Meet the women leading the way to an inclusive future — part two

Part of Accion’s series highlighting women working in financial inclusion

At Accion, we’re proud to have a diverse team leading the charge as we work to tackle the problem of financial exclusion around the world.

To highlight some of the women working behind the scenes to build a more inclusive and prosperous world, we’re releasing a blog series on the women of Accion and our partners.

Here are a few of the leaders we’re proud to work with:

Deborah Drake, Vice President, Investing in Inclusive Finance, Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion

Deborah had a lifelong interest in international development and Latin American, which drew her to Accion. She found the concept of microfinance compelling, liked Accion’s private sector approach, and saw firsthand the impact of its work. As Vice President of the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion’s Investing in Inclusive Finance Program, Deborah leads the Africa Board Fellowship Program as well as the Financial Inclusion Equity Council (FIEC). To those just starting out, Deborah recommends getting out into the field and getting a sense of what you want to change and how to do it. She also asserts the importance of persistence and flexibility. “The path to making an impact through your job may not be direct or come about the way you envision so be open to opportunities that at first glance may not fit your short-term objectives.”

Andrea Echavarría, Co-Founder, Escala Educación

Andrea Echavarría worked in Colombia’s nonprofit sector for 13 years before she decided to take a different approach to tackle the challenge of poverty. She co-founded Escala Educación to help remove the barriers families — and especially women — face in accessing financial services and education. “Using fintech and the power of micro-savings, I bring access to college education and have become a powerful agent of social mobility,” she says. By giving people the financial tools to take control of their own lives, ESCALA helps ignite economic empowerment for vulnerable communities and builds toward shared prosperity. “Don’t wait for the world to change,” she advises others who want to make a difference, “always pursue your purpose, and believe in your crazy ideas while committing 100 percent of your spirit, courage, and perseverance to achieve them.”

Veena Mankar, Founder and Chairperson of the Board, Swadhaar

“I grew up in a privileged household, and my parents always told us that whilst everyone had innate abilities, many did not have the opportunities to realise their full potential. We, therefore, had an obligation to open doors for those less fortunate than us,” says Veena Mankar. She still takes that obligation seriously today. At Swadhaar, she helps low-income, urban Indians access small loans that they can use to improve their lives. She doesn’t just want people to have resources to make it through the next week or the next month — she wants to have a sustained impact on people’s lives. And this kind of lasting impact is starting to become more attainable. Veena observes that India’s digital infrastructure and fintech developments make it possible to finally provide every household and small business with affordable financial services suited to their needs. Looking to the future, she says, “Traditional financial institutions and fintech partnerships can deliver the best solutions for financial inclusion.” Individuals can also play a part in building a more inclusive future. If you’re driven to help, Veena advises choosing a mission that leverages “your 3Es — expertise, education, and experience.” Once you have that mission in mind? “Believe in yourself, and make your goal your dream.”

Radhika Shroff, Deputy Chief Investment Officer, Gateway Fund at Accion

“Impact has always been a part of my life, both personally and professionally — and it permeates so much of what we do, without being called ‘impact’,” says Radhika Shroff. As the daughter of Indian immigrants, she grew up traveling to India, visiting women’s empowerment and education initiatives in Gujarat and seeing social change in action. While Radhika started her career in the private sector, she repeatedly saw that companies could both fill a social need and deliver market returns. At Accion, she brings commercial discipline to companies that can change the course of people’s lives for the better and works to attract the funds and attention impact investing needs to thrive. For those who want to follow in her footsteps, she recommends making sound investments that show market returns while making an impact and also establishing concrete metrics so you can measure that impact. She also emphasizes the importance of taking the work seriously: “Impact investing should have the same level of discipline, if not more, as all investing — which will attract more investors to impact.”

Keep following this series to learn about more inspiring women who are breaking barriers and building a more inclusive financial system. If you missed part one of the series, read it now.

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