COVID-19 and Women-Led MSMEs in sub-Saharan Africa

March 22, 2021

IFC undertook this study to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women-led MSMEs in 13 African countries. We also sought to appraise public- and private-sector interventions in sub-Saharan Africa, and to offer financial and non-financial solutions for financial institutions and development partners to consider. With this report, we hope to further strengthen outcomes for micro- and small enterprises, especially those led by women.

The study's key findings include the following:

  1. Over 90% of MSMEs across sub-Saharan Africa are suffering harsh economic impacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Women-led MSMEs have been especially hard hit, with many reporting revenue losses of over 50%, largely due to their smaller size, informality, and concentration in heavily affected sectors. 
  2. Women-led MSMEs entered the pandemic with lower rates of financial inclusion than male-led MSMEs, and the pandemic exacerbated these trends. Among the 13% of MSMEs that accessed financial support during the crisis, fewer were women-led MSMEs.
  3. Despite challenges posed by the pandemic, over 90% of MSMEs still plan to maintain or expand their businesses over the next 6-18 months. In line with this goal, over 80% of MSMEs expressed the need for support, particularly for growth capital and expansion assistance, during the recovery.

  4. Few financial institutions offer products or support services specifically designed to fully include women entrepreneurs: 60% of financial institutions surveyed said they collect gender disaggregated data but only 14% use the data to inform their business decisions. Women-led MSMEs are using digital tools at a slightly higher rate than male-led MSME and are expressing a greater need for non-financial services for customer base expansion and new product development.