Women are leading the way with underbanked-targeted startups, despite being underfunded themselves

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It seems that with each passing year, month, even day, the push for gender equality grows ever stronger. Through inspirational movements like #metoo, #mensupportingwomen and many others, the voice of is growing louder and louder on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Society is no longer just asking for change; it is demanding it.

The fifth Sustainable Development Goal is also entirely focused on gender equality and has since received further social backing from campaigns including Women Investing in Women, or WIN-WIN.

Unfortunately, it seems gender equality may be a state of mind that is not reflected enough in our actions. While more people are investing in women emotionally, statistics indicate that they’re less quick to invest in them financially.

As recently as April, Techcrunch published the Q1 2018 global diversity investment report: Investing trends in female founders, which detailed in-depth figures on investment into startups that were either founded by individual women or otherwise including women in their founding teams. These figures focused primarily on the amount of funding received and the number of deals confirmed.

The report showed that:

  • $ invested in Q1 2018, into companies with at least one female founder were just 9% of venture dollars invested – a drop from 15% in Q4 2017
  • $ invested in Q1 2018, invested in solo female founders were only 3% of venture dollars, down from 5% in Q4 2017
  • $ invested in Q1 2018, into companies with at least one female founder were 18% of all seed dollars, compared to 17% in Q1 2017 and 15% in Q4 2017 (so there were some positives if you were willing to look hard enough)

Despite all of this, there is a group of women fighting the trend and there does seem to have been a surge in the number of female-founded financial startups that are targeting predominantly unbanked countries across Africa and Asia.

One such example is Wobe. Crunchbase says that Wobe, which was founded by Adrianna Tan, delivers a brand new take on financial services to the underserved — low-income women in emerging markets.

Tan herself has described has described Wobe as a ‘social mission to empower millions in Southeast Asia through SE Asia’

Through their innovative app, Wobe, gives unbaked women living in Indonesia and Myanmar the tools they need to start their own small businesses by providing them with the ability to resell digital goods like phone airtime and water and electricity vouchers. They can also make payments from their e-wallet.

The company has been labelled as leading the rise of fintech in Southeast Asia and previously won the regional Southeast Asia Her Startup competition in Indonesia, followed by the Her Startup Global Finals Competition in California, which led to judge Tim Draper investing $100,000 into the business.

Another success story is Wala, which was founded by CEO, Tricia Martinez. The free-to-use financial services platform, which recently announced it has now gone live in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Uganda, allows users to send Dala digital money to other users in any of the countries that Wala is available with absolutely no fees. Many payment providers do not inter-operate which causes complications where payments need to be made across different countries. Platforms like Wala go some way towards combatting this issue. Users can also buy digital products and pay bills and school fees and earn financial rewards.

Kenya-based company Bitpesa was founded by Elizabeth Rossiello and now has offices in Lagos, Dakar and London. Bitpesa is now into its fifth year and, like Wala, focuses its messaging on the simplicity of cross-border payments, with the platform available in seven countries across Africa; Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, DRC, Senegal, Ghana, & Morocco. Bitpesa has earned the banking of a whole host of investors and has partnerships with over 60 banks.

The road to gender equality may be far from other, but it’s great to see women making waves, despite being underserved.

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