A Bank In Zimbabwe Aims To Tap Into Female Entrepreneurship

Catering specifically to women – particularly in rural areas – is not only good for gender equality, it is good for business.

Zimbabwean woman in agriculture
Zimbabwean woman in agriculture
Rumbi Chakamba

HARARE – When Divine Ndhlukula first launched her security business in 1998, she found it difficult to get funding and a struggle to gain access to the markets that would allow her enterprise to thrive. "I was a woman entering the male-dominated security sector with no experience or expertise," she says. "So already, being taken seriously was a challenge. No one believes you can do it, and no one is willing to listen to you."

Twenty years later, Ndhlukula, 57, has proved her critics wrong. Harare-based SECURICO has grown into one of the biggest security companies in Zimbabwe. But Ndhlukula says things haven't changed much for women entrepreneurs in the two decades since she started her company. "The problems still exist. Role models such as myself are trying to change mind-sets, but the prejudice still exists," she says.

One problem is that few women in Zimbabwe own assets that can be used as collateral to secure a bank loan. "Banks want to have some form of security, and women do not have security. If you are in a marriage, the property belongs to your husband, even if you contributed to it," Ndhlukula says. "Secondly, as much as one might provide quality and excellent services, accessing the markets is still a problem for women. Most of the supply chain deals are done by men, and they make deals in the pub, they make them on the golf course."

That's the situation the government hopes to change with its first women's bank, which opened its doors for business on June 12, 2018. First proposed under the Mugabe government, the bank now sits within the newly created Ministry of Women and Youth Affairs under Zimbabwe's new president Emmerson Mnangagwa, who will formally launch the bank at the end of the month.

Through an initial government-sponsored cash injection of $10 million, the Zimbabwe Women's Microfinance Bank (ZWMB) will provide financial support to women who need money to run small or medium enterprises. In addition to funding projects, the bank will also offer business training.

ZWMB chairman Mathews Kunaka says the bank's overall goal is to help female business owners, particularly in rural areas, overcome the lack of collateral, information and skills that holds back many potential female entrepreneurs.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe's National Financial Inclusion Strategy, published in 2016, estimates that 57 percent of the country's business owners are women. However, another report from USAID has found that the majority of these women run informal microbusinesses connected to agriculture, and are largely excluded from formal financial services.

"The bank will try to address these challenges by offering funding combined with training in financial literacy and business management skills to the women in conjunction with other partners," he says.

One of the biggest obstacles the bank will remove is the insistence from traditional lenders that women provide assets as collateral for loans. In a country where 63 percent of women don't own a house and 64 percent don't own any land, most women have nothing to use as a guarantee on the money they want to borrow.

"Banks want to have some form of security, and women do not have security."

Kunaka says there are ways around this lack of security, including group lending between women. "Where there is no physical security we will make use of such methods."

This method has been successfully used by other women's banks, like the Tanzania Women's Bank (TWB), which was established in 2007.

Japhet Justine, TWB's managing director, says "big banks prefer title deeds and mortgages, but we understood that Tanzanian and Sub-Saharan African women are financially excluded, so we designed a product for them by creating a group of five women who run small businesses and putting them together. We used the social bond as collateral."

Justine says the bank also differentiates itself from traditional lenders by focusing on sustainability and developmental impacts instead of profitability.

The bank initially focused on lending to grow its client base, "which was not healthy," he says. "We had to spend more time with our clients and support them to streamline their businesses and stay focused so that they can repay the loan and also be able to invest more and create a proper cash flow."

He says the strategy has resulted in the steady growth of the bank and its clients' businesses.

Launching of the Zimbabwe Women's Microfinance Bank — Photo: Malvern Hunda/Facebook

"Some of our clients started with small businesses, but today they have established businesses. And some have graduated from being financially excluded to now being able to borrow as SMEs with the big banks."

Back in Zimbabwe, 37-year-old farmer Muchanetsa Jeza, who visited the ZWMB on its opening day, is hoping the new bank will be able to provide her with funding to enjoy the same kind of success.

"I have a small farm and would like a loan to buy seeds, fertilizer and equipment. Right now I am limited because I do not have enough money to buy the things I need. So I am hoping the bank will be able to help me with a loan to grow my business," she says.

SECURICO founder Ndhlukula is encouraged that the new bank will boost women's economic participation. But she says it will take more than money for women in Zimbabwe to fulfill their potential as business owners.

"At times you can take the horse to the water, but you cannot make it drink," she says. "What is key is for us as women to have self-belief and build that "can do" attitude. Once that is there, we will be able to make use of the opportunities given to us."

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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