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Investing in women's economic empowerment

The drive to help people in emerging and developing economies and to speed up social and economic progress led both Camilla Löwenhielm and Hanna Holmberg to work as managers of SEB’s microfinance and Impact Opportunity funds.

“The fact that we can use commercial investment sources to help invest in the future is a major incentive,” says Camilla Löwenhielm.

Both Hanna Holmberg and Camilla Löwenhielm have worked in banking for several years, focusing on various types of corporate financing and analysis of countries and companies in different markets. Interest in emerging economies led them to leave the banking world for a while. Hanna Holmberg took up a post at Sida (the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency). Her primary responsibility was to mobilise private investments in renewable energy projects and benefit small companies, primarily in Sida’s partner countries in Africa.

"Getting involved and investing in growth, in countries where the development pace is so incredibly high and where entrepreneurship plays such a central role, is incredibly rewarding and exhilarating," says Hanna Holmberg.

Camilla Löwenhielm took her to Mexico, where she worked at a microfinance institution.
"The experience of getting to know entrepreneurs and understanding their circumstances is of really great value to me in my current role."

How did you end up in the roles you have now?

"For me, it was a natural step to progress as a manager of the microfinance funds after years of focusing on emerging countries, as well as my time in Mexico at the microfinance institution," replies Camilla Löwenhielm.
"In my case, this role is a perfect combination of all the jobs I've previously had, so when the opportunity arose, it seemed an obvious step," says Hanna Holmberg.

SEB's microfinance and Impact Opportunity funds' strategy is to generate financial, social and environmental returns through investments in emerging and developing countries.

"In practice, this means that in the microfinance funds, we invest in institutions that provide financial products and services to individuals and entrepreneurs that are excluded from the traditional financial system," explains Hanna Holmberg.

"Examples of services and products offered by the institutions include savings, insurance, loans at reasonable interest rates and payment services. Another important aspect of microfinance is education, such as basic knowledge of, for example, financial conditions," adds Camilla Löwenhielm.

Women are a key aspect of the funds' investments and account for around 50 per cent of loan recipients.

Why is financial equality important to you?

"For me, it's all about freedom. Financial security is a prerequisite for women's self-determination when it comes to their own lives and bodies," says Hanna Holmberg.
"Yes, it goes without saying that all resources must be allocated equally," Camilla Löwenhielm emphasises.

How does your work contribute to improving the situation?

"Giving women access to funding gives them the opportunity to provide for their families and become involved in various economic activities. Research shows that when women earn their own money, their children also fare better. This increases the likelihood of the children attending school and also means better food, for example," says Hanna Holmberg.

"Investing in women's economic empowerment creates the right conditions for women to participate in and contribute to society in different ways, which should be a matter of course since they represent half the population," says Camilla Löwenhielm.

What challenges do you see in this work?

"It's always challenging to invest in countries that undergo various crises from time to time. This might be anything from natural disasters to pandemics or civil wars. Yet these countries almost always share the common denominator of an incredible driving force and entrepreneurship among their people. This means that they continue to develop, and at a very high pace," says Hanna Holmberg.

What do you hope that SEB's financial equality campaign that will run during the spring will primarily result in?

"It would be fantastic if the bank could inspire women to take more power over financial decisions and start-up companies, but perhaps most of all create interest in and commitment to their financial security," says Hanna Holmberg.

"We also hope that even more people will become aware of the importance of financial equality and the benefits for all of us if we can achieve this," says Camilla Löwenhielm.