A community of dreamers

Creating growth and opportunities through financial inclusion

James Mwangi is not your average bank executive. Growing up in a rural village in Kenya in a large family, he sold coal and fruit in order to pay for his school fees. Mwangi was, along with 96% of Kenyans at the time, excluded from having his own bank account. That privilege was held strictly for the elite. When Mwangi finally did open his own account, he felt like he was given a gateway into upward mobility.

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Mwangi later became an accountant and climbed the ranks of Equity Group Holdings. When the opportunity presented itself to lead and transform the bank, his strategy was simple: serve those at the bottom of pyramid. It was a high-volume, low-margin business model.

The reality meant driving out to remote villages once a week and slowly earning people’s trust. One by one, they started signing customers up. It sounded radical and impossible, perhaps even a little bit crazy.

“People just require an opportunity to prepare them for prosperity.”

One by one, village by village, Mwangi started to see that people were starting — ever so slightly — to trust keeping money in the bank more so than under their own mattresses. Each week, a few more would sign up. The week after, a few more. Some of the new customers were merchants or farmers, or young adults saving for their education. All of them were given banking access without fees. By creating branches through local shopkeepers, the bank was able to keep expanding.

Soon, Equity Bank became known as the bank of inclusion. The dreamers of Kenya were empowered to become entrepreneurs. Women and young people opened their very first accounts. Empowering dreamers is a tradition that is still strong in the identity of the bank, and an identity it carried with it while expanding to countries like Congo and Rwanda.

Making dreams come true

Mwangi still makes a commitment to connect with his customers through the Equity Group Foundation, which works in their communities in a variety of ways. The Wings to Fly program sponsors scholarships and internships to youth that were just like him: big dreamers with few opportunities.

The Foundation also offers training programs of various kinds. To date, The Foundation has mentored around 65,000 entrepreneurs. This includes business training, one-on-one mentorship, and digital literacy. The programs that are sponsored can also be small scale, for example teaching financial literacy courses about budgeting, savings, and debt management.

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An award for the entire community

Mwangi was one of three Honourees of the Oslo Business for Peace Award of 2020. He has been championing for financial inclusion his entire career, and he is a shining example of how business leaders can accelerate change and help solve the world’s problems.

“I dedicate this Award to our staff and to the millions of our customers who have continuously inspired us by trusting and believing in our common purpose and dream,” said Mwangi.

“I share this Award with our micro, small and medium entrepreneurs who wake up every day to create wealth and opportunities for our society. This Award is a great inspiration to all Africans to believe in their dreams and to pursue them with dedication and conviction that together, we can change our continent within our lifetime.”

For more on Mwangi and the Award, click here.

Business has to be about the greater good and not only about maximising shareholder profits. We’re here to encourage and inspire #businessworthy behaviour.

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