WHEN the Zimbabwe Women’s Microfinance Bank (ZWMB) was launched on June 25, 2018, its core mandate was to ensure that women were given financial support to pursue sustainable projects.
The bank, which is the only women’s bank in Southern Africa, carried the hopes of many who had struggled to get support from local financial institutions, whose conditions were considered stringent.
On the launch date, President Mnangagwa directed the bank to provide affordable finance and support to women businesses.
About a year and a half after the launch, Covid-19 came and disrupted the world order.
Businesses were in need of more support than before and the ZWMB was expected to step up to save women-owned businesses.
So far, the bank has not disappointed.
In the first six months of 2021, it has disbursed at least $60 million to 7 000 beneficiaries.
ZWMB chief executive officer Mrs Mandas Marikanda told The Sunday Mail that the pandemic has motivated the financial institution to support existing businesses and create jobs.
“Despite Covid-19 challenges and restrictions, from January to June this year, Women’s Bank disbursed more than $60 million to 7 000 clients, sustaining more than 9 000 existing jobs whilst creating more than 7 500 new jobs through the funded projects,” said Mrs Marikanda.
The women who benefited were drawn from diverse backgrounds.
“The 7 000 are the women entrepreneurs and farmers who are making a living under micro enterprises.”
The bank has since increased the value of loan disbursements, whose amounts vary in relation to the nature of the project.
During times of uncertainty last year, the bank contemplated capping loans in United States dollars to prevent loss in value, but they have since abandoned the idea as the macroeconomic environment has become stable.
One of the beneficiaries of the loan facility, Mrs Olivia Mutikani, who is into manufacturing detergents, said the loan she received from the bank boosted her business.
“The loans we are receiving from the bank are very helpful. Initially when I started my business, I was struggling to purchase raw materials in bulk for my detergent-making project. With the loans I have been getting from the Women’s Bank, I now even supply some Government departments. Recently I got contracts to supply to a Government ministry as well as a Government hospital. With another loan, I even managed to get a business place in Chitungwiza. The good thing about the bank is you can always apply for a new loan when you create a good reputation of paying back,” she said.
Another beneficiary, Mrs Beatrice Mabhandi, who operates a welding company, said her business has grown significantly owing to support from the bank.
“I have been allocated funds from this loan facility more than once. I received my first loan when I was in the automobile business. I was able to expand and ventured into welding. I opened a welding company in Southerton. These loans are really helping us, because we do not have any other vocations than being small- to medium-scale enterprises.”
Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, Ms Goodluck Kwaramba, said ZWMB is playing a crucial role in empowering women.
“I think it is important for women to receive financial support so that they are able to venture into different projects. There has been a rise in gender-based violence during this period of Covid-19 because most of them have been home,” she said.
“If women are supported financially, gender-based violence can also be curtailed, because they will be able to provide for their families from their projects. I am happy that women have also benefited from the Women’s Bank in different projects which are contributing to the growth of the country’s economy.”
Women make up between 52 percent and 55 percent of the country’s population, and Government, through the National Development Strategy, has laid out elaborate strategies to ensure they are not left behind.
Women in agriculture, however, said the bank and peer institutions should have tailor-made solutions for their unique sector.
Speaking to The Sunday Mail, the African Women in Animal Resource Farming and Agribusiness (AWARFA) Network Zimbabwe chairperson, Ms Jacqueline Gowe, said: “The loans available from most banks at the moment require that people start paying instalments immediately after receiving them. In agribusiness, it takes maybe six months for one to have returns; that structure automatically eliminates women in agriculture from most funding opportunities.”