January 2015 | 

A New Approach to Leadership in Financial Inclusion

Leadership in Financial Inclusion

More than one billion women around the world have little or no access to financial services. To meet their needs, financial institutions began by offering microloans. Now, they are expanding beyond credit, providing low-income clients with critical financial products and services such as insurance, savings accounts, and financial education programs. As it grows, the new financial inclusion industry needs more innovative products to better serve this population.

Wharton and global nonprofit Women’s World Banking, who have worked together since 2010 on multiple leadership programs that have reached 531 leaders in 65 countries, now hope to make a major impact in financial inclusion and drive greater innovation by connecting with CEOs and high-potential female leaders who will together address a strategic business initiative for their institution. In 2015, they launch a new, year-long Leadership and Diversity for Innovation Program, in partnership with Credit Suisse with additional support from the Cisco Foundation.

For the 2015 program, a CEO or senior executive and a woman leader or high-performing woman executive from one of 20 participating financial institutions will experience a combination of classroom lectures with Wharton management faculty and coaching provided by Creative Metier. Women's World Banking, which currently serves 20 million clients (70 percent of them women), will provide expertise in financial inclusion, research, and product innovation.

The program begins with a three-day Executive Forum for CEOs and senior leaders in New York in April. In September, Wharton faculty head to Mumbai, India, the world’s third-largest economy and a growing microfinance market, for a three-day CEO/senior executive roundtable as well as an intensive week of leadership training for the cohort of women leaders.

According to Michael Useem, program faculty director and leader of Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management, financial institutions face rapidly changing market dynamics that are forcing leaders to rethink their business models, from the convergence of non-profit and commercial microfinance banking, to the rise of mobile payments that is transforming how people do financial transactions.

“Managing that complexity is vital, and that’s what this program cultivates through a combination of classroom work, mentoring, coaching, and hands-on application,” Useem says. “We are working with Women’s World Banking to ensure that the program participants, whether they are CEOs or rising leaders, have a complete skill set to succeed.”

The two groups of participants will experience parallel tailored programs. CEOs/senior executives will harness their leadership to drive institution change through tools for coaching and talent management, critical thinking and scenario planning. Women leaders will hone their visioning, negotiations, and strategic relationship-building to achieve impact. These leadership teams will apply key learnings from Wharton through an action-learning project that addresses a strategic need or market opportunity to better serve women lenders.

“We’re thrilled to welcome two participants from each institution, particularly for the opportunity this brings to emerging women leaders,” says Mary Ellen Iskenderian, president and CEO of Women’s World Banking. “The CEOs and senior executives will play a critical role as a sponsor, going beyond the traditional mentorship role, to support the women leaders in developing their own leadership vision and bringing their own voices to the decision-making table. The organization wins too by fostering new and different perspectives to drive innovation.”

Both leaders will work together to address how to best serve the women’s market through customer-centric innovation. At the end of the program, participants will have enhanced their critical and strategic thinking skills. They also will gain a sharpened customer focus and a stronger leadership mindset.

“Wharton and Women’s World Banking have been working together on leadership development for years, and this new curriculum is a testament to how our program has evolved with the needs of the institutions,” concludes Iskenderian. “Past participants have always expressed their gratitude for a world-class academic institution that is committed to improving leaders and organizations that are serving the lowest-income clients in the world.”

For more information about Women’s World Banking and the Leadership for Diversity and Innovation Program, visit www.womensworldbanking.org.