News

Meet Rebecca Ruf

Monday 13th May 2013

GBA Newsletter

RebeccaRuffThe newest member of the secretariat team joins the Alliance after six years with Women’s World Banking, the world’s largest network of woman-focused microfinance institutions (and itself an Alliance affiliate). Prior to joining WWB, Rebecca worked as an equity analyst in the private sector and as a consultant to the Micro & Small Enterprise Division of the Inter-American Development Bank (whose Multilateral Investment Fund has become an Alliance sponsor; see related story). A native of Ecuador, Rebecca received her undergraduate degree from Cornell University and a master’s from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. She offers these thoughts about the breakthrough role she feels the Alliance is poised to take on and her goals for supporting the Alliance’s regional expansion in Latin America.

I believe small and medium enterprise finance is the next frontier for financial services. One of the best descriptions I have heard about the difference between microfinance and small and medium enterprise finance is that micro is about providing access and SME is about creating opportunity. And I think the Latin America/Caribbean region represents one of the markets where this distinction becomes really visible. The LAC microfinance sector is one of the most developed and vibrant in the world, and it has made great progress towards one of its prime directives: moving people out of poverty. Of course microfinance has not accomplished this all by itself. The entire LAC region has undergone enormous economic advances just in the past 10 years, driven by increased investor confidence which in turn resulted from political stability and macroeconomic reform.

But to sustain that momentum, the SME sector needs to be more adequately capitalized, and here is where SME finance lags behind micro. Players including the IDB are taking concrete steps to address this “missing middle” and many banks seeing the market opportunity are poised to learn how best to seize it. The Alliance stands right at the intersection of two important trends: an increased awareness about SME finance and an increased recognition of the indispensability of women as economic actors. These are universal trends, but they may be even truer in Latin America than in other regions.

So in my new position I will be supporting our new LAC members to better understand how to serve the women-owned SME market by helping them leverage the collective wisdom of Alliance members outside the region. And of course I will be bringing the considerable wisdom of the LAC region to members outside the region, too. I will also be working to develop a set of performance metrics so that all the banks in the region have some common basis for benchmarking their women’s market performance and evaluating changes over time.

It is particularly satisfying for me to be joining the Alliance now, at this time of heightened recognition of the importance of SMEs and of women as powerful economic actors. When I was a child, my parents were rare exceptions in a couple of important ways. In a country, Ecuador, where the small and medium enterprise sector was almost nonexistent in the 1970s, they started a successful small chain of shops selling children’s clothes and toys. And in another rarity, my mother effectively ran the business. It was very unusual for a woman to work outside the home, but my mother was my father’s equal at business – in all but name. Looking back on it, it’s remarkable that it never seemed to cross anyone’s mind that my mother should have the title – chief executive officer – of the job she was actually doing. It’s an honor to be joining the Alliance that has such a commitment to recognizing and supporting women’s economic contributions, to growing the job- and wealth-creating engine that is the small and medium enterprise sector, and to expansion in the Latin America region I still call home. ¬°Adelante!