Frank Whylie, consultant to microfinance company JN Small Business Loans Limited (JNSBL), says easier access to microfinance has played a significant role in the development of women entrepreneurs in Jamaica and the Caribbean.
Pointing to the company's statistics, which indicate that some 72 per cent of loan recipients are women, Whylie said through microfinance several women have achieved economic independence, empowerment and are better positioned to provide for their families.
That information comes against the background that, in Jamaica, some 40 per cent of households are led by a lone female, according to statics from the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ).
"For women, one of the benefits of micro credit is that it provides them independence. I've seen women being empowered by their businesses to provide better care for their children," Whylie stated. "I've also seen children, rural children, who when you meet them for the first time they were barefooted, and in a short time they are all in uniform and wearing shoes, which is a direct beneficiary of the fact that their parents, especially women, were able to access credit, to grow their business, increase their income and therewith better provide for their families."
The veteran of more than two decades in microfinance pointed to a 2008 study by the Tropical Medicine Research Institute at The University of the West Indies, which indicated that beneficiaries of JN Small Business Loans were better off economically than people who have never benefited from microfinance.
Whylie's comments contradict findings by the Women's Entrepre-neurial Venture Scope which conducted a 2013 study, with financing by the Multilateral Investment Fund, ranking Jamaica as the worst place for women entrepreneurs to do business. The study gave Jamaica a score of 42.2 out of 100 points, which placed the country at the bottom of 20 countries surveyed.
backbone of the sector
"Statistics from microfinance companies, both here and throughout the Caribbean and Latin America usually prove that women are the primary beneficiaries of loans," Whylie said.
As the former general manager at JNSBL, he expressed doubt that national figures were in fact capturing data on micro business owners and pointed out that there are some 460,000 micro businesses in Jamaica.
"There are many men associated with the businesses of the 72 per cent of women of which we speak, but the businesses are run by women," Whylie affirmed.
Philip Bernard, the new JNSBL general manager, said the role that women play in the micro sector positions them as the backbone of that sector of the economy.
"The role of women in our economy cannot be understated. The micro sector is what drives our economy; and, therefore, that positions women as our main employers, which is about 36.5 per cent of the labour force," he said pointing to the wide range of industries in which they work, particularly the distributive sector, which constitutes the largest trade for micro entrepreneurs.
He also said that independence and better access to microfinance has allowed women to improve their lives and the lives of their families, and emphasised that having more women in business was important to poverty reduction.
"In many instances women are the heads of households in Jamaica; and, therefore, once they are benefiting the status of the entire family improves, reducing the level of poverty," Bernard pointed out. However, he maintained that while there are many micro enterprises operated by women, there are fewer women who own small and medium enterprises.
"We now need to provide more services, such as business training, and the other factors that drive women's business success, so that female-led micro businesses can grow beyond micro enterprises and develop. Their operations need to be better positioned, to improve national competitiveness and employment," Bernard maintained.