November 15th, 2023

I would like to start by congratulating the Kenya Bankers Association (KBA) and the banking and microfinance banking sectors more broadly on this seventh year on leading sustainability through the Sustainable Finance Catalyst Awards. I think it is important to note that this not only happened before it was “cool” – before it was trendy to talk about sustainability. This really demonstrates leadership on behalf of the banking sector. I was recently at an event with the Association of Microfinance Institutions (AMFI) which of course includes the microfinance banks talking about environmental, social and governance (ESG) priorities. There is great opportunity for learning and partnerships between these sectors when we think about these issues of economic, social and environmental sustainability.

I love that these awards use the word “Catalyst”. We can all consider how just having these awards has been a catalyst for thinking about the mantle of sustainability and incentivising action. I’d like to say something about each of these three types of sustainability: economic, social and environmental.

With Economic sustainability, we have to think about who are the backbone of Kenya’s economy?  It is the micro and small enterprises (MSEs). Frankly, the banks have struggled to reach them with the most effective financial services that they need. Because it is hard – it is difficult.  Any bank who can figure out how to effectively serve a micro or small enterprise with credit services, is better placed to provide credit to its entire portfolio because it is harder to reach an MSE and understand their risk. Farmers are also a really important part of our economy I Kenya. So any bank who can figure out how to effectively lend into the agriculture sector and especially smallholder farmers is helping with the overall economic and inclusive growth of Kenya.

As we think about Social sustainability, I’d like to centre this conversation on women. Most credit models rely on the data that is available. And the reality is that there is more data available on men than women.  Any bank who has figured out how to effectively train their credit scoring to women is better placed to offer credit to everyone.

Regarding environmental sustainability, this is a topic that has gotten increasing attention in the last few years including with the recent Africa Climate Summit led by Kenya. Again, I would like to congratulate KBA on being a leader in this through its Sustainable Finance Initiative which began seven years ago (not seven months ago like many).

As I was thinking about what to say this morning, I was reminded of something my teenage son used to say all the time, “Tough times never last, Tough people do”. We are in tough times right now, globally, in Kenya – the economics situation, the geopolitical situation, the exchange rate, inflation, taxation. Everything is tough right now.  And this is tougher for MSEs, tougher for women, tougher for those most affected by climate change in rural and remote areas. So if they are going to thrive, they are going to have to be tough too. And financial solutions can be play its part.

I’d like to amend this saying for the banking sector (and broader financial sector) – “Tough times never last; Tough BANKS (and other financial service providers) do.” My challenge to you (and you are probably the wrong ones to be challenging because you are the ones in the room thinking about the Catalyst Awards & sustainability.) My challenge to the broader banking sector is to think about how can we be tough as a financial sector?

I posit that sustainability is one way to be “tough”.  For example, if you can train your credit models to reach MSEs, women, and farmers impacted by climate change, that makes you tougher. You can last beyond these tough times. I hope that the financial sector will pick up the challenge that economic, social and environmental sustainability will give you the competitive edge to last these tough times.


Remarks by Tamara Cook, CEO FSD Kenya at the 7th Sustainable Finance Catalyst awards




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