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Women’s Finance Exchange

A community where ideas, innovation, empowerment and opportunity are shared

Welcome to the Women’s Finance Exchange! The WFX is a new ADB initiative to support financial institutions and their women borrowers through innovative solutions. Despite global efforts to expand access to finance there are still more than 1 billion underserved women, a significant gap with many potential customers not being reached with basic financial services. Women and women’s businesses face challenges in accessing suitable and affordable financial products. Financial institutions often miss out on opportunities to service this growing segment. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted women and reinforced the crucial importance of transitioning businesses to use more digital models to create more competitive and sustainable businesses. The WFX aims to address these challenges and works with partners to improve gender-responsive financing. ADB’s support, together with its partners, will help to ensure that nobody gets left behind.

Christine Engstrom
Director, Financial Institutions Division
Private Sector Operations Department

About the WFX

ADB is launching the WFX, an interactive online platform, through which ADB will communicate and engage with existing and potential financial institutions clients, partners, and networks to create a like-minded community to foster increased access to finance for women and women’s businesses.

With its partners, ADB will support financial institutions in identifying cutting-edge technology solutions, digital support and capacity building which ultimately benefit women’s businesses. Through research and knowledge products, financial institutions will be able to find examples and solutions to reach more women borrowers.

We are interested in your feedback so that this can be incorporated, if possible, during the final design of the WFX.

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Results and the SDGs

Our work and the work of our clients and partners is today more important than ever. A snapshot of our work so far.

51 financial institutions in 12 countries use our platform for support and have received funding

1 partner works with us on a common goal

22.1 million women and women’s businesses have received financing to grow their business

Clients and Their Incredible Achievements


ADB's Microfinance Risk Participation and Guarantee Program is a credit enhancement and a risk-allocation tool, designed to address a market gap and promote local currency lending to MFIs. ADB partners with micro-finance institutions, to increase their access to local currency funding and address the financial needs of millions of people, at the base of the pyramid across the region.

ADB’s Microfinance Program Supports Livelihoods, Empowers Women

In a world of sophisticated modern banking systems, it’s hard to imagine that approximately 1.7 billion adults are still unbanked, and almost 60% of them are women living mostly in developing countries and rural areas. To fill this gap, microfinance institutions (MFIs) provide financial services and reach out to low-income women.

Despite the demand and business prospects, many MFIs lack access to commercial funding they need to grow and meet their clients’ funding needs. Banks are often hesitant to provide credit to micro-borrowers due to perceived high risk factors such as the lack of collateral.

Through ADB’s Microfinance Risk Participation and Guarantee Program (MFP), MFIs have been able to widen their access to commercial funding sources. This has allowed women micro-borrowers to secure loans to set up or grow their businesses.

MFIs also save women from having to borrow from informal moneylenders that charge interest rates as high as 250% per annum. Women entrepreneurs, like Sarvesh Chauha, a seamstress and milk supplier from India, can now seek funding through an MFI.

As of December 2020, 7.7 million borrowers—with about 98% women—were able to access microloans through the support extended by the MFP. ADB has partnered with 37 MFIs, as of the said date, in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines to provide this support.

MFP’s risk-sharing arrangements with partner financial institutions for local currency loans to MFIs has increased the interest of private sector financial institutions in microfinance. Partner financial institutions are then able to expand their risk acceptance and capital commitments to this segment. ADB currently works with international banks, such as Standard Chartered Bank and Citibank NA, and local banks such as Kotak Mahindra Bank Limited, to implement MFP through risk participation and guarantee arrangements.

Access to microfinance at fair and respectful terms is broadening and safeguarding the interests of micro-borrowers, giving more women in Asia and the Pacific the opportunity to take control of their livelihoods.

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Photo courtesy of IndusInd Bank

Women Bank Borrowers in India Surge

The Indian economy had experienced rapid growth following the global financial crisis of 2008. However, access to credit for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, and lower-income groups remained severely constrained.

In 2014, India accounted for 21% of unbanked adults in the world. While this reflected an overall constraint in access to financial institution accounts, women were at a greater disadvantage. In many developing countries such as India, women entrepreneurs faced systemic barriers to formal financial products and services.

