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

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

Sharlene Brown, Executive Director, Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion

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.

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:

Monica Brand Engel, Partner, Quona Capital

Monica Brand of Quona Capital is one of the women working in financial inclusion for Accion and our partners“I’m half-Peruvian, and my multi-ethnic, multi-denominational upbringing instilled in me a deep appreciation of the threads in our society that sometimes get overlooked,” says Monica Brand. She’s worked in financial inclusion for her entire career because she views it as “a powerful way to give agency to those who have been marginalized or underserved and provide tools for them to meaningfully improve their lives.” She’s also a pragmatist who believes deeply in the power of markets to generate change. These beliefs have been a driving force for her throughout her career. Before co-founding Quona Capital, Monica was the founder and managing director of Accion’s Frontier Investments Group, supporting inclusive financial companies as they grow and become more established. For Monica, being a strong leader has been about weaving together seemingly disparate threads — like her work in inclusion. Early in her career, she found that leadership traits that are often characterized as “masculine” — being assertive, outspoken, confident, logical — made her successful. But as she’s advanced professionally, she sees that her traits that may be labeled as “feminine” — empathy, patience, vulnerability, intuition — are most critical to her success as a leader. For women who want to lead the charge and make an impact, she offers this advice: “Look for mentors whose leadership style you respect, and spend time introspectively finding your own voice and special super power(s).”

Sharlene Brown, Executive Director, Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion

Sharlene Brown of the Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion is one of the women working in financial inclusion for Accion and our partnersSharlene Brown’s journey, and that of her mother, sisters, and grandmother, remind her every day what women and their families can achieve when a woman gains access to work, health care, education, and other opportunities. Born in Jamaica and raised in New York, Sharlene knows women “back home” who continue to struggle to find regular employment, pay school fees, and have access to running water. “My commitment to financial inclusion is because of my very personal knowledge of these realities — be it in Jamaica or elsewhere,” Sharlene says. She believes that other women who want to take the lead and make a difference can find strength in numbers: “Learn to network early in your career, build quality relationships, and find a good mentor.”

Katharine Budd, Co-Founder, NOW Money

Katharine Budd of NOW Money is one of the women working in financial inclusion for Accion and our partnersKatharine Budd is a problem solver. When she was working in consumer finance in the Gulf, she saw how few people were able to access formal financial services in an area where 7 in 10 residents earn less than $1,000 a month. However, since 98 percent of people carry smartphones, Katharine also saw a solution. She co-founded NOW Money in hopes that the digital platform would give people the opportunity to manage their money. Customers can operate their account from a smartphone to remit money overseas, as well as buy phone credit and pay bills. One key factor in NOW Money’s success is its diverse team. “The NOW Money team is small, but spans six nationalities and seven languages,” says Katharine. Without a single dominant group, there’s less likelihood of particular cultural biases or traits establishing themselves in the company, she says, and instead, employees can focus on building the company’s own personality.

Amee Parbhoo, Director of Investments, Accion Venture Lab

Amee Parbhoo of Accion Venture Lab is one of the women working in financial inclusion for Accion and our partnersTech is transforming our world, and Amee Parbhoo works to harness that power for good. “I have worked with fintech for inclusion startups in India, Kenya, and the US and discovered that the only way we could truly scale financial inclusion is by leveraging technology,” she says. Amee’s always had an interest in companies that can help the world’s poor and turn a profit, which is why she decided to work with early-stage financial inclusion companies. She knew these companies could provide underserved communities with the financial tools and stability that would let people take control of their own lives and support themselves, their families, and their businesses. When faced with the question of how companies can tackle financial exclusion at scale, Amee saw that fintech could provide an answer. Today, Amee channels her passion for fintech and social innovation into her role supporting Accion Venture Lab’s investments globally, leading deal activity and governance in Africa, and managing new projects, including the Company Builder initiative. In this position, she gets to know the fintech startup landscape all around the world — knowledge she can use to predict the coming trends in fintech for inclusion. One unfortunate trend she’s noticed? “There are far too few women in fintech for inclusion, and we need more entrepreneurs who understand the needs of customers and who are looking to build the next generation of innovations.” But she’s working to help close this gender gap and always seeking out woman-led companies. To the female entrepreneurs who dream of making an impact, she offers this simple advice: “Take the leap and start something!”

Read part one and part two to learn about more inspiring women working in financial inclusion who are breaking barriers and building a more inclusive financial system.

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