially when the economy doesn’t have or provide an SME friendly space to thrive in your businesses. So my opinion is there’s been so many information that’s limiting bank accounts and loan applications scaring women away thereby limiting access to loans. But the men aren’t scared away? Why? 

So we are working on a workshop to share the findings from our research with female Entrepreneurs and one of the findings we will address is the risk averse nature of women when it comes to taking bank loans. The study also shared that bank accounts are a criteria for loans. These are real fears that women have however it is also an assumption about the understanding of bank loans. The 2 way re-education will look at the women attitude and mindset and break such assumptions with the financial institutions that are giving out loans. Both axis will require an intentional education of factors we discovered and address them to benefit women in the longer term. 

 Can you share any specific initiatives or programs implemented by HEIR Women Hub to increase financial literacy and awareness among female entrepreneurs, particularly regarding loan facilities and application processes?

This is top of mind for me. The survey outcomes and other research I have studied has to melt into a discussion forum. This workshop will incorporate findings and discuss the gaps women experience, and the key stakeholders will be addressing those gaps. The fear factor will be dismantled and the education gap will be covered with accurate information for women to access. 

Considering the perception of female business owners towards borrowing from banks, what strategies does HEIR Women Hub employ to build trust and confidence in formal financial institutions?

The good news is women want to grow their businesses and the study has shown women pay back loans. I believe there is an assumption here that we need to break. While we work on re-education and advocacy as the main strategy, we will use the findings to open up discussions that limit trust in financial institutions and serve as a platform that motivates women and financial institutions to mainstream gender financing. There’s a re-positioning essential for women and financial institutions to take. 

 How does HEIR Women Hub collaborate with financial institutions and policymakers to mitigate the supply-side constraints mentioned in the study, such as high interest rates and collateral requirements?

I find this quite unfair that women go through control systems that is purely a societal problem. 

A dialogue and re-education from our findings showing the financial institutions and policy makers how collateral requirements such as land and property is a criteria that women have been denied from a socio cultural point of view. While society had long denied land and property ownership to women, same society through financial institutions, demand land that women were denied. Its as if women are set up to be denied loans and investment. Very unfair! I need to let the institutions see the impact that societal limitations places on women and work with us to adjust the barriers placed as this discourages many women from loan applications. The interest rates is one other criteria that requires further discussions as it’s justification to be higher than men interest rates is just inline with societal stereotypes in my opinion. 

In light of the evidence suggesting lower default rates among female business owners, how does HEIR Women Hub advocate for fair and equitable loan approval processes that consider the creditworthiness of female entrepreneurs?

I also found it interesting that this is applicable to Nigeria as a study I also found, confirms this data we got. Women pay back loans! So why are they not being invested in? 

So we have a lot to do on a platform of re-education and dialogue with the financial institutions and the women as well. Transparency on the reasons behind women as viable investment is clear- women do not default on loan repayments as much as men. So it definitely begs the question, why aren’t more women getting investments? The factors that we discovered such as risk averse, collateral requests and mindset are also limiting factors for women. We definitely want credit worthy investments to women however we also need to ensure women are positioned to receive the investments. Financial Education will be an intervention. 

Could you elaborate on any partnerships or collaborations HEIR Women Hub has established with informal financial groups, such as family and friends, to complement formal loan sources for female entrepreneurs?

We do not have any current financial groups to service this gap for women and we strongly look to formal institutions to do so to avoid any misrepresentation. Regulatory and approved loan and investment is what we are seeking for women in businesses. 

 Considering the influence of religious beliefs and cultural practices on female entrepreneurs’ borrowing decisions, how does HEIR Women Hub navigate and address these socio-cultural barriers in its interventions?

Religion is a factor however it’s not a criteria considered in obtaining loans and investments for SMEs. The unconditional bias is limiting all women in different religions. Men are not asked about religious limitations in starting a business, women shouldn’t. The long term value women of any religion do have is the gift to build and nurture for growth which positively impacts them, their families, community and Nation. 

 Based on the study’s findings, what role does HEIR Women Hub envision for technology and digital finance solutions in enhancing access to capital for female-owned businesses in Nigeria?

Technology has made available more lending platforms for loans, investments and funds. However the foundation of what leads to limited SME funding needs to be addressed and consolidated. The digital platform have some amount that’s available however the question I have is, what will that amount do for the business? We also have to protect our women from loan shacks and insecurity online that may result to online GBV. A careful selection of this digital financing platform will be the outcome of our advocacy. 

How does HEIR Women Hub tailor its programs and services to cater to the diverse needs and preferences of female entrepreneurs across different age groups and business sectors, as indicated in the research findings?

Our demographic data shows us that many women are actually eager to be profit making SMEs. So rather than look at what divides or excludes such as age or type of business, our commonality is getting invested in. So I draw on that common need and cross that line so that whatever age or kind of business, women have access to the funds or loans they need to start, run and make profit from their businesses. 

 Looking ahead, what are the key priorities or focus areas for HEIR Women Hub in advancing its mission of promoting economic inclusion and empowerment for female entrepreneurs in Nigeria, considering the insights gained from this study?

Our key next steps are, curating discussions and advocacy on the outcomes and findings and utilising this to close a wider gap when it comes to financial access for Women’s SMEs. We will first work with the 10 financial institutions and gain their insight as well as coordinate workshop to re-educate female entrepreneurs on key tips to securing funding and investments. The female owned and run venture capitalists will be motivated to be resource persons in these workshops to give women the encouragement and confidence to ensure their SMEs led and run by women are mainstreamed in policy matters of financial institutions.

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