Hervest takes women’s financial habits beyond typical banking – Solape Akinpelu, CEO
If you take the trouble to look around you will find that there are many statistics on women in Africa and on finance. A recent study from 2020 stated that around 35 million women in Africa are not registered with any financial service such as a bank or mobile money account. Another noted that on average, women in Africa own fewer assets than their male counterparts.
Yet a more recent statistic from 2021 indicates that many women-owned businesses may be falling short of their potential due to an estimated $42 billion financing gap for women in Africa, even though more women than men become entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa.
It has been repeated over and over again that any obstacle that prevents women from fully exploring their financial capacity could deprive the continent of women’s contribution to the economy. When you look beyond routine banking services like savings and withdrawals, you again notice that while many women explore income opportunities, few go beyond routine banking services to access to other banking services. A great way to change that is to increase women’s financial literacy, and that’s one of the solutions Hervest is trying to solve.
As a guest of the Nairametrics Business Half Hour, CEO of Hervest, Solape Akinpelu, explained how Hervest was founded to give women better access to use financial services like savings, cash investments impact and credits.
“As soon as I started marketing, I had noticed a very low adoption of women in finance (statistically), there is a 25% persistence of financial services among women. More women are embracing banking and that’s where it stops, but mostly they don’t look at other services like investments and the like. I just thought we could change that status quo.
“Gender finance is not just for women. most of our women are financially overwhelmed, with low access to credit, low financial literacy, not creating enough wealth and it affects us all economically,” noted Akinpelu.
After what could rightly be described as a storied career in the financial industry, Solape decided it was time to change what was considered a norm and get women more financially included.
From the start, the Hervest team found a few angel investors and that got them started. All of the financial services available on Hervest are aimed at women in general, but the team decided that a good use of finance in impact investing would be to target women smallholder farmers.
According to Akinpelu, the choice to target women in agriculture was twofold, for women in this sector and for the economy.
“Economically, agriculture contributes around a quarter of our GDP, and the world is experiencing a global food shortage, so it wouldn’t be out of place if we all decided to become farmers ourselves. Moreover, the agricultural rural population in Nigeria is 75% female, but the formal farming that goes into this system is around 10%. Most of them are not maximizing the effort they put into farming, nor are they getting good returns on their inputs. By offering them mixed financing, we are solving a double problem,” Akinpelu explained.
Hervest offers women smallholder farmers blended finance that includes training, resources and finance. There are financial literacy trainings (often language-based), then they are connected to finance, and later to the market so they can make good returns on their efforts. The combination of training, funds and the market has a better impact on rural women farmers than simply giving funds without any training.
The Hervest team plans to expand this to 10,000 women farmers in 2022, and extend to Niger, Benue, Oyo and Ogun states. This is expected to provide some sort of equalization as male counterparts have greater access to funding.
The Hervest team tried to expand gender equality in recruitment, but were constrained by the realization that there were very few women in tech.
“We talk about financial inclusion for women but in reality we have more women in fragile roles than they are first considered for layoffs and such. There is a gender gap in key areas like technology and we realized that when we started recruiting and so we decided to do something about it. You can’t talk to a bunch of broke women. We need to make sure that women are also embracing technology. and areas that will give them a financial edge and have sought-after revenue streams. This has allowed me to take on the role of National Director, Women in Technology, to bridge and close the gender gap.”
How it works
It all starts with downloading the Hervest app from the Playstores and registering. After that, one can choose a savings plan and start saving. The Hervest team works with these farmers in collectives, conducts due diligence, verifies their projects, aggregates them, and raises their farms on the platform. Other women saving on the application can now invest in farms in short cycles of 5 to 6 months. Users who don’t want to invest anything can stick with automated, periodic, and targeted savings.
There are also resources available on the app to teach women financial literacy and empower them with other tools. It may come down to women saving funds to finance women farmers, so that they can all get good returns on their funds and efforts. Hervest is a catalyst that empowers women to earn, save and invest. The Hervest (digital savings and investment) app has been downloaded and used by thousands of customers across Nigeria.
Akinpelu notes that there is nothing stopping men from using the app and its offerings. “We focus on women, but we have men who are interested in what we do and how these funds are used to uplift other women and with good returns as well. You will just find that most of the content we have on the app is geared towards you as a woman.
Working with CBN-licensed platforms makes the savings and investment process seamless. Having grown to this point of serving nearly 10,000 clients, Hervest is now seeking institutional funding to accelerate toward more growth and impact. The goal is to onboard up to 300,000 users in Nigeria by the end of 2022. There are also plans to launch in Kenya, Zimbabwe and other African markets facing similar challenges.