Interview with Jennifer Blanke, Vice President Agriculture, Human and Social Development at the African Development Bank Group, Ahead of the 2019 Gender Summit


The African Development Bank and the government of Rwanda are hosting the Global Gender Summit from 25 to 27 November in Kigali. The Summit is being organised by the Multilateral Development Banks’ (MDBs) Working Group on gender, and will be held for the first time in Africa.

We speak to Bank Vice President, Jennifer Blanke, to find out more about this high-profile event.

1 – This year the African Development Bank is hosting the Global Gender Summit for the first time on the continent. What are your expectations?

It is the first time that the African Development Bank is hosting the Global Gender Summit and this year is we are hosting in partnership with the Rwandan government, which really demonstrates high-level buy-in about the importance of gender equality and empowering women to drive Africa’s economic development. In general, there is a growing understanding that women are a critical force to be reckoned with in development and in Africa, and that is what we are going to be talking about during the summit.

2 – There are several events that seek to address gender equality and move from commitment to action. What is different about this summit?

A big difference is that the summit will bring together not just people committed to change from all the multilateral development but other critical voices including at least 200 women entrepreneurs who are doing exciting things in Africa. A key theme will be empowering women with business opportunities and finance, so that they can move faster in driving African economies forward. Another difference is that the event is going to be very interactive and focused on finding solutions to challenges. And we will be launching several exciting products, including a new platform called “50 million African women speak”, which will be linking African women to each other and allowing them to share information, find mentors and customers and help them with their business efforts. We will also release new reports on gender equality and launch some new initiatives; in particular, the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA /African Guarantee Fund Risk Sharing Facility, which will de-risk lending to women through AGF’s partial, guarantees to financial institutions, and its capacity development to women entrepreneurs.

3 – What are some of the Bank’s flagship projects that are helping shape the narrative and move the gender development agenda?

We are doing a lot both internally and externally. First of all, we want to do much more in terms of integrating a gender lens into everything that we do at the Bank. For example, we have put in place a gender marker system where we rate all projects based on the extent to which they are expected to have a positive impact on women and girls. This ensures that whether it is an energy, transport or health project, we are really thinking about women from conception and increasing the impact of our work.

In addition, the AFAWA programme is a significant initiative which is aimed to tilt financial markets in favour of lending to women, who are a great investment but are massively underserved by financial

We are also focusing on creative industries, which are an untapped resource in Africa. For example, African styles and designs are used around the world and yet Africans do not see much of the value coming out of that. At the Bank, we have an important initiative called Fashionomics which looks at the whole textile value chain, from the cotton field all the way to the catwalk. If you think about the cotton-textile-fashion value chain, the greatest value is derived at the top. We want many more African designers and producers to be high on that value chain value chain, which is where all the revenue is and the great jobs are, especially for women and young people. This is something that we will be talking about in Kigali.