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Q & A

Nothing Micro About a Billion Women:

Making Finance Work for Women

by Mary Ellen Iskenderian (MIT Press; April 19, 2022)



1. What is There's Nothing Micro About a Billion Women about, and how does it offer a unique perspective on the issues presented?


Over 1 billion women around the world have been completely excluded from the formal financial system. Without access to basic services—such as secure ways to save money, pay bills, and get credit—they are economic outsiders and unable to benefit from, or contribute to, economic growth.


Leveling the playing field in access to finance shouldn't be seen as just a gender equality issue. In failing to provide women with the products and services they need and not creating an enabling, inclusive environment, financial service providers and regulators are missing out on a lucrative business opportunity and means to drive economic growth.


Equally compelling is the transformative effect of financial inclusion, not just on women's material circumstances, but also on their sense of security and self-esteem. There's Nothing Micro About a Billion Women offers a uniquely comprehensive look at this issue, weaving together the strands of economic growth, business opportunity, and personal change.


2. How has the author's background informed the book?


Mary Ellen Iskenderian began her career in finance as an investment banker and would later work as a senior executive at the World Bank, where she specialized in investments in financial institutions in the developing world. Having worked at the center of the global financial system, she has a keen understanding of the people, projects, and companies considered "bankable" by the formal financial sector (and thus granted the chance to flourish by gaining access to funding)—and those who are shut out.


Since 2006, Mary Ellen has served as the President and CEO of Women's World Banking, a global NGO with a 40-year track record of working to ensure the access of low-income women to financial products and services for their economic security and prosperity. There's Nothing Micro About a Billion Women is the culmination of insights that Mary Ellen has gleaned from women clients and leaders of financial institutions worldwide on the transformative impact of women's financial inclusion.


3. What should readers take away from There's Nothing Micro About a Billion Women?


The benefits of women's financial inclusion go beyond the material circumstances of any individual woman. It yields undeniable societal returns, improving the health, education, and earning potential of her family and creating an intergenerational multiplier effect.


As Mary Ellen also outlines, there is a compelling business case for addressing the often-overlooked women's market. For example, closing the gender gap in access to finance would open up $1.7 trillion in new loans to capital-starved women-led businesses and generate $50 billion in new insurance premium income annually. Research has shown that women are loyal, profitable clients for financial service providers. Compared to men, they typically have better loan repayment rates and are less likely to "bounce" checks; likewise, women tend to be longer-term savers and build higher savings-to-income ratios.


Lastly, when given equal footing as men, women can be an economic force—potentially adding as much as $13 trillion to the global GDP in 2030. As such, governments would do well to prioritize women's financial inclusion as part of their post-pandemic economic recovery.


4. There's Nothing Micro About a Billion Women focuses on expanding financial inclusion for low-income women in the developing world. What lessons learned might there be for developed countries?


Equal access to finance should not be assumed. While women in emerging markets face considerably limited opportunities, the fact of the matter is that there isn't a level playing field for financial inclusion anywhere in the world.


Even in the United States, single women own only 40% of the assets that men do; that ownership share plunges to 8% and 2% for Latina and Black women, respectively. Women in the U.S. also have significantly lower Social Security benefits and retirement savings, owing to employment gaps to care for children or elderly relatives and a lifetime of lower salaries. As a result, women in the United States are 80% more likely than men to live in poverty at age 65 and three times more likely at age 75.


5. Who is the target audience for There's Nothing Micro About a Billion Women?


There's Nothing Micro About a Billion Women will appeal to a wide variety of informed readers interested in and passionate about advancing financial inclusion, economic development, and gender equality among other issues. The target audience includes development and non-profit professionals, financial services executives, national and global policymakers, philanthropists and donors, and academics and students.