By Wendy Teleki, Head of the We-Fi Secretariat
I was taught the way of progress is neither swift nor easy.
— Marie Curie (1867-1934), French physicist and two-time winner of the Nobel Prize
As any entrepreneur knows, persistence in the face of challenges is the key to success. For shop owners, startup CEOs, and aspiring founders, the multitude of crises 2020 has brought us has been a test not only to their business models – but also to their resolve. At We-Fi, we have been inspired by women-led startups that have persevered and blazed a trail in the face of adversity in the past year, like EnvioClick and tuGerente, who were finalists of IDB’s WeXChange pitch competition. These talented entrepreneurs saw strong growth in these difficult times thanks to their persistence, rapid adaptation to the new business environment, and smart use of digital technologies.
In the face of these challenges, We-Fi’s Implementing Partners expanded their work to finance and assist to women facing challenges from COVID. In the last quarter of 2020, five IFC projects with We-Fi financing were approved, focusing on access to finance and markets to WSMEs in response to the COVID-19 crisis. In the Philippines, IFC committed two new loans with a total value of $11 million were issued to two of the country’s largest microfinance institutions. In El Salvador, IFC and We-Fi are incentivizing Banco Agrícola, the largest bank in the country, to continue its focus on the WSME segment and to scale up lending to WSMEs.
In Sri Lanka, Asian Development Bank (ADB) ’s We-Fi project has exceeded its targets for facilitating new lending to women-led SMEs (WSMEs) – reaching over 600 WSMEs in a time where access to financing is more critical than ever. The World Bank Group’s We-Fi program facilitated over 1,300 loans and investments to WSMEs globally, while the Islamic Development Bank has provided matching grants to over 300 women entrepreneurs in conflict-torn Yemen.
At We-Fi, we are planning for an exciting journey ahead. In the new year, We-Fi is welcoming Germany as the new chair of its Governing Committee, which consists of representatives from We-Fi’s fourteen donor governments. I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to Mathew Haarsager of the US Department of Treasury, for his tenure as chair of We-Fi’s Governing Committee. We look forward to working closely with Dr. Julