For Immediate Release
10 September, 2007
Women’s World Banking Welcomes New Network Member from Tunisia—Enda Inter-Arabe is a leader in supporting women’s emancipation through economic participation
New York, NY—The power of microfinance to provide better economic opportunities for low-income entrepreneurs is emerging in the Arab world. Tunisia is the third Arab country, after Jordan and Morocco, to be represented in the WWB network. In all, WWB’s three Arab network members serve more than 480,000 low-income clients in the region, most of them women. “Money is important for people, but for centuries Muslim women didn’t have access to money and so it was easy to exploit them,” says Essma Ben Hamida, Co-Director of Enda Inter-Arabe, the first and largest microfinance institution in Tunisia and Women’s World Banking’s newest network member organization.
“When women are less poor, when they have access to money, they can improve their living conditions—their housing, the education of their children—and they are less vulnerable.” “WWB is excited to welcome Enda Inter-Arabe as our first new network member ? years,” says WWB President Mary Ellen Iskenderian. “This is a major step in our planned expansion of microfinance in the Middle East.” Enda A-I was created in 1990 as a branch of Enda Third World, the Environment and Development Action agency based in Dakar, Senegal, with affiliates in 21 countries. Since its founding, Enda I-A has demonstrated that when women have access to business capital and to training, their self-confidence and horizons expand; the quality of life of their families improves and they feel they have a stake in preserving the stability of their communities.
One sign of economic growth among Enda’s 54,000 clients—85% percent of whom are women—is that an increasing number of them are requesting larger, individual loans rather than the smaller group loans that are typically given to first-time borrowers. In addition to business credit, housing loans and education loans for children, Enda’s Business Development Services provide clients with a range of training activities to improve their artisanal skills and access to markets as well as their business planning and accounting procedures. According to Ms. Hamida, all of this adds up to emancipation and greater participation for women. “When women have access to capital, to training and knowledge, it opens their eyes.” Ms. Hamida explains.
“Through microfinance, we have direct contact with the people. We can speak with them, we can enlighten them, we can raise their consciousness.” Just as openness to new ideas is empowering Enda I-A’s women clients, Ms. Hamida is convinced that contact with other microfinance institutions around the world, through membership in the WWB network, will empower Enda I-A. “Microfinance is relatively new in the Arab world,” she says. “It’s only been around for about 15 years and there’s not a lot of well-developed experience that we can learn from. But microfinance institutions in Latin America and Asia have much longer experience. We wanted to join the WWB network because we wanted to share with them and learn from them.”
Ms. Hamida attended WWB’s second Women’s Leadership Training workshop, held in New York in July. “This workshop was very good,” she says. “Here in Tunisia we don’t talk about women being leaders, but there are lots of women who need a little boost to encourage them to be leaders. I think it would be good to organize a similar women’s leadership training course here.” WWB President Mary Ellen Iskenderian agrees. “WWB will be delighted to support the expansion of our Women’s Leadership workshops on such fertile ground,” she says. Enda I-A is also interested in taking the important step of formalization, in order to become a legally registered microfinance institution able to offer savings to clients as well as credit.
Through WWB’s network peer exchange program, Enda I-A will be learning how other WWB network institutions – in countries as diverse as Russia, Mongolia and Benin – have made the transition to become formalized banking entities and have introduced savings products to their clients. “I’m already seeing interesting results from this collaboration,” says Ms. Hamida. “Our WWB Relationship Manager Anna Gincherman will visit us in September to help us work on housing loans. Our financial director will participate in a WWB forum on risk management in October. We also hope to take some board members and someone from the Tunisian Finance Ministry and from the Central Bank to visit WWB members in Colombia or Peru, to meet representatives of their Finance Ministries. This will help convince Tunisian officials of the importance of microfinance.” Membership in the WWB network is one component of Enda I-A’s big plans for the future.
By 2010, they expect to reach 135,000 clients with a portfolio of $42 million and 100 branches. According to Ms. Hamida these goals are realistic due to Tunisia’s forward-looking business environment. “Our Imams are quite modern,” she says. When, for example, some fundamentalists objected to microfinance on the grounds that charging interest was a sin, the Imams of Tunisia disagreed. “They explained that it’s not forbidden by Islam,” says Ms. Hamida. “It’s commerce. In fact, they supported us. Our Imams are quite open. This is one reason why Tunisia is quite modern.”