The Government of India encourages banks to provide further support for micro and small enterprises and makes efforts to bridge the gap of unmet demand for financial backing, particularly from disadvantaged individuals or groups.

IndusInd Bank Limited (IndusInd), a private sector bank in India, offers a full range of banking services and is the fifth-largest private sector bank in India. It received a $200 million loan from ADB in 2017 and is also a partner in ADB's Microfinance Risk Participation and Guarantee Program. It is one of the few banks in India that has consistently achieved priority sector lending targets. With ADB’s help, IndusInd has extensively expanded its footprint in underserved regions of India and focused on maximizing development impact by reaching a large number of women borrowers to whom ADB cannot lend directly.

IndusInd focused on providing financial services to at least 190,000 women borrowers with the funds received from ADB in 2017. To achieve that, IndusInd set up a mechanism by applying a business correspondent lending model and through a joint liability group methodology. Due to efforts from IndusInd and its subsidiary Bharat Financial Inclusion Ltd (BFIL), they have achieved more than the set targets in just a few years, much earlier than originally planned. By March 2020, the total amount of IndusInd’s loan portfolio reached nearly $3.3 billion, more than five times the target, and 100% of the total portfolio increase was attributable to women borrowers that reached more than nine million.

Two women, Mani Devi and Padmavati -- from Rajasthan and Karnataka, respectively -- are among the nine million active borrowers who benefited from the program.

Mani Devi and her husband faced many hardships and their monthly income of $133 was merely enough to meet their expenses. In 2009, Mani Devi took her first loan from BFIL and started selling pickles from home. Her earnings from the business and regular habit of saving money helped her buy a shop. Today she sells pickles worth $40 per day on an average.

Padmavati’s husband was a weaver and used to work on looms owned by others. His monthly earnings of $26 barely met their basic needs. After assessing their situation, Padmavati decided to start her own weaving business. She joined BFIL in 2009 and obtained a loan to buy power loom. Over the past 11 years she expanded her business by taking out additional loans. IndusInd supported their businesses, which in turn helped them augment their households’ income. They are now able to generate steady income to support their households and children’s education. IndusInd’s financial support made it possible for them to buy land for various economic activities and gave them hope that their businesses can be further expanded.

Additionally, IndusInd has conducted various financial and legal literacy trainings to all of its women borrowers. Topics included over-indebtedness risks, pricing, legal rights, and liabilities. The contents were also provided within a digital context, coherent with India’s national scheme on rural digital literacy.

Under the current COVID-19 pandemic, keeping connected with clients in remote areas has become challenging. To retain clients and continue providing services, IndusInd has created a mobile application called “Sampark” (which literally translates to “get in touch”). Thousands of IndusInd staff have participated and initiated 80 million calls. As a result, eight million clients were reached multiple times.

IndusInd uses the app to educate customers on geographically-specific COVID-19-related precautions, and to understand their daily activities and cashflow status, so as to further enhance IndusInd’s customer engagement despite the challenging times. This initiative set a solid foundation for Induslnd’s service for its current and future clients.

Despite COVID-19, Indusind is making every effort to achieve financial inclusion. Women financial capability in India is trending towards a foreseeable sustainable future.

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Annapurna Reaches Out to Women in Rural India

In India, access to credit is limited. As of 2017, only 16.5% of borrowers in rural areas have access to credit from financial institutions, with the figure even lower for women, according to World Bank’s Global Findex. Low-income women business owners are usually unfamiliar with paperwork and procedures and often lack collateral and financial documents. This has limited their ability to borrow and obtain credit.

In 2019, ADB provided nearly $30 million in equity investment and debt financing to Annapurna Finance Private Limited, one of India’s largest microfinance institutions (MFIs), aimed at offering equal opportunities. Low-income women in rural areas are a specific target, through universal access and financial deepening, which will help promote financial inclusion, as well as livelihood and economic development.

“Women in India, particularly in rural areas, still do not have adequate access to credit. This has limited their ability to sustain their businesses and contribute to their economic development,” said ADB Investment Specialist for Private Sector Operations Apurva Kumar. “ADB’s financing to Annapurna has supported it to extend its footprint in lagging states and remote areas, so as to help enhance women and micro and small enterprises’ financial ability.”

