"Our human destiny is inextricably linked to the actions of all other living things. Respecting this principle is the fundamental challenge in changing the nature of business."
- Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce


- = Sustainable Economy Initiatives = -

Women's World Banking

Women's World Banking is a network of affiliate organizations in 40 countries, centred in New York, which works to train, assist, and lend credit to low-income women entrepreneurs all around the world.

Origins and Development

In 1974, 100 women were brought together in Ghana to talk about their concerns in preparation for the International Year for Women in 1975. They insisted that access to credit was their foremost concern, not education, housing or health care. "Once we have credit, we can use it to generate the funds to satisfy all our other needs". The message was carried to the 1975 UN Women's conference in Mexico City, and a group of 10 women started planning Women's World Banking. Starting with $2,500 from their own pockets, they obtained a $250,000 grant from the UN Development Program, and launched WWB in 1979, with office space and administrative staff donated by the Rockerfellers Brothers Fund.

Aims and Objectives

WWB's goal is to promote the participation of women in the global economy by enabling women to play an active economic and social role in their local communities. WWB believes that the best way of promoting development comes through increasing economic participation by women, who spend their earnings in the form of medicine, food and schoolbooks, whereas men in developing countries often spend much of their earnings on social activities.

WWB's objectives are to increase low-income women entrepreneurs' access to credit, and to the financial, business and market information they need to build successful businesses. WWB works to expand the worldwide network of WWB affiliate organizations, to create new financial instruments and banking relationships that serve the needs of women, and to influence the policies of banks and governments worldwide.

WWB follows a strong belief in the value of local initiative and local institutions, with know-how being transferred locally from practitioners in one country to another, and a belief in women as dynamic economic agents, not passive beneficiaries of social services. WWB believes that only local people can decide the right mix of credit, savings, training and commercial links that will get them from survival to growth. For WWB, successful economic development is about relationships, and is best conducted through local structures that are decentralized, flexible, and continually learning.


WWB has 51 affiliate organizations in 41 countries. To qualify as an affiliate, an organization has to build up $5,000 as seed money, which should grow to $20,000 within 3 years. Affiliates operate as intermediaries, identifying likely loan recipients and scrutinizing their credentials. 80% of the loans are to existing businesses, and risk assessment is done on the basis of gut feeling, plus a back-of-envelope approach to business and market appraisal - 20% technical, 80% who you are as a human being (judgement, character, connectedness, creativity, inner calm). Loans average $300 across the globe, and with support and training, poor women achieve a loan repayment rate of more than 95%. Some affiliates use leveraged lines of credit from local banks, which they then lend out to low-income women entrepreneurs, while others source their lending funds from international donors. WWB is currently piloting new loan guarantee programs.

WWB affiliates conduct approximately $100million in business a year in credit, savings and business development, in Botswana, Burundi, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, India, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Hungary, France, Italy, Holland, Spain, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago, Uruguay, Canada and the USA, with affiliates-in-formation in Indonesia, Poland and Russia.

The New York office is the centre of the hub, providing affiliate development programs, financial services, technical assistance, commercial links and policy initiatives. The development programs include training for accounting, pricing, managing, marketing, fund-raising, establishing small businesses and conducting international trade. WWB emphasizes 'lateral learning' through its Partnership Agreements, encouraging members to share business knowledge with each other. Through the Talent Bank, people from different affiliates travel to other affiliates to train, advise or assist them. Through the affiliate management programs, people from different affiliates work together for 2-3 weeks, developing and critiquing their business plans. Learning is seen as a life-long process, best achieved through action learning and lateral networks.

WWB also engages in active policy work to influence the work of governments, banks and donor agencies at global, national and local levels. It serves as Coalition Secretariat for the International Coalition on Women and Credit, which represents 26 of the world's major microenterprise organizations, and was established to ensure that access to financial services for low income women is placed front and centre at the 1995 Beijing Women's Conference.


