Knowledge for a sustainable world

Ana Marr

The role of women in the global economy is crucial but often under-appreciated. Dr Ana Marr, Reader in International Development Economics at the Natural Resources Institute (NRI), was invited to take part in a TV programme called 'Real Talk' on the topic of Women and Finance, which was broadcast on Sky TV earlier this year.

In front of an audience of female entrepreneurs, a panel of three experts in finance and Islamic practices discussed the current financial crisis and its effects on small businesses.

Dr Marr, an expert in development finance, highlighted the importance of microfinance in helping women establish and expand their own businesses. Microfinance, which started in South Asia, has now emerged as a credible financial option for low-income people, particularly women, in developing countries as well as in developed countries around the world.

The innovative design of microfinance products allows people to gain access to credit despite their lack of collateral to offer as security to loans. This is because people can get together in groups and guarantee each other instead of individually having to offer collateral, such as land titles that women usually do not possess. Flexibility and availability of finance for female entrepreneurship is therefore a pre-condition for women's ability to engage in income-generating activities.

For the past 15 years, Dr Marr has been leading various research projects on microfinance in developing countries, most recently in India, Peru and Tanzania, and has published extensively on the subject.

She says: "Women's crucial role in the world economy has often been under-appreciated, particularly if we consider home-based work. Recent statistics show that about 60% of the world GDP is produced by women. Microfinance initiatives are primarily for the benefit of women, helping them to obtain credit, savings and insurance products that promote wellbeing and enterprise development. Although there is room for improvement, microfinance has helped create opportunities for women to start developing new businesses and to support their families more sustainably."

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