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Pakistan's best bank for CSR 2017: First Women Bank

First Women Bank

Part microfinancier, part bank, First Women Bank Ltd’s very raison d’etre is corporate social responsibility, namely to help half the Pakistani population – its women – have access to financial services.

FWBL was set up in 1989 at the direction of Pakistan’s late prime minister Benazir Bhutto as a vehicle for female village empowerment in a country that doesn’t have a stellar record in such matters. That culture is evident in its charter, which is all about trying to correct Pakistan’s entrenched gender and income imbalances.

It was evident in its motto too: ‘The world’s only bank for women’, a phrase that used to be true until it found imitators in India and the Middle East. When First Women Bank lends to private companies, it requires that at least 50% of the firm be owned by women. It also requires those companies have a woman in the top managerial slot.

These are the kind of requirements that a host of new funds in the US and Europe are demanding under the guise of gender-lens investment. While such initiatives often grab global attention, it is worth remembering where it all started.

FWBL has helped lift thousands of Pakistani village women out of poverty, often taking their menfolk with them. And it has done so while run on commercial lines.

Jointly owned by a consortium of Pakistani banks – HBL, UBL and NBP amongst them – FWBL has historically boasted one of global banking’s highest loan-recovery rates, consistently above 95%, which would seem to suggest that the poor, and in particular its women, are worth banking on.