All around the world, financial services like bank accounts, insurance, and credit products, can enable people to open their own businesses, educate their children, and provide for their families. But these basic financial tools aren’t within reach for everyone, including 980 million women who don’t have a bank account or even the ability to send and receive money on their phones. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities that women face and exposed how the gender gap in financial inclusion continues to hold women back.
This year, the UN Women theme for International Women’s Day is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” We’re highlighting women leaders who are working to open opportunity for women and men through inclusive finance, and to rebuild a more equitable world for all.
Meet some of the women we’re inspired by:
Maria Otero, Former Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, and Former President and CEO of Accion
“I believe that all women are leaders and that all women can make an impact. And that impact operates not just at their family level, but at their community level, and in some cases, as their national level and internationally.” Maria Otero is adamant in her belief that all women can make a difference, and her own career has been a testament to what a determined and passionate woman can accomplish. Born in La Paz, Bolivia, Maria started her career working in women’s health. As she traveled around the world, she saw how women were held back by a lack of economic empowerment, and she pivoted towards a career in financial inclusion. “I learned a great deal about the women’s movement, about how it is that women were addressed throughout the world, the inequities that existed overall, the inability for women to be treated as citizens like men.”
When she later became President and CEO of Accion, she shifted the focus from microcredit to microfinance to financial inclusion and oversaw the creation of the Center for Financial Inclusion. During her time at Accion, Maria witnessed the remarkable difference that financial services can make in the lives of women: “Financial tools have been the gate through which women have been able to work, to expand their own opportunities, and to become more self-sufficient. There’s just absolutely no question that financial inclusion is one way to truly integrate women into society. It is also one way to help [women] educate their children so that they can grow into a different generation – especially their daughters. You can see this wherever you go.”
Maria believes that women have all around the world tenacity and determination to succeed. “I learned so much about being a confident and fearless woman from my mother who at 94 is still going strong,” she says. With the right tools, women open businesses, provide for their families, and build better futures. “It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Brooklyn, New York, or Bangkok, Thailand, across the world you see that being able to believe in women and trust in women and give them opportunity allows them to demonstrate that they can pay all their loans back, they can manage their resources, and they can also take on other financial products.”
She brought her passion for social change and her global perspective into her work at the US State Department as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. In this role and her many other leadership positions, she’s fought to build an equitable world that creates opportunities for all people, including women.
Maria encourages younger generations to understand the work that has come before them as they continue striving towards gender equality. As digital tools and social media continue to change how we influence thinking, “it is really important to understand that even though we have different means of communicating [across different generations], we are building on the shoulders of much that came before us.”