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The Potential of Women

Women-owned entities represent over 30 percent of registered businesses worldwide. But all too often, women—already facing social and cultural barriers, and the pressures of raising a family—find it more difficult than men to gain access to finance.

While many investors are increasingly looking to the BRICs and beyond for growth opportunities, the fact is that women represent the largest emerging market on the planet.

Societies with greater gender equality and diversity are more productive and efficient. Breaking down gender barriers can help businesses and institutions perform better, boost competitiveness, and promote economic growth—thereby helping reduce poverty and improving development outcomes for the next generation.

The private sector plays a critical role in advancing equal opportunities for women and men, through the provision of access to finance, jobs, and technology.

IFC’s Gender Secretariat helps World Bank Group staff develop projects and initiatives to strengthen businesses by including women and men equally. We help clients build robust business performance by making them aware of the value women can bring either as a defined consumer segment, as employees in particularly male-dominated sectors, as business leaders, or as entrepreneurs and suppliers.

To increase access to finance for women-owned small and medium enterprises, we leverage our extensive global network of more than 800 financial intermediaries and work with corporations that share our objective to strengthen and broaden their outreach to women and have more women in management roles.

Through our Banking on Women program, IFC has invested in 29 projects since its inception, in 2010—in nearly 20 countries and with commitments totaling about $800 million. One of the companies benefitted through this initiative was Miniprix, a small private enterprise in Romania owned and operated by two sisters. Eighty percent of the company’s employees are women, who work filling ever-increasing orders of clothes, shoes, and other accessories that the company imports and resells both locally and abroad.


“When we decided to expand online, we didn’t expect that it would be so fast and that it would be so big a demand. And so we realized that we need more money to develop software,” says Miniprix Co-Owner Ana Maria Cristina.

The sisters were able to get a loan from Romania’s Garanti Bank, to which IFC had provided $15 million to target women-owned small companies. Their business is now booming, after an investment in a new software, logistics, and better warehouse management.

Banking on Women is also benefitting women entrepreneurs in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has one of the world’s lowest rates of access to finance. A combined program of investment and advisory services to Rawbank helped it boost not only lending to women entrepreneurs but also the provision of legal advice and business training.

Rawbank customer Jacqueline Mavinga was able to get a $6,000 loan to open a clothing shop, as well as receive training on how to create a business plan and keep accounts. “People take you much more seriously when you are backed up by a bank,” Mavinga says.

In partnership with the Goldman Sachs Foundation, we launched in 2014 another initiative that is benefitting women-owned small and medium companies. The Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Facility has a goal to reach 100,000 of these enterprises, with $600 million in investments. It has already committed to eight investment projects, in countries as diverse as Ecuador and Kenya, and recently announced China’s first internet-based gender-finance program.

Working with key partners including the EDGE Certified Foundation, International Labour Organization (ILO), and the UN Global Compact, IFC launched also in 2014 SheWorks, an initiative aimed at enhancing quality employment opportunities for more than 380,000 women worldwide over the next two years.