Conscience of a Centrist: Likotsi refused to shut up and gets bank licence reward

Johannesburg – Occasionally, something beautiful happens in the motherland that has one believing in what former statesman Thabo Mbeki referred to as being alive with possibilities.

News that the South African Reserve Bank has approved the application of Young Women in Business Network (YWBN) to be a mutual bank is one of those rare sunrays in South Africa, particularly for women across the country under physical and economic siege from men.

Nthabeleng Likotsi, the founder of the cooperative, will be the first woman to own a mutual bank in the country.

Likotsi applied with her shareholders three years ago.

And yes, this is a big deal for many reasons.

In a world in which women get told to “shut up”, Likotsi’s achievement speaks volumes.

Yet what piques my interest is not just that a woman broke through another glass ceiling. Rather, it is that this development opens the door for the financial services sector to transform and change its lending patterns.

Access to credit can open economic opportunities for women. It is an ugly fact that women entrepreneurs and employers face significantly greater challenges than men in gaining access to financial services.

According to SME South Africa, 47% of South African small business owners are women. That’s a 6% increase in the female to male entrepreneur ratio.

That’s until you factor in that 70% of new businesses fail within the first 18 months. It’s clear that access to funding for women remains a significant challenge.

In the country’s big banks, only Absa and African Bank have been run women. Maria Ramos’ stint as Absa CEO ended in 2019, while Basani Maluleke will leave African Bank at the end of next month.

The statistics are a microcosm of the domination, particularly of white males in South Africa’s economy. One can only hope that YWBN will be a great success. Its success will serve as an important reminder to corporate SA that women hold more than half the sky.

As Akin Adesina, the president of the African Development Bank, recently stated: “While societal limitations and belief systems often kill many a woman’s dream, it is often at the bank counter that dreams come crashing down. Without collateral and without access to land or other financial resources, the bank is the end of the road for many women entrepreneurs. This is a status quo that must change not because it’s charity or the right thing to do, though it most certainly is the right thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do. It’s the strategic thing to do.”

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