Today, the BBVA Microfinance Foundation celebrated the event ‘Unstoppable women: challenges and achievements to reinvent in times of crisis’, to acknowledge the work of Latin American entrepreneurs, most of whom have reinvented their activities to respond to the economic impact of the health crisis, and to highlight the role that technology has in achieving this. The event, chaired by H.M. the Queen, also welcomed the participation of BBVA Group executive chairman, Carlos Torres Vila, as well as experts from development organizations such as SEGIB, (Iberoamerican General Secretary), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), UN Women and representatives from technological companies such as Google. Furthermore, the country’s Vice President and Minister for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, Teresa Ribera, was also in attendance.
In this event, transmitted through streaming, Queen Letizia reiterated her commitment to women, “drivers of change in their lives, and therefore, in their families and communities”, she also emphasized that “We have to move forward, unstoppable like them, each one of us working from where we stand, so as not to lose direction.” BBVA’s president also referred to this resilience, recognizing the important role that BBVAMF portrays in the middle of this crisis: “The work of BBVA Microfinance Foundation currently makes more sense, more than ever, supporting the most vulnerable segments of the Latin American population.” Moreover, he restated the need to think about long-term strategies to advance in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the economy’s digitization.
In this light, UNDP administrator, Achim Steiner, stressed the compelling need to work with the public and private sector to design effective solutions that bridge economic and social gaps that predictably, far from being carried out, are forecasted to be exacerbated due to the pandemic. In fact, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) estimates that in the region, the number of people in poverty will increase to 45.5 million this year, because of the pandemic, and by 2021, forecasts also show an important relapse in poverty reduction.
“The COVID-19 has not yet changed the future, so far, these numbers are projections, but it has revealed the deep flaws in our present”, Steiner said. To try and stop this impact, UNDP’s chief has mentioned digitization as a key tool, but he warned that women face the risk of falling behind, given that in middle and low income countries, more than 400 million of them don’t have internet access.
For her part, Iberoamerican General Secretary, Rebeca Grynspan said that “this is not the first nor the last challenge that we face as women, although perhaps, it is one of the biggest.” She also guaranteed that “after years of experience and struggle, we know that hope is not built only with optimism, but basically with activism. With conviction, integrity and an indefatigable effort.” Also, she assured that strengthening women entrepreneurs is a crucial strategy for women’s empowerment and “needs innovative financing mechanisms and policy measures that recognize, reduce and redistribute care work.”
All of the panelists agreed on the importance of new digital tools. Rebeca Minguela, top Spanish businesswoman and founder and CEO of Clarity AI, referred to technology as “an ally in measuring and generating social impact, something that has become even more fundamental in the face of the challenges all of us are dealing with: COVID-19, climate change, inequalities…”. In this sense, Google country manager for Spain and Portugal, Fuencisla Clemares, guaranteed that digital skills have turned into a necessary asset for the survival of many businesses, and because of this, “it’s important to democratize internet access and train people living in vulnerable conditions so that they have the same digital opportunities as the rest.”
Indeed, this is one of the strategic priorities of the BBVA Microfinance Foundation: technological innovation so that digitization becomes part of the reality and progress of the more than 2.3 million low-income entrepreneurs served in Latin America, the majority of them, women. “Despite the strict measures, we were able to maintain our closeness with the entrepreneurs, in large part, thanks to the digital transformation process that we have already initiated as a priority years ago, and which has shown all its potential and effectivity in the most critical moments during the lockdown, in the five regional countries where we are present”, shared BBVAMF CEO, Javier M. Flores.
To better describe this closeness with the client, Jully Achiri, microfinance officer from the Foundation’s Peruvian institution, stated that, “Under normal circumstances, our day to day consists of 70% field work: we visit entrepreneurs in their businesses, in their houses… This relationship based on trust, built between us, is an important tool that during these past months, have become vital to accompany them in the best possible way, despite the distance and thanks to the digital apps with which we have been working for some time now.”
On the subject of distance, a woman entrepreneur served by BBVAMF in Colombia, talked about overcoming them during the panel. Ceneris Espitia was able to bring the internet into her community, in a rural area stifled by the armed conflict, as well as for the pandemic. Thanks to her, the village school now has an online connection and she is considered a point of access for her neighbors. She says,”When they installed the network, I couldn’t believe it, finally, we’re already connected to the world, I didn’t know that it was something within our reach.” Moreover, she shares that her business changed her life, and that of her children, “I feel important in the community.”
Ceneris is part of the project Empropaz (Productive Entrepreneurship for Peace), implemented by Bancamía, the Colombian insitution of the Foundation, USAID and local NGOs. USAID assistant director, Martha L. Aponte, also spoke during the event to talk about this initiative. She shared that, “Side by side with Bancamía, with whom we have been working for more than ten years, we are bringing financial education and seed capital to the most vulnerable areas of the country, especially to women who are 70% of the beneficiaries of Empropaz”.
This event, celebrated on-site and on-line, to comply with the safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, was a clear proof of the commitment of each attendee to build a more digital future for all, without leaving any woman behind.