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Ho Thi Hai Ngan, a Vietnamese businesswoman, launched two ventures, but they both failed because of a lack of financing. Yet she persevered and opened an electronics store after receiving a $25,000 loan from Vietnam Prosperity Commercial Joint Stock Bank (VPBank). Within six months, the value of her business quadrupled to $400,000.

IFC’s $125 million investment in VPBank helped make Ngan’s loan possible. At $1.4 trillion, the gap for financing women-owned small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in emerging markets is immense. IFC has long worked with financial institutions to increase the flow of capital to women. Through our Banking on Women program, we have invested and provided advisory services to 88 financial institutions in 50 countries to increase financing for women-owned and women-led SMEs. As of June 2019, our portfolio totaled $2.2 billion.

We mobilize our investment partners to get more money into the hands of female business owners. In Brazil, where women-owned SMEs face a $19 billion financing gap, we arranged a $225 million loan for Banco Santander Brasil, which includes $75 million mobilized from a commercial bank. The funding is earmarked for women-owned firms.

But women entrepreneurs require more than credit to succeed. It is also important to provide access to training and networks. The Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), a collaborative partnership hosted by the World Bank Group, addresses those needs. In FY19, we partnered with WEConnect International, a global network that connects women-owned businesses to qualified buyers, to boost access to markets for women-owned SMEs in emerging markets.

In Nigeria, IFC worked with AXA Mansard to design insurance products for women. AXA increased the number of policies sold to women to more than 40,000 as of December 2018 from 19,000 in late 2016, when the project was launched. The company plans to insure 60,000 Nigerian women by 2020. With support from We-Fi, we are now working in Cameroon, Ghana, and the Philippines to bring insurance coverage to more women.

We also promote diversity in corporate leadership. Nominations of female board members in firms where we have investments rose to 36 percent from 15 percent in 2011, when we started monitoring the data. Our goal is to reach 50 percent by 2030.

Our research highlighting the business case for narrowing the gender gap is yielding significant findings as well. IFC’s FY19 report Moving Toward Gender Balance in Private Equity and Venture Capital found that private equity and venture capital funds with gender-balanced senior investment teams generated up to 20 percent higher returns compared with funds that have a majority of male or female leaders. The findings of the report suggest that the lack of women as allocators and recipients of capital may reduce investment returns and hurt female entrepreneurs.