Annapurna’s Director Dibyajyoti Pattnaik noted that: "Annapurna Finance from its inception has been working with an aim of mainstreaming women and reducing gender disparities in society. Annapurna is making efforts to provide micro credit solutions to rural Indian women for their financial sustainability.”

In the last two years since ADB’s equity investment from April 2019 to March 2021, Annapurna has disbursed over $870 million of loans to women customers. During the same period, the number of customers serviced by Annapurna, who are primarily women, increased by more than 350,000 to nearly 1.9 million. Additionally, Annapurna’s solid credit methodology also has a strong social focus, including the provision of training on financial literacy and women’s empowerment.

With Annapurna’s outreach, more women living in the rural areas have started or expanded their small businesses and the number of positively affected households have increased noticeably.

Kallupuri Mangama, a customer of Gunupur branch of Annapurna Finance, has a personal story which represents the journey of many rural women in India who have taken a step towards income generation. From a family of four members, including her parents and one sister, Mangama initially had no idea of the hardships that are often encountered in life. She lost her father when she was 25, which exposed her family not only to mental trauma but also to financial uncertainty, as her father was the family’s only income earner. This tragedy compelled Mangama to take control of the situation by taking up small stitching assignments from her neighborhood.

Initially Mangama only had basic stitching skills, so she attended a few classes locally to improve her abilities and to satisfy her customers. She then came to Annapurna for a loan to buy a tailoring machine. In the last three years, through diligent work, she has turned her new livelihood into a viable one for her family. So far she has taken two loans from Annapurna and invested the funds solely in her business. Her business experienced a boom as her customer demand increased.

At present, depending on the order volume, Mangama manages to earn a steady income of 10,000-12,000 Indian rupees a month. This amount is enough to meet her household expenses and the cost of educating her younger sister. She also constructed a house for her family.

In addition to assisting rural women in enhancing their financial capability, Annapurna also focuses on the women in their team.

“We pledge to make Annapurna a gender proactive organization in a true sense through regular development and review of policies, introduction of new schemes to address the gender needs of our customers and employees both,” said Mr. Pattnaik.”

There are now 81 women in senior or middle management at Annapurna as of March 2020, compared to 18 in 2018. Annapurna has showcased its gender inclusive workplace by hiring qualified women staff from training institutes through participation in campus interviews and job fairs. As a result, the retention rate of women employees has increased from just 14% in 2008 to 72% in 2020.

Annapurna is expected to further expand its portfolio and lending presence into unserved and underserved geographical regions of India—ensuring more women benefit from its strong collaboration with ADB.

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Pouring concrete plans into women’s homes in India

ADB’s $60 million loan to Aavas India is set to boost women’s access to housing in India, particularly those in low-income group households and in lagging states.

Half the joy of having one’s own house, according to Raju Ram Beda’s young daughter, is about being able to finally invite friends over. Raju, a client of Aavas, used to live in a mud house with swarms of mosquitoes and asthma-inducing dust. Now, however, with a home loan from the housing finance company, his wife said, “After having our own house, our lifestyle has improved for all of us and we are living better lives.”

“A safe house is a very good social upliftment,” said Aavas CFO Ghanshyam Rawat in a recent conversation. “Families uplift their social status and start to feel good when they have a good house.”

Aside from being a sign of social status, home ownership means a lot to lower income borrowers in the country, especially women. Here we highlight the business case for helping women in rural areas own homes.

India has a chronic shortage of housing, particularly for women and rural areas, and there is an undersupply of funding for this segment

CFO Rawat said: “Not many are interested to fund the informal segment and remote areas. There a huge gap in available funding for those who may not have strong banking habits.”

Lower-income households are hardly able to obtain mortgages because of the lack of documents that prove their income sources, high credit evaluation costs, and perceived higher credit risk.

Aavas, currently operating in 11 states, is one of the largest housing finance companies in the affordable housing segment in India, with a market share of around 5%.

“India’s major population is in the rural areas. We used the ‘connect-approach’ - including through non-traditional partners such as contractors and suppliers - and make our rural borrowers feel that we will assess you; that you too can get a loan.”

In March 2020, ADB signed an agreement to lend up to $60 million in Indian rupee equivalent to Aavas to improve access to housing finance for lower income borrowers in the country, particularly women.

