Under the patronage of H.E. Ms. Suhair Al-Ali, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, and in the presence of Mr. Jay Knott, USAID Mission Director, the USAID through the Sustainable Achievement of Business Expansion and Quality Program (SABEQ) and the Jordan Forum for Business and Professional Women (JFBPW), today held a seminar focused on Jordanian businesswomen’s access to commercial banks and finance, targeting all 23 commercial banks and businesswomen from around the Kingdom to further promote women as a reliable market segment worthy of investment.
As a follow on event to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which was signed between USAID/SABEQ and JFBPW in August 2007, the seminar centered on discussions regarding developing strategies, so as commercial banks can increase their outreach to Jordanian businesswomen. The discussions were driven by several players including heads of banking institutions and businesswomen who highlighted some of the challenges they have faced in their professional careers.
In her opening remarks, the Minister of Planning and International Cooperation said “Increasing opportunities for women and their inclusion in the economic and decision making spheres can bring tangible results in terms of economic growth and competitiveness, businesses performance, and most importantly to the well-being of our people”. She added “Women empowerment is no longer a luxury, but a fundamental requirement for economic growth and social stability”.
The Minister also highlighted that this seminar can significantly contribute to developing a partnership among banks and women-owned businesses. Minister Al-Ali indicated that despite all the Government efforts made towards engaging the private sector and creating a conducive investment environment, significant investments made in the areas of health and education, for all citizens including women, however, critical challenges towards achieving economic gender parity are still faced.
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Within this context the planning minister underscored the importance of access to finance in economic development. Her Excellency noted that "Funding is the tool that translates good ideas into projects. Projects that generate income, create jobs, and achieve economic growth. However, women business owners are not able to effectively contribute to job creation and economic growth because they are not able to access the finance they need to start their businesses." Moreover Al-Ali highlighted the importance of raising the awareness on the potential of women owned businesses and at the same time helping women gain the necessary skills and tools to become bankable clients.
The increased activity to further underscore the importance of gender mainstreaming in USAID work through SABEQ, is based on a gender assessment which was conducted by USAID/SABEQ in January 2007. One of the most essential findings of the gender assessment exemplified how women-owned small and medium enterprises (SMEs) face significant constraints in accessing finance for business start up, growth and expansion. While this is an issue for all entrepreneurs, male and female, it is an even greater difficulty for women as they have lesser assets to use as collateral as compared to men. In addition to the gender assessment conducted, awareness raising activities facilitated by the Program were held during the month of April of this year, including an analysis of the status of women-owned SMEs and their bank portfolios. The analysis revealed that women-owned SMEs representation as bank clients is minimal.
In light of the findings, USAID through the SABEQ Program, Association of Banks, and the Jordan Forum for Business and Professional Women (JFBPW) decided to collaborate and create considerable awareness regarding this topic. Consequently, in May of this year, a three-day workshop specifically discussing the topic was conducted at the Association of Banks (ABJ) headquarters. The workshop targeted groups of women leaders in the banking sector and businesswomen associations, as well as bankers in Jordan.
In his comments, USAID Mission Director Jay Knott, spoke to the fact that women world-wide undertake a critical role in industry, agriculture, manufacturing, and services, and as producers, traders, and owners and operators of micro- and small-enterprises. Exclusion of individuals from resources, public services, or productive activities based on gender diminishes an economy’s capacity to grow and to raise overall living standards, which is how USAID’s support to projects and programs works to expand women’s economic opportunities. Knott also emphasized that good development practice will yield economic gains for women, households, and the economy as a whole.
The USAID-funded SABEQ program is a five year economic development initiative implemented by BearingPoint, Inc. The Program aims at supporting improvements in the business environment and providing assistance to the Jordanian private sector to expand innovation and enhance their productivity.
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