Women play a critical role in the global economy as entrepreneurs. They help create jobs, generate income, and boost revenue—driving economies while reducing inequalities between women and men. In many emerging economies, women are starting businesses at a faster rate than men, significantly contributing to the economic growth.

Yet women face greater obstacles, compared with men, in almost all spheres of economic activity—from access to finance and assets to technology and peer-to-peer networks. On average, women have just three-fourths of the legal rights afforded to men, according to the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law report (2021). In some countries, women cannot register a business, sign a contract, or open a bank account.

Access to financial and nonfinancial services is one of the key barriers for women. An IFC study noted that the SME finance gap for female entrepreneurs in developing countries at $1.48 trillion. The private sector’s role is indispensable to bridge the gap.

That’s why IFC works with the private sector to improve the business environment, provide access to capital, as well as leadership training, market access, peer networks, and business management skills. We help promote women-owned or women-led SMEs by providing the tools and resources they need to enhance their confidence, capacity, capital, community, and access to contracts.

Learn about our work on inclusive supply chains through this factsheet.

Some of IFC’s Initiatives to Support Women Entrepreneurs


  • Financial Investment Group

IFC invested almost $2 billion in women-owned and women-led SMEs through private-sector banks under its Banking on Women program and has provided advisory services to banks that want to better serve the women’s market.

  • Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative

The We-Fi initiative, launched in 2017 by the World Bank and IFC, seeks to expand access to financial services and markets for women entrepreneurs in emerging markets and boosts their access to networks, information, and mentors​. The initiative also improves opportunities to link to domestic and global markets​ and Increases the business environment through policy and legal changes​.

We-Fi announced the first round of financing in April 2018, with $120 million for three programs designed to address financial and nonfinancial barriers facing women entrepreneurs in developing countries. Of that amount, $49.3 million has been allocated to IFC. The first round of financing is expected to mobilize over $1.6 billion in additional funds.

Learn more about IFC's work with We-Fi.

  • Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Facility

In partnership with Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Women initiative, IFC launched the Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Facility to increase access to finance to as many as 100,000 women entrepreneurs in emerging markets. The facility initially aimed at providing up to $600 million to improve access to capital for approximately 100,000 women entrepreneurs. But as of June 30, 2018, IFC has made over $1.1 billion in investments in 41 financial intermediaries in 29 countries--surpassing its original $600 million target. It has also funded nine advisory projects in nine countries with total project value of $4.2 million.

  • Women's Entrepreneurship Training

IFC's women's entrepreneurship training helps strengthen the management skills of owners, managers, and staff of small and medium enterprises. The training includes online and off-line modules on leadership, finance, and management. It also enables women entrepreneurs to flexibly tap into the knowledge of their peers and to receive business coaching.

  • Sourcing2Equal Program

In partnership with the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) and Norway, IFC has created Sourcing2Equal, a global program that aims to increase access to markets for women entrepreneurs through private sector procurement opportunities. The program involves: i) conducting market research and case studies on the business case for gender-inclusive sourcing, ii) supporting private sector companies to adopt policies and innovations that facilitate women-owned and let small and medium-sized enterprises (WSMEs) access to corporate supply chains, and iii) building the capacity of WSME suppliers to meet corporate procurement requirements.  The program will be rolled out to several countries over the next five years. Sourcing2Equal Kenya is the first country project under the global  Sourcing2Equal Program.

Learn more about IFC's efforts to boost inclusive supply chains through this factsheet.

  • WEConnect International Partnership

Lack of access to markets is a key barrier to growth for SMEs owned or led by women. Large corporations spend less than 1 percent of their global procurement budget on women-owned businesses, leaving key business and development benefits untapped. IFC has partnered with WEConnect International to help boost women-owned businesses' access to markets and finance in emerging markets.

Corporate peer-learning activities under the partnership have taken place in the Andean Region, Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and Turkey. Learn about best practices and recommendations discussed in the roundtables conducted with corporations and financial institutions in the Andean Region, Bangladesh, India, and South Africa.

  • SME Finance Forum

The SME Finance Forum is a global network for knowledge-sharing and promoting best practices that help increase access to finance for small and medium-sized enterprises. The G-20 countries’ Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion launched the Forum under IFC Management.

  • Partnership with Bank of Palestine

The program, undertaken by Bank of Palestine in West Bank and Gaza, combines access to tailored financial products with nonfinancial services, including networking, mentoring, coaching, and business information to boost the growth of women-owned small and medium enterprises and achieve business results for the Bank. The highlight of the program was the IFC-led Felestineya Mini-MBA program—whose results are highlighted in the case studies, English/Arabic, and the Full Evaluation Report.

  • Investment-Climate Reform

The World Bank Group produces the Women, Business and the Law report each year, an analysis of global data on laws and regulations that affect women’s prospects as entrepreneurs in 190 economies.