ABA-ROLI Country Director Susan Marx
Representatives of the Grameen Foundation
Innovation Prize Winners
Members of the Media,
All Protocols Observed,
I am delighted to be with you here today to announce the winners of the Women’s Employment for Economic Recovery Project Digital Financial Services Innovation Prize!
The Women’s Employment for Economic Recovery program is a U.S.-funded program that will increase women’s participation in the Eswatini economy. The project is implemented by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) in partnership with the Grameen Foundation and Kwakha Indvodza.
The project’s holistic approach to financially empower women in Eswatini entails three main areas of focus: 1) addressing laws that limit women’s ability to work; 2) increasing women’s access to finance; and 3) engaging male champions to address gender beliefs and practices that limit women’s ability to participate in the economy.
I am honored to be here today to announce the winners of the digital financial services innovation prize. These organizations will directly contribute to women’s equality and economic empowerment in Eswatini by developing structures that ensure women have equitable and easy access to finance.
Equality and respect are at the core of American values. As we have said before, the U.S. Embassy is focused on helping Eswatini heal from recent civil unrest and political instability.
We are engaging stakeholders across Eswatini society, government, business and civil society, and urging them to pursue peaceful dialogue as an opportunity to broaden the discussion on critical national issues. Over the past several months we have continued to call for inclusive, comprehensive, peaceful, and honest dialogue to seek solutions that help all Emaswati. We also continue to urge the government to conduct full and transparent investigations into alleged human rights abuses, uphold the rule of law in holding perpetrators accountable, and empower an independent judiciary which answers neither to the executive nor the legislative branch. To move forward we must address all these issues with commitment and intention.
Projects like WEER play a role in healing and moving forward. By helping to level the playing field for women, they identify and tackle fundamental imbalances in structures that disproportionately impact women who are already in a weaker social and economic position in relation to men. As Eswatini emerges from the COVID crisis and works to build back after civil unrest, women will continue to play a key role in economic recovery.
This project not only helps Emaswati women access credit, but today’s Innovation Prize provides up to $40,000 in matching funds to financial service providers and Fintech companies in Eswatini to pilot or enhance financial products and services for women entrepreneurs. In addition to the prize money, the Grameen Foundation will continue to support the prize winners by providing technical guidance and support throughout the implementation of their projects.
It is my great privilege to announce the two winners: Imbita Women’s Finance Trust and Digimage.
The first, Imbita Women’s Finance Trust, is a local women’s economic empowerment organization founded by a group of Swazi women. Imbita’s goal is to remove obstacles to the economic advancement of women in Eswatini. They currently work with over 686 savings and credit clubs throughout the country. Through this $30,000 award, Imbita will be able to streamline their mobile money platform through an agreement with MTN. This enhancement will allow their 30,000 members to have better and faster access to financial products.
The second winner, Digimage, is a local fintech company that provides information management systems and technology to businesses. Digimage will use the $33,000 award to develop a mobile app for savings groups which will allow members to save money, apply for loans, and repay debts. The app will also enable users to develop a credit history, empowering women with the means required to access formal loans through banks and other institutions.
I commend Imbita Finance and Digimage for their dedication and innovation. Your work will empower women and girls in Eswatini with access to credit they have previously struggled to attain, and in the process drive reforms that create a more equitable and just society.
The WEER project represents the largest package of bilateral assistance offered to Eswatini—outside of public health—in more than a decade, and it is specifically calibrated to complement the monumental reforms enacted in the Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Act. As you know, this milestone piece of legislation enshrines protections in a law that is designed to curb sexual offenses and domestic violence, and to hold perpetrators to account.
Research has shown that women who experience gender-based violence earn 60 percent less than women who do not experience such violence. Violence against women and girls can have a negative impact on their participation in education, employment, and civic life, which in turn means they are less able to contribute to the economic growth of the community. We can and must change this story, using tools that build economic potential for women, such as the WEER project.
As U.S. Secretary of State Blinken said recently, “it is often women who lead the charge for human rights, democracy, and justice.” The equal rights and dignity of women and girls is a foreign policy priority for the United States. When we design our foreign policy with the rights and needs of women and girls in mind, our policy is more effective, more humane, and more likely to make a lasting difference in people’s lives. When we support women, we can help to foster change on a broader scale. This is especially applicable to women’s economic development.
When women have fast and efficient access to finance, incredible things happen in their communities and around the world. I look forward to the results of these two projects. The U.S. government will continue to support the economic empowerment of women in Eswatini.