Widows’ financial inclusion in Egypt: Lessons learned from a Venture Philanthropy Investment in Social Microfinance & Widow Banks

Myrna Atalla May 28, 2021

This interactive fireside chat moderated by UK impact investor James Broderick with Alfanar Executive Director Myrna Atalla and Founder of the Global Fund for Widows Heather Ibrahim will explore the following questions:

  • What impact can long-term venture philanthropy investment have on financial inclusion for widows and their families in Egypt? 
  • How can we encourage widows and female breadwinners to contribute to national economies?  
  • How can economic empowerment power broader empowerment among widows — lessons learned from a venture philanthropy investment in Egypt?



Across the Global South, widows remain one of the most heavily stigmatized, abused, and impoverished demographics. The life of a disadvantaged widow is often one devoid of justice, one where institutions fail to provide adequate protections and dignified employment.

 In Egypt, widows and female breadwinners makeup nearly 60% of the female population in poorer slum and rural communities.  Often unaware of their government entitlements, vulnerable to property grabbing, and unfavourable inheritance laws, they and their families are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and financial exclusion.  

Since 2012, Alfanar (meaning ‘beacon’ in Arabic) — the Arab region’s first venture philanthropy organisation — has partnered with the Global Fund for Widows (GFW) to invest in the Amal (meaning ‘hope’ in Arabic) project run by the Egyptian social enterprise Future Eve Foundation. The Amal Project is a multi-faceted economic empowerment programme, which currently provides almost 20,000 widows with vocational and financial literacy training, affordable business/housing improvement/education microfinance, value chain seed capital, and access to Widows Savings and Loan Associations (WISALAs) across Upper Egypt and Alexandria.  With a 99% repayment rate and an average increase to household income of 35%, the Amal Project is creating measurable and meaningful improvements in the lives of widows and their families.

Using a mixture of grant- and debt-based risk capital, high-engagement management support, and real-time data tracking, this long-term venture philanthropy investment has tested a series of valuable tools worth exploring in conversation, namely:

  • Social contracts among widows
  • Housing improvement and education microloans requested by the widows in addition to business microloans
  • Widows Savings’ and Loan Association (WISALAs), which are small community banks, owned and operated by the widows themselves. 

This fireside chat will explore both successes and challenges experienced over the course of our investment in the Amal Project, underscoring the economic empowerment journey of widows’ and exploring potential for further replication both across Egypt and in other countries.  

We hope this discussion about lessons learned will prove useful and enlightening for foundations, impact investors, government officials, microfinance institutions, and social enterprises employing microfinance and other financial inclusion tools for women’s economic empowerment.  


Who we are?

Alfanar is the first venture philanthropy organisation in the Arab region.  We support the growth of bold social enterprises working to sustainably educate, employ, and economically empower vulnerable children, youth, and women living in slum areas, marginalised rural villages, and refugee camps across Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan.

Global Fund for Widows (GFW) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering widows and female heads of households to overcome poverty through skills-based training, job creation, and micro-finance. GFW developed the Widows Savings and Loan Association (WISALA), so that widows and female-headed households may overcome traditional barriers to microfinance. They have since overseen the establishment of WISALAs in Cameroon, Egypt, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, and Tanzania. 


Fireside Chat

Meta Themes

  • Social Entrepreneurship


Women Economic Empowerment, Financial Inclusion, Microfinance

Purpose and Desired Outcome

The purpose of this session is to discuss and explore three key areas and lessons learned: -Challenges faced by poor widows and female breadwinners in Egypt and across disadvantaged communities in the Global South -Measurable impact tailored and focused financial inclusion tools can have on widows’ economic empowerment -Value and import of a new financial inclusion tool - Widows Savings and Loans Associations (WISALAs)


  • Allocators (Family Offices, HNW Individuals, Foundations)

  • Government

  • Academia


  • NameHeather Ibrahim-Leathers
  • TitlePresident
  • OrganizationGlobal Fund for Widows
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameMyrna Atalla
  • TitleExecutive Director
  • OrganizationAlfanar
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameJamie Broderick
  • TitleBoard Member
  • OrganizationImpact Investing Institute
  • StatusConfirmed
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