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For years, Mansa Devi’s family struggled to pay her children’s school fees and buy their textbooks.

That changed in 2016, when she became an entrepreneur with Dharma Life, a distribution partner of IFC’s Lighting Asia/India program. Devi, who lives in one of India’s poorest states, now goes door-to-door selling solar-powered lamps. Her income meets her family’s needs, and the training has sharpened her sales acumen. When she pitches the solar lamps, she reminds potential customers: “You can use them to charge your mobile phones.”

Women like Devi constitute a powerful force for economic growth and opportunity across the world. In developing countries, they account for about a third of small and medium enterprises — the engine of job creation. They make up 41 percent of the formal workforce worldwide. Yet they remain significantly underrepresented in most economic activities. Research shows that increasing their participation could boost economic output by trillions of dollars a year.

IFC’s Lighting Asia/India program turned housewives like Mansa Devi into successful earners. She sells solar lamps. Photo: Thommen Jose/IFC

IFC works to expand that participation — by providing investment and advice that enables our clients to create opportunities for women, by conducting research that highlights the business case for gender inclusion, and by developing global and country-specific partnerships that support women as employees, entrepreneurs, consumers, and business leaders. In FY18, our clients provided more than 800,000 jobs to women in emerging economies, and delivered $11.4 billion in loans to small and medium enterprises owned by women.

For women entrepreneurs, access to finance is key to their success. But they also need linkages to markets and advice to overcome policy and legal barriers. To address their needs, IFC and the World Bank helped set up the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, or We-Fi, with financial support from 14 governments. Under the initiative, several multilateral development banks will offer finance and advice to public and private institutions. We-Fi’s first round of financing is expected to drive $1.6 billion in investments.

Through the Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Facility (WEOF), launched in 2014 by IFC’s Banking on Women program and Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women initiative, IFC has made over $1.1 billion in investments in 41 financial intermediaries in 29 countries — surpassing its original target size of $600 million. It has also funded 9 advisory projects in 9 countries with total project value of $4.2 million.

IFC also publishes research that underscores the business case for reducing the gender gap. Our Tackling Childcare report, for example, was designed to help companies identify the type of childcare support they can offer to their employees — while reaping gains through improved productivity. Another report, Driving toward Equality, explored how new technologies like ride-hailing apps can enable women’s equal participation in the economy.

We also promote diversity in corporate leadership. Our Women on Boards program, and our collaborations with regional women’s networks, encourage corporations to retain diverse talent, cultures, and perspectives.