The effect of poverty and unemployment in the third world countries especially in Nigeria has necessitated the need to support the entrepreneurial spirit of Nigeria women with the view to aid their mobility out of poverty and deprivation.
Stories are however told of young and old women who had migrated to the cities in search of greener pasture or due to marriages and are subsequently caught up in the web of poverty and deprivation.
Some of them have to result to borrowing salt and magi from neighbors to be able to made soup for their families due to the effect of poverty or unemployment, a situation experts attributed to lack of financial inclusion of the women folk around the globe especially in Africa.
Many others go the extra mile of going to the streets or bus stops in major cities across the country to beg for arm in an effort to make ends meets.
To this end, some of them even compromise on their moral standard by engaging in some demeaning act such as pilfering and sleeping with men other than their husbands in other to raise money to take care of their families.
However, bad as it may be, some moral philosophers had argued that the issue of morality is relative while others posit that it is universal, adding that what is condemnable in one part of the world is equally condemnable in other part of the globe
No matter the divide any scholar may belong to, the important thing is that human being irrespective of any circumstances must act in consonance with societal ethos in an effort to keep body and soul together.
It is nonetheless in realization of the above circumstances and the need to guide against immoral behaviors as postulated by some moral philosophers as well as provide means of livelihood for mothers and expectant mothers that the management of Fortis micro finance bank decided to empower the women in line with their social responsibility program tagged ‘Fortis women fair, celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit of the Nigerian women’
In an address of welcome at the occasion, the Managing Director of Fortis Micro Finance Bank Mr. Kunle Oketikun noted that his organization’s dream is to make Nigeria and world a better place by becoming major advocates for the development of financial inclusion, adding the collective effort of the firm over the years have played an important role in bringing the attention of the international community to this important agenda.
He added that the institution had concluded plans to make Fortis Women Fair an annual event where the institution will continuously host the special women who are members of the Fortis family to a get-together to celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit of the Nigerian woman who despite all odds have decided to make a statement in a world that is dominated by men.
According to him, “Our women are expected to be almost magicians as we expect them to be everything at the same time; we expect them to be good daughters, wives, mothers, workers and supporter in our homes often with very limited resources. So in other to succeed in this multiple roles, an average woman has to juggle and balance many of these roles. The economic order and financial system however supports the men more. the latest financial inclusion statistics released by EFina; Nigeria women are more financially excluded than their male counterpart. This is in spite of the fact that most Nigerian homes are dependent on the financial activities of the women to keep body and soul together, pay school fees, live in a decent environment, enjoy life and hope for a better tomorrow.
The report also noted that in access to finance survey 2012 only 4.4 million women (10.5%) have a regular source of income, compared to 7.2 million men (15.8%) it further revealed that 18.2 million women (42.9%) are traders or business owners, which is significantly higher than men at 14.7 million (32.3%). It is the need to increase the access of the women to finance that has necessitated this fair.” He explained.
The MD also seized the opportunity to give a short background of the bank when he said that, “We are a Microfinance based in Abuja with 14 branches spread across all the major markets in FCT and in all the local government. We run like two banks in one, we have the SME division where we focus on SME and we also mobilize savings and deposit from the HNIs, we also have the Microcredit division, where we deal with only women, providing loans and savings services to the women. The bank is 6 years old, but it was just about 2 years ago that we took a strategic decision to focus more on just women. I am happy that decisions is what led us to grow our microcredit scheme with over 60,000 women, and some of these women have also graduated to the SME divisions enjoying much larger loans in the million. Put another way we are able to meet the financial need of the women in the microcredit scheme by providing loans of between 30,000 and 250,000 per head, and we are able to meet the needs of men and women in the mainstream SME divisions with need for much bigger loans.”
Oketikun said that in line with international community’s guideline on financial inclusion, the firm had empowered over 60,000 women and plans are at advance stage to add another 30,000 women to the scheme next year and grow their current portfolio by 50percent, urging women who are not yet members of their microcredit society or customer to join them as it is in their best interest.
His words, “We have gathered here to celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit of some of this over 60,000 women who have been empowered, some of who will like to share their stories of how joining the Fortis Microcredit scheme has helped their life and businesses. From our viewpoint, we have seen some women move out of poverty. We have seen others who were not doing that badly before, significantly improve their businesses, lives have been touched and businesses have improved. The second big plan for next year which is also breaking news is that we have signed up to the SMART campaign. The SMART campaign was set up to ensure that consumer protection principles are practiced and upheld by financial institutions. At Fortis, we are restructuring all our processes and procedures to adhere strictly to the 7 key consumer protection principles (CPP) which are: Appropriate product design and delivery, prevention of over indebtedness, transparency, responsible pricing, fair and respectful treatment of clients, privacy of client data and mechanisms for complaint resolution.
Our third major plan is to use technology more than before to drive our business, we already have a world class call center which will serve a big role in service delivery next year, in addition to all the standard e channels that our customers have enjoyed over the past 5 years like the ATM we have just integrated our mobile money platform, Mfino to our banking platform orbit, such that our customer can transfer money to and from their mobile wallet and to and from any bank account with any bank in Nigeria. Our microcredit disbursement will be done largely using the mobile money platform.”
The banker alsoexplained that the recent launch of Fortis Development Initiative FDI a non-profit organization is also to give back to society, improve lives and create a better tomorrow for as many as the organization can reach with the resources within their disposal, stressing that the future is indeed very bright, there is hope for the Nigerian woman and indeed all parties.
He challenged the local development finance institutions as well as the commercial banks to support MFbs to do more, saying if the Dutch entrepreneurial development bank could provide a 5 year unsecured term loan to Fortis, a Nigerian MFb, why can’t BOA, NEXIM, the CBN and the commercial banks do same?
Oketikun appreciated the relentless and dogged spirit of Nigerian women when stated that, “My special message to all Nigerian women and particularly to our Fortis women is that it is possible. We have within the spate of 5years seen women work out of poverty and have become celebrated business women who are fully in charge of their finances. Some of them have indicated interest to speak today and I hope we will have enough time to accommodate their very unique stories and experiences on the journey to financial freedom. We have resolved as an institution to rededicate our lives to the service of our customers and members. We realize and understand that the right time to make a difference in our world is now, the right time to serve our customers and all Nigerians with amazing services is now, the right time to move more people out of poverty is now, the right time to improve businesses and provide more financial literacy education is now. We will not waiver, we shall not falter together with our women we are poised to change our space and make a difference in our world.”
One of the beneficiaries of this scheme who spoke to our correspondent in an emotion laden voice noted that she is overwhelmed with joy as the only thing she could muster in the first two minutes was thank you Fortis MFB. “I am overwhelmed with joy because before i joined the scheme, life was more of hell on earth than the bliss I enjoy today. I now understand the core meaning of the oriental clichés which admonishes that ‘we teach a child how to fish rather than giving him fish’ Fortis did not only give us fish but teaches us how to fish. On behalf of over 60,000 others who were empowered through this program and the 30,000 others who are set to benefit I say thank you to the management of the bank for their good gesture toward us. May God grant them the strength to continue to combat poverty the way they had done by empowering the women to live up to their responsibility in the home front. Again government should also learn from this.”
There is no doubt the fact that government had not done enough to empower the female folk even when there is an established fact that majority of them are the pillars upon which most families burden are rested. They toil day and night to make sure that their kids remain in school in addition to providing the basic necessity of life to the families. To this end, it is however pertinent to note that government needs to borrow a leaf from Fortis MFB by creating similar programme with the view to empowering the women to enable them perform this responsibility nature had placed on their shoulder.