At a conference earlier this year, I moderated a panel on the role that values-based banks and credit unions can play in gender inclusion and equality.
The conversation was at times discouraging — showing just how much work there is to be done on this issue around the world — but what stood out for me was a story of both courage and inspiration.
It was about a bank in Afghanistan that opened the country’s first ever women-only branch. There are constant barriers in Afghanistan that keep women from basic financial equality and independence. It’s a reality that adds to the many other challenges women face there, and especially so for those female entrepreneurs who want to get a loan to start a business.
This story comes to mind this week because The First MicroFinance Bank — the bank that opened that all-women branch — is part of the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance, and the work it does is just one of countless impacts the Aga Khan Development Network is making around the world.
Today, His Highness the Aga Khan is in Vancouver as part of a cross-country trip to celebrate his Diamond Jubilee as spiritual leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslims. To honour that, I think now’s a good time to pause and reflect on why this work is so important. The Aga Khan is the founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network — an organization that has always worked to improve lives in some of the world’s most challenging areas, often with a focus on women and children. Through this, the Network has worked with local organizations, seeking to develop an approach that is right for the community while also building capacity in the local economy.
The Network has also always held true to one very important principle — that people in these parts of the world deserve the same quality of services and support as we do in the developed world.
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Article by Tamara Vrooman, president and CEO of Vancity credit union. Courtesy of Vancouver Sun.