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Celebrating
Women Leaders:

Profiles of Financial Inclusion Pioneers

Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO, Women’s World Banking

It’s a truly exciting time to be working on the cutting edge of financial inclusion as we harness the potential of digital technology to reach more women than ever before. As we look forward though, our history is never far from our minds. We would not be here without the visionary work of the pioneers who came before us, especially the women leaders who fought to build the very first banks for women in countries with seemingly insurmountable barriers. We’re honored that many of those institutions are still a part of Women’s World Banking’s global network today.

And I couldn’t be happier that a fellow network member and dear friend of Women’s World Banking, Samit Ghosh, came up with the idea for this story collection. Our staff is honored to contribute to Samit’s vision for a collection of diverse and inspirational stories of women leaders of yesterday and today. We look forward to continuing to grow this series for years to come.

Samit Ghosh, CEO & MD of Ujjivan Small Finance Bank

In the last ten years, as I wandered through the world of financial inclusion, I came across outstanding women leaders. They have made immense contribution to the cause, in their quiet and unobtrusive manner. Unfortunately, in this loud and clamorous world, their contributions have the danger of going un-noticed. They are role models for all of us, especially for the young women who have newly joined the band. With this in mind, our staff members at Ujjivan Financial Services and Women’s World Banking started interviewing the leaders and publishing them on our websites and newsletter. The goal was to compile them into a collection, which would continue to be updated with fresh interviews of leaders. This will become a living repository of the history of outstanding women leaders who have made wide range of contribution to financial inclusion: pioneers, practitioners, academics, researchers, regulators, thought leaders, financiers, and more.

The interviews were conducted, researched and written by young women who are working in the sector. While the collection may currently have an unintentional bias towards India, as that is where we started this book, over time we will add more interviews from across the world.

The source of inspiration for this book was my late wife, Elaine. She was critical of the fact that though our customers were women, the gender balance in the organizations often was heavily tilted towards men. She wondered why even in this space men took on the key roles, as though they understood the problems of women better. In Asia, where women do most of the cooking, she found it absurd that men designed the kitchens, without any understanding of what women had to go through! So she became expert designer of kitchens especially designed for women after her banking career. In Spain during the Microfinance Conference about four years ago, when the idea of the book on the outstanding women leaders of financial inclusion germinated, she egged me on to make sure it saw the light of day.

I hope we carry on this work and include most of the women who are doing this great work from around the world. This will be a great source of inspiration for future generations.