Meet the women leading the way to an inclusive future — part one

Part of Accion’s series highlighting women working in financial inclusion

When women are economically empowered, children benefit from better household spending, companies thrive with diverse leadership, and economies are boosted by the extra cash flow. But we’re not there yet. Women in developing economies are 20 percent less likely than men to have an account at a formal financial institution. And because of difficulties finding jobs and accessing economic opportunities, women are disproportionately poorer than men.  We’re working to help all women have the financial services they need to thrive.

At Accion, we’re proud to have a diverse team leading the charge as we work to tackle the problem of financial exclusion around the world.  Three in five people who work at Accion are women, and at Accion Venture Lab, more than half of all full-time staff are women — a rarity in the male-dominated world of venture funding.

To highlight some of the women working behind the scenes to build a more inclusive and prosperous world, we’re releasing a blog series on the women of Accion and our partners.

Here are a few of the leaders we’re proud to work with:

Tahira Dosani, Managing Director, Accion Venture Lab

“I hear a lot of people say that they are interested in an impact career or impact investing. The sector is really broad; if you want to find a role within the space, you need to understand what kind of impact you want to make and how your experience and skill set position you to succeed in that role,” Tahira Dosani says. For Tahira, making a sustainable impact means aligning social good and financial returns. At Accion Venture Lab, she’s able to achieve this goal by supporting startups that are leveraging fintech to advance financial inclusion. She leads the fund’s work on portfolio engagement. This hands-on strategic and operational support helps Venture Lab’s portfolio companies grow and scale, and it helps us continue learning as investors. In addition to this engagement work, Tahira supports investment decisions, manages portfolio relationships, and drives the strategy and growth of Venture Lab. As a leader in her field, she makes sure to support other women, and she encourages everyone to do the same: “Once you’re where you want to be, help other women get there too.”

Bunmi Lawson, Former Managing Director and CEO, Accion Microfinance Bank

“Women who want to make an impact should have a clear focus on the nature and segment they want to change. Sometimes in a bid to improve the world we live in, we try to do too many things. Focus ensures we achieve significant impact and drive the positive change we want to see,” says Bunmi Lawson. And she should know — Bunmi has spent her career promoting opportunity and equality in Nigeria. Before retiring from the role in December, she spent a decade as Managing Director and CEO of Accion Microfinance Bank. Under her direction, the institution grew from one branch to nearly 50 and helped close the gap in access to financial services in Nigeria. While at Accion Microfinance Bank, Bunmi made sure account officers were gender balanced in order to better serve their customers — 68 percent of whom are women.

Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion

“Get out to the field, spend time with the people you want to make a difference to, learn how the institutions and industries work, and get a few hard skills,” advises Elisabeth Rhyne to those looking to make an impact. Elisabeth worked in microfinance for 20 years, including in Kenya and Mozambique, before focusing on financial inclusion more broadly. While microfinance had focused on credit, she saw that people needed a full range of financial services and recognized the increased feasibility of new business models. Shifting her focus to financial inclusion more broadly was a response to these industry changes. Elisabeth first joined Accion as Senior Vice President, leading Accion’s initial entry into Africa and India.

Kathleen Yaworsky, Manager, Global Advisory Solutions at Accion

How can you have the biggest impact on the most people? That’s been the driving question for Kathleen throughout her career, and it eventually led her to Accion. She sees financial services as the enabling infrastructure for other international development goals — from clean water to quality education to gender equality. At Accion, she offers advisory services for financial service providers worldwide. Her focus is on solutions that help deliver financial tools at scale, including digitization, big data applications for financial inclusion, customer engagement, and more. For other people who are driven to make a difference, she advises leaning into your strengths. There are many ways to achieve your goals, through different roles or different organizations. “The key is to find the right fit to really leverage your skill set,” says Kathleen. And don’t forget to pace yourself, she adds: “A career in international development is a marathon, not a sprint — it requires a sustained passion for social impact.”

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