WWB is a not-for-profit private organization, with a network of affiliates around the world and a hub in New York (24 staff). Each affiliate is a legally established local institution. The WWB Board of Trustees has 19 members from 10 countries, and meets once a year. 50% of its members are leaders of WWB affiliates, and 60% are from developing countries. It is aided by a 13-person Advisory Committee.


WWB has an affiliate capitalization program with funding partners from 10 major government funding organizations, which have been persuaded that the best way to help women entrepreneurs is by building strong affiliates, and providing them with $500,000 or more in grant equity. This is invested (a) to create an earning stream while they build their lending operations to break-even, (b) to build up a loan fund, and (c) to create a leveraged credit line with local commercial banks. Funding comes from development organizations in the Netherlands, Norway and Canada, and from the Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank, African Development Bank, Swiss, German, Austrian and British development aid agencies, the Ford Foundation, Morgan Guaranty and Rockerfeller Brothers Fund. WWB has built up its own capital fund of $16 million as of December 31, 1994.


There is always a gap between principles and practice. It is hard work to build up mutual accountability between the global organization, the local affiliates and the women entrepreneurs. There is a still a bias against the poor, against micro-entrepreneurs and against women. Bank regulations turn away customers who do not have land ownership documents for use as collateral, and government regulations often set the maximum interest NGOs can charge on loans at below market rates, and prohibit NGOs from mobilizing savings. WWB's growth-rate may be fast, but the affiliates will still only reach 1% of poor women entrepreneurs in the world by 2000 AD, while there is need to reach a minimum of 10% to make a fundamental change.


WWB has provided finance and business development services to some 500,000 women in 40 countries, on 5 continents. The overall repayment rate exceeds 95%, far better than most commercial banks. Over 200,000 loans have been guaranteed, brokered through partnerships with local commercial banks, or made directly.

WWB is also influencing the way banking is done worldwide. As a result of its contact with ADOPEM (a WWB affiliate), a leading bank in the Dominican Republic developed a new product that reaches 30,000 small shopkeepers. ADOPEM itself has created a credit card which a small industrialist can use to get raw materials from suppliers. In India, where FWWB/India is a network of 100 NGOs in 11 states, the commercial banks are using the affiliate to train their staff on how to open up access to women's savings and credit groups. In Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Women Finance Trust (the WWB affiliate) works hand in hand with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, and acts as loan broker for Barclays bank.


WWB's 10-year goal is to scale up affiliates' services, and together with other institutions providing microfinance, to serve 10 million low income women entrepreneurs, mobilizing at least $1bn in lending. To help the expansion, WWB is also aiming to develop horizontal enterprise networks, modelled on the successful Italian networks, and to develop new activities in the areas of credit cards and local venture capital funds. WWB is also exploring the 'debt-for-development' area, following the example of a $700m franc Swiss government debt-for-development facility. WWB hopes the UN 4th World Conference on Women (Beijing, September 1995) will serve as a catalyst for policy activities, and draw in many more NGOs as reach agents for microbusiness

For further information contact :

Nicola Cunningham Armacost,
Communications Coordinator,
Women's World Banking
8 West 40th St.,
New York, NY 10018

Tel (212) 768-8513
Fax (212) 768-8519

Written by Guy Dauncey for The Planning Exchange, Glasgow, Scotland.


Women's World Banking is a private, not-for-profit organization dedicated to winning greater inclusion for low-income, entrepreneurial women in the global economy. WWB was established in 1979, and works through 51 independent affiliate organizations in 40 countries worldwide. WWB has a capital fund of $16 million, and affiliate organizations build up their own capital funds, which are then used to leverage credit from local banks in small loans to women's micro-businesses. Since 1979, 500,000 women have received credit averaging $300 each worldwide, with a 95% successful repayment rate. WWB provides training and 'lateral learning' programs, encouraging affiliates and local entrepreneurs to learn from each other and work together, in contrast to the traditional one-way North-South flow of training and aid. WWB is also active on the policy front, seeking to persuade governments, banks and multilateral agencies to make it easier for low-income women entrepreneurs to receive credit. WWB affiliates receive capital fund assistance from development agencies, primarily from Norway, Holland and Canada.