Helping Women Succeed As Entrepreneurs

May 25, 2011

Through the GAP, a program was developed to support female entrepreneurship at the research and operational level of the World Bank. As a result, the drive for women’s participation in the labor market has gained prominence in the development agenda.

Revamping Traditional Bank Instruments to Include Gender

In order to improve our understanding of the constraints that affect women in business we used an existing World Bank product—the Investment Climate Assessment (ICA)— and introduced gender-disaggregated analysis of private sector enterprises such as gender barriers and potential opportunities.

In order to do this, we improved the core questions in the Enterprise Survey questionnaires to establish a more comprehensive picture of both male and female entrepreneurship. As of today, several ICAs have included or are planning to include gender analysis (in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Lao PDR, Bhutan, Mali, Zambia, South Africa, Rwanda and Senegal).

Pilot Projects to Test What Works

As part of the GAP, new pilot programs were established to test what works on the ground, refine methodologies, and fill a knowledge gap that often prevented large-scale investmentin gender-specific programs.

The Adolescent Girl’s Initiative is a public-private partnership to promote the transition of adolescent girls and young women from school to productive employment. It is operational in some of the most challenging, post-conflict countries and each initiative includes a rigorous impact evaluation component.

The Results Based Initiatives are pilot projects that aim to generate knowledge about successful approaches to entrepreneurship in order to guide businesswomen. In a very direct and relatively small-scale way, the initiatives have launched operations in six countries across the world.

The Gender Equity Model—The development of the World Bank Gender Equity Model has placed the onus on companies to improve the business environment for women. The GEM helps companies enhance the workplace for women, and break the glass ceiling so that they can more easily access management positions. Following the Mexico experience, pilot projectsare being developed in Argentina, Chile, Columbia, the Dominican Republic, and Egypt.

The International Finance Corporation (IFC)—the World Bank Group institution that focuses exclusively on the private sector—has developed a number of GAP-funded pilot projects to support female entrepreneurs. Many of these are featured in more detail in this booklet. Since 2008, the IFC has committed over US $785 million to women through micro-finance institutions and commercial banks. This includes a GAP-supported IFC program in Tanzania where the client bank extended 174 credit lines. This approach was then replicated across eight countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The partnership with the IFC continues to help governments and the private sector understand how the business environment affects women’s ability to start, manage and grow businesses, and to propose effective reforms. The IFC’s continued focus on the compilation of robust, and wide-ranging gender statistics can help both governments and the private sector to better genderinform their policies.

DIME: The Development Impact Evaluation Initiative

The GAP has partnered with DIME to promote the inclusion of gender issues in the impact evaluations of financial and private sector projects, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. It has increased attention to gender issues, and often introduced a gender focus to the project itself.


The GAP has funded research projects and impact evaluations that will help governments to develop better policies to support female entrepreneurs. Attention to this issue has increased, thanks to the GAP, and we will hopefully see new activities being developed, even without GAP funds.

What Next?

The multi-level nature of this effort to support female entrepreneurship has been a great advantage. It has enabled us to focus on both research and operations to develop new instruments, and to make existing ones more gender-informed. We are progressively establishing more concrete answers to the question: what can we do to help female entrepreneurs? The big challenge now is to increase demand from our clients for gender-informed projects by showing that it makes economic sense to promote women entrepreneurs and to increase supply by integrating some of the new approaches that are being tested across World Bank operations.