It is nearly impossible to sustain a business without access to capital. Estimates suggest that women-owned entities represent just over thirty percent of formal, registered businesses worldwide. Yet, seventy percent of formal women-owned Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries are either shut out by financial institutions or are unable to receive financial services on adequate terms to meet their needs. This results in a nearly $300 billion annual credit deficit to formal women-owned SMEs. Lack of networks, knowledge, and links to high value markets further constrain female entrepreneurship.
Women entrepreneurs play a critical role in economic development by boosting growth and creating jobs, particularly for the poorest forty percent of the population. Yet, women entrepreneurs face numerous challenges to financing, owning, and growing a business, including limited access to capital and technology, a lack of networks and knowledge resources, and legal and policy obstacles to business ownership and development.
Women-led enterprises tend to be concentrated in retail and service sectors where profits and growth opportunities are lower, and rarely in more profitable industries such as construction, electronics, or software.
Lack of networks and knowledge also constrain female entrepreneurship. Studies show that men have more social connections that enable them to access business opportunities, information, and contacts than do women.
In this way, women are disadvantaged from the start, having fewer professional connections, role models, and mentorship opportunities, which can adversely affect their businesses in the long run.
To help unlock the potential of women entrepreneurs, the new Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) will enable more than $1 billion in financing to improve access to capital, provide technical assistance, and invest in projects and programs that support women and women-led SMEs in World Bank Group client countries.
The goal of the facility is to leverage donor grant funding of over $325 million and mobilize more than $1 billion in international financial institution and commercial financing, by working with financial intermediaries, funds, and other market actors, potentially through similar models as the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Facility/Banking on Women program.
The We-Fi facility will work to break down barriers to financial access and provide complementary services such as capacity building, access to networks and mentors, and opportunities to link with domestic and global markets as well as improving the business environment for women-owned or women-led SMEs across the developing world.
We-Fi builds on the success of past and current programs of the World Bank Group and other partners, while reaching into new areas, supporting women-led businesses at earlier stages of growth, and unlocking access to equity and insurance services. At the same time, the facility aims to support complementary public sector interventions that strengthen the enabling environment and enhance market opportunities for women entrepreneurs.
We-Fi fills a gap where there was no significant fund or facility committed to a holistic public and private sector approach to addressing the constraints faced by women entrepreneurs.
We-Fi provides dedicated resources to foster innovation and new approaches to removing these constraints for women entrepreneurs. It will also help elevate the issue to spur action by governments and private sector.
We-Fi is a Financial Intermediary Fund (FIF) housed at the World Bank, drawing on the Bank’s strong track record in designing and managing such Funds to ensure best practice in terms of governance and efficiency.
The Bank acts as the Trustee for the facility, drawing on its financial platform and extensive experience with the provision of such services for other FIFs; it would also serve as the Secretariat. Multilateral development Banks, including the World Bank and IFC, are eligible as implementing partners to propose private and public sector activities to be supported by the facility. A Governing Committee, composed of the founding contributors to the Facility will make allocation decisions.
The United States and Germany invited the Bank Group to establish the facility. We-Fi is a collaboration among the governments of Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States.