Womens World Banking

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Women’s World Banking (WWB) is a nonprofit organization that provides strategic support, technical assistance and information to a global network of 40 independent microfinance institutions (MFIs) and banks that offer credit and other financial services to low-income entrepreneurs in the developing world, with a particular focus on women. The WWB network serves 24 million micro-entrepreneurs in 28 countries worldwide, of which 80 percent are women. It is the largest global network of microfinance institutions and banks in terms of number of clients, and the only one that explicitly designates poor women as the focus of its mission. The mission of the Women’s World Banking global network is "to expand the economic assets, participation and power of low-income women and their households by helping them access financial services, knowledge and markets." Women’s World Banking was borne out of an idea conceived during the first United Nations World Conference on Women, held in Mexico City in 1975 to coincide with the International Womens Year and to mark the start of the “UN Decade for Women” (1976–1985). The Mexico City conference was convened by the United Nations General Assembly to focus international attention on the need to develop future-oriented goals, effective strategies, and plans of action for the advancement of women. Amidst discussions around the rights of women at the meeting, a group of ten women from five continents determined that economic independence can reinforce women’s rights, enabling them to make choices and affect their own education, opportunity and well-being. Providing small loans and other financial services to poor women entrepreneurs, therefore, could be a powerful weapon in the global fight against poverty. Women’s World Banking was thus founded in 1976 by several women leaders from a diversity of cultures. The Founding Committee included Michaela Walsh, the first woman manager of Merrill Lynch International, who became the organization’s first president; Ela Bhatt, founder and president of India’s Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), the world’s first and largest trade union for undocumented women workers; and Esther Ocloo, one of Ghanas leading entrepreneurs and a prominent advocate of the role of women in economic development, who served as the first chairperson of WWB’s Board of Directors. According to Bhatt, the goal was “To reach women who have been bypassed by the traditional banking system and to bring them into the economic mainstream.”
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