Susan Olsen, Senior Investment Specialist at ADB, said “the affordable housing segment is a key sector for ADB in India in the near and medium term. India is experiencing a severe housing shortage estimated to be 18.7 million units in urban areas and 43.7 million units in rural areas. More than 90% of this deficit is estimated to be in the affordable housing, which makes it the most important segment for us to support.”

With broad experience in engaging with women borrowers, Aavas will use the proceeds to provide housing finance to women either as primary borrowers or co-borrowers in economically weaker sections of society, low- and middle-income groups.

Cultural barriers limit the uptake of loans by women

In India, men dominate land and home ownership. Hence, women in the low-income group and in rural regions cannot obtain mortgage loans. A survey of land ownership carried out by ADB in India indicated that women owned only 3.6% of plots, while men represented the vast majority, owning 85.9% (the remaining 10.5% were untitled).

CFO Rawat observed that when men apply for loans in banks or financial institutions, women usually wait outside while the husband is talking.

“They sit outside the room. That is when we thought, we should bring them in. We should communicate with them also. Women know these things too,” said Rawat.

Without safeguards for women, such cultural barriers can have ill effects. Lack of women property ownership directly contributes to the low social status of women, vulnerability to poverty, lesser bargaining power within households, and domestic violence. In the long run, this could mean missed economic opportunities.

Christine Engstrom, Director of Private Sector Financial Institutions at ADB, said: “If we are to reduce poverty rates, helping women and girls must be a priority. ADB is committed to accelerating gender equality in Asia and the Pacific because advancing women’s equality could add $12 trillion to the global economy by 2025.”

Delinquencies are much lesser among women borrowers

Women’s delinquencies in repayments are much lower than men, said Rawat. Women borrowers’ delinquency for home loans is 15 basis points better than male counterparts across India, according to recent reports.

Asked who their typical women borrowers are, the Aavas CFO stated that they are generally young women and women homemakers who start their entrepreneurial dreams operating food shops and beauty parlors.

“Having a lower income, female family members are the ones who start out in a ‘savings mode’. They share responsibility for EMI (equated monthly installment) and plan in advance to pay their EMI on time,” he said.

With ADB’s long term financing to Aavas, at least 75% of the debt proceeds will be lent to borrowers in select states in India where per capita incomes are lower than average and, “funding can go to betterment of families and women,” said Rawat.

Together with the private sector, ADB will continue to ensure that development finance reaches women even in the more remote corners of the country, through its initiatives such as the Women’s Finance Exchange, so that more women can improve their living conditions and girls invite their friends over.

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Our Support

New Technologies

New Technologies

ADB will be supporting financial institutions in the identification and selection of cutting-edge technologies to address gender-responsive financing challenges. Hackathons or sandbox programs, feasibility studies, and online knowledge sharing will be utilized.

Capacity Building

Capacity Building

ADB will also support financial institutions and at a later phase women businesses, through a range of instruments, such as online training, digital toolkits, webinars and links to other resources and initiatives.


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Microfinance Risk Participation and Guarantee Program

For individuals, families, entrepreneurs and small businesses, access to finance is often cited as a primary obstacle in their path of self-employment and economic development. For the most part, this is the target market of microfinance institutions (MFIs). Across Asia and the Pacific, many MFIs struggle to obtain the commercial funding they need to grow and to meet the demands of their micro-borrowing clients, a vast majority of which are women.

Trade and Supply Chain Finance Program (TSCFP)

The trade finance (TF) business of the Trade & Supply Chain Finance Program (TSCFP) of the Asian Development Bank fills market gaps for trade finance by providing guarantees and loans to banks. TF continues to grow, supporting billions of dollars of trade throughout the region, which in turn helps create sustainable jobs and economic growth in Asia’s developing countries.

Gender and Development

Gender equality and women's empowerment are essential for meeting Asia and the Pacific's aspirations of inclusive and sustainable development. ADB recognizes that to reduce poverty rates, helping women and girls must be a priority in its work.


We-Fi is a collaborative partnership among 14 governments, eight multilateral development banks (MDBs), and other public and private sector stakeholders, hosted by the World Bank Group.

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Contact us

Contact Persons

Sabine Spohn
Principal Investment Specialist

Edmond Yee
Associate Project Analyst

Women's Finance Exchange Team Official Email [email protected]

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