IFC Village Phone Program Empowers Women in Africa

Tuesday 8th March 2011


IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, has announced that its Village Phone program has helped provide credit to nearly 6,000 women and trained close to 10,000 to set up phone service businesses in Madagascar, Malawi, and Nigeria, increasing the economic participation of women in some of Africa’s most rural communities.

On the centennial of International Women’s Day, Cherie Blair, Founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, participated as special guest speaker at a ceremony at IFC’s headquarters, where the program received the Annual IFC CEO Gender Award for outstanding achievement in promoting women in business. The ceremony was attended by representatives from governments, women’s organizations, and the media.

“IFC is doing a remarkable job by increasing access to finance for women entrepreneurs, reducing gender-based barriers in the investment climate, and improving sustainability in the private sector,” said Blair.

IFC’s Village Phone Program links large telecom operators with African entrepreneurs who sell airtime on the companies’ networks to people in their local communities. The relationship brings rural villagers access to telephone services, local entrepreneurs the means to build an income-generating business, and participating telecoms companies a way to expand their reach. IFC launched the program in Nigeria in 2007, and expanded it to Madagascar and Malawi the following year.
“The IFC CEO Gender Award was created four years ago to underscore the priority IFC places on creating opportunities for women in its pursuit of sustainable development. Village Phone’s success reaching women entrepreneurs illustrates the central role that women play in promoting
sustainable economic growth,” said Lars Thunell, IFC Executive Vice President and CEO.

Extending benefits of mobile phone ownership to more women can advance a host of social and economic goals, according to a report by the Cherie Blair Foundation and the GSMA, which represents the interests of the worldwide mobile communications industry. Women & Mobile: A Global Opportunity, found that bringing mobile-phone penetration among women on par with penetration among men could enable mobile operators globally to collectively earn $13 billion additional revenue a year.

IFC recognizes that sustainable economic growth is not possible without full participation of women. Since 2006, IFC has partnered with 14 financial institutions to increase access to finance for women
entrepreneurs. It has helped increase capital for over 2,000 women entrepreneurs, trained over 2,500 women in business skills, and facilitated over 6,000 women to open new accounts with financial institutions. IFC has also helped enact reforms to support women’s participation in the private sector in more than a dozen countries.