The BBVA Microfinance Foundation carries the voice of its female entrepreneurs to the United Nations

The BBVA Microfinance Foundation (BBVAMF), together with the diplomatic delegates from Spain, Colombia and UN Women, has gathered key international development players at the UN Headquarters in New York, to address the Sustainable Development Goals and Financial Inclusion, where a special focus has been set on Women and Innovation. Jessica Hernández, a Colombian female entrepreneur of the Foundation, has become the face and the voice of the million vulnerable women served by the BBVAMF in Latin America – enterprising women who are good examples of how, when given a chance, they can overcome adversities even when relying only on limited resources.

“I am a woman, I am an entrepreneur and I’m not afraid to start a new business and make it successful”, she has said during a conversation with María Emma Mejía, Colombian Ambassador to the United Nations. At 28 years old, Jessica speaks with determination, confident that she is providing for her four children and managing with two small businesses in Soacha, a district on the outskirts of Bogota and prioritized by the Government in the peace process.

Without any word of complaint, she has spent years walking through her neighborhood while carrying a washing machine so she could rent it by the hour to local residents. She asserts that she lacks nothing but time; to take care of her kids and boost her 8-month old project consisting of a small sewing workshop for kids’ clothes. Beyond that, she feels lucky: finally her house has new roofing and refrigerator. “Nobody else took a chance on a penniless mother heading a household”, she claims, referring to the support she received from Bancamía, the Colombian MFI of the BBVA Microfinance Foundation.

“Nobody else took a chance on a penniless mother heading a household”

“We cater to the needs of low-income entrepreneurs, the majority of them women, just like Jessica, who with their work and effort, are able to improve their lives and contribute to their communities”, Javier M. Flores, CEO of the Foundation has declared during his intervention. “We support these entrepreneurs, almost two million of them, by providing a wide range of financial services over time to foster their sustainable development, which is our mission”, he has assured.

The BBVA Microfinance Foundation, aligned with the SDG

The Foundation’s work is aligned with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the UN’s universal roadmap so that the year 2030 could see a better world. According to Achim Steiner, UNDP’s highest representative, “financial inclusion is central to achieve the 2030 Agenda and the SDG; it constitutes the veins the Agenda for Sustainable Development runs on”. He has also addressed the role played by technology in development, stating that it “makes the financial system more accessible to people”. “It is changing the way development happens”, he has concluded.

Achim Steiner, UNDP’s highest representative, during his presentation

During her presentation, Mary Snapp, Vice President of Microsoft Philanthropies, shared that, “in this age of innovation, we must ensure that no one is left behind. There is enormous potential for women entrepreneurs to participate in the digital economy”.

Irene Arias, CEO of the IDB Group’s Multilateral Investment Fund, has highlighted that gender equality is today “a cross-cutting issue for governments, companies, and civil society.” And she has added that that today, more than ever, “technology and the digital transformation will be the single most important factor in the expansion of financial opportunities for women, many of whom do not share in the benefits generated by today’s financial markets.”

According to the IDB, in Latin America, small and medium enterprises are the backbone of the region’s economy. They represent more than 90% of all businesses, generating over half of the total employment.

With regards to entrepreneurship, it is the region with the highest gender parity: for every 10 male entrepreneurs, there are 8 enterprising women. In Europe, this proportion goes down to five women for every ten men, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM).

According to UN Women, in countries such as Peru or Panama where the BBVA Microfinance Foundation operates (aside from Colombia, Chile and the Dominican Republic), 35% of single mothers live with less than 50% of the average income. Furthermore, for every 100 men in the region, aged 25-34 years old, living in extreme poverty, there are 132 women living under the same condition. Like what UN Women representative Anuradha Seth has shared in her closing remarks, “promoting women’s access to finance boosts income growth and income security. It is through these channels that financial inclusion accelerates poverty reduction – the overarching Goal of the 2030 Agenda”. A path that we need to pursue unitedly, side by side, so that women like Jessica could access not only the opportunity, but also the tools she needs to lead a better life.

Mary Snapp, Microsoft Philantropies Vice President, María Emma Mejía, Permanent Representative of Colombia to the UN, Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, Jessica Hernández, Colombian BBVAMF entrepreneur, Jorge Moragas, Permanent Representative of Spain to the UN, Javier M. Flores, BBVA Microfinance Foundation CEO, Irene Arias, MIF- IDB Group CEO y Anuradha Seth, UN Women Senior Policy Advisor on Macroeconomics. Photo: EFE/Miguel Rajmil