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Thousands of women across Kenya will benefit from the €30 million microfinance programme backed by the new cooperation

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the European Investment Bank (EIB) today launched a new partnership to strengthen women’s economic power in Kenya by tackling key barriers to financial inclusion.

The cooperation is spearheading a new €30 million microfinance programme in Kenya, backed by €15 million from EIB Global and financing from KCB Bank Kenya. Designed to ensure that 80% of final beneficiaries will be women, this pilot includes increasing access to finance for borrowers who lack collateral or a credit history, risk-adjusted pricing to address high interest rates, adapting digital services to the specific needs of female borrowers, and improving financial literacy.

This first scheme, to be launched in the coming weeks, will improve access to microfinance across Kenya and be managed by KCB Bank Kenya, under their dedicated Female-Led and Made Enterprises (FLME) and KCB Foundation 2jiajiri initiatives. It will leverage key learnings to enhance the impact of further gender equality engagement across Africa as the cooperation is expanded in the coming years.

“Across Africa, women need access to more and better credit to support their entrepreneurial activities,” said Greta Bull, director, Women’s Economic Empowerment at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Unequal access to credit remains a huge challenge that holds back economic activity and social progress, including for women in Kenya. This partnership will help remove some of the barriers women face in accessing affordable financing and will not only support women in getting businesses off the ground but will contribute to wider economic growth. It’s a win-win.”

“Women are the backbone of the African economy, and Africa is home to the highest percentage of women entrepreneurs in the world,” said Thomas Östros, European Investment Bank Vice President. “Yet African women continue to face huge hurdles with prohibitive interest rates, lacking collateral, and financial institutions failing to respond to the specific needs of women. This exciting new partnership brings together philanthropic expertise and resources from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and development finance from the EIB and the European Union to overcome challenges and enable women across Africa to harness new opportunities. The pioneering gender-focused microfinance scheme led by KCB Bank Kenya establishes a benchmark to tackle the $42 billion financing gap for female entrepreneurs in Africa.”

KCB Bank Kenya Managing Director, Mrs. Annastacia Kimtai said: “Despite their dominance, women’s economic potential is dwarfed by multiple challenges such as the lack of appropriately designed financial products, weak institutional capacity, and lack of incentives within banks to target and lend to women. The financial industry stands to significantly increase its bottom line by addressing banking’s gender gap: female financial inclusion – particularly the promotion of financial literacy, digital banking, and access to credit.”

“Kenya and the European Union are committed to delivering gender equality,” said H. E Henriette Geiger, European Union Ambassador to Kenya. “This exciting new cooperation between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the European Investment Bank, and the European Union will enhance opportunities and improve the lives of thousands of women and their families here in Kenya and later across Africa.” 

Tackling technical and financial barriers to equal access to finance

Research last year estimated that the gender finance gap in Africa is $42 billion, a gap that hinders women’s ability to take a greater lead in growing the economy and improving social change.

The 2023 EIB Financing in Africa survey also found that 65% of African banks have a gender strategy in place and an additional 19% plan to implement one soon. Concerning lending to small and medium-sized enterprises, almost 70% of surveyed banks reported that less than 30% of their lending was to female borrowers, and 50% of surveyed banks cited a lack of acceptable collateral as a major constraint, while 40% stating that poor or incomplete credit history is a major constraint.

The new pilot will address a range of issues that limit low-income women’s ability to access finance. Technical assistance provided to KCB Bank Kenya will help financial institutions lower the cost of loans to women through digital technology and data, and risk sharing.

Earlier this week, the Gates Foundation released a whitepaper on the challenges and opportunities to provide more and better capital to Africa’s women entrepreneurs, who have largely remained invisible from formal financial institutions. This cooperation represents a concrete step forward to close gender gaps and get more financing into the hands of women. Collaborations such as this are urgently needed to expand microfinance in other East African countries and across Africa.

The first facility benefits from a partial guarantee from the European Union under the European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus (EFSD+) and is part of the Global Gateway strategy.

Background information

European Investment Bank

The EIB is the long-term lending institution of the European Union owned by its Member States. It makes long-term finance available for sound investment in order to contribute towards EU policy goals.

EIB Global is the EIB Group’s specialised arm dedicated to operations outside the EU, and a key partner of the EU’s Global Gateway strategy. It aims to support at least €100 billion of investment by the end of 2027, around one-third of the overall target of Global Gateway. Within Team Europe, EIB Global fosters strong, focused partnerships alongside fellow development finance institutions and civil society. EIB Global brings the Group closer to local communities, companies, and institutions through offices across the world.

The EIB Group aims to embed gender equality, and in particular women’s economic empowerment, in its business model and is also committed to driving gender equality in its workplace. The EIB provided €5.8 billion of investment across the globe in 2023 that significantly contributed to gender equality, more than half of which also supported climate action.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Mark Suzman, under the direction of Co-Chairs Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates and the board of trustees.

About KCB Bank Kenya

KCB Bank Kenya Limited is the largest commercial bank in the country.  A subsidiary of KCB Group Plc, the Bank has the largest branch network, with over 200 branches, 367 ATMs and 16,000 agents offering banking services on a 24/7 basis in East Africa. This is complemented by mobile banking and internet banking services with a 24-hour contact center services for our customers to get in touch with the Bank. KCB Group Plc- which also has presence in Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda DRC Congo and Representative offices in Ethiopia and Brussels also boasts of a wide network of correspondent relationships totaling over 200 banks across the globe and our customers are assured of a seamless facilitation of their international trade requirements wherever they are.