Victoria Byenkya heads the Women in Business and Special Programs at Uganda’s dfcu bank. Women in Business aims to enable female entrepreneurs to grow their enterprises by providing training and networking opportunities, along with tailored financial products.

Victoria spoke to Future-minded about why this kind of support is so critical not only for the women themselves, but for Uganda’s economy and society more broadly, and on the new challenges COVID-19 poses for the female empowerment agenda.

Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your role at dfcu bank?

I have been with the bank that 'Makes More Possible' for 14 years. During this time, I have served in various roles. I started out as a Retail Services Officer, rising through the ranks to currently manager Special Programs of which the flagship is the Women in Business (WiB) portfolio. We are charged with the development, implementation and oversight of programs and partnerships that match our services to the unique needs of customers.

What makes women empowerment for you such an important topic?

Statistics show that when empowered, women play a valuable role in the socioeconomic transformation of societies. Over the years, I have witnessed thousands of women grow their businesses and become sources of value addition, as a result of simply gaining access. I believe that when women receive the support they need to grow as entrepreneurs, they thrive.

What is the situation in Uganda for women in general and women entrepreneurs more specifically?

Women make up 52.5% of the Ugandan labor force and have great potential to help us meet our development goals, especially in the areas of entrepreneurship, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) growth. But they face more challenges than men in starting, managing and growing their enterprises. The dfcu Women in Business Program has designed solutions that address these unique challenges by structuring our activities to fit into the schedules and geographical locations of thousands of women across Uganda. Some150,000 women entrepreneurs are currently signed up to the program. However, our support extends beyond this; 50,000 women have benefited from the skills component over the years.

“Everyone is doing their best to ensure that we meet the SDGs by 2030. I believe that collaboration –at each stage is key to ensuring that no one is left behind.”

Recently, you started a blog on LinkedIn about ‘Prioritizing the socio-economic wellbeing of women in the fight against a global pandemic.’ What was your reason for starting this blog and what do you hope to achieve with it?

The COVID-19 pandemic created opportunities for organizations to show what they were doing to restructure customer interactions. But what stood out like a sore thumb was the lack of women centered efforts. Writing this blog was for me a way of sounding a professional and personal alarm about the exclusion of women from critical conversations.

FMO believes firmly that if we’re to hit the SDGs by 2030, there has to be some serious acceleration this year and even more with the CV-19 situation. With the time for talking over what concrete role do you see for banks in general to help achieve this acceleration?

Banks must take on the roles of advisors, confidants and growth partners for their customers by being available at each stage of their consumers' journey.

And I think inclusion is critical and decision makers must be representative of the markets in which banks operate. By mirroring the realities of our markets, we can design solutions for immediate and long-term growth.

Which other players need to step up?

Everyone is doing their best to ensure that we meet the SDGs by 2030. I believe that collaboration at each stage is key to ensuring that no one is left behind.

If we imagine the kind of future we want, what would that future look like?

I’d like to imagine a more inclusive and equal world! But for equality to be transformational, it must start at the most elementary levels, with equal access to basic needs such as education.

I believe that telling less and showing more will drive people to make the necessary changes and this is what the dfcu Women in Business program has been doing over the last 5 years; showing women what’s possible through the stories of those that have been part of the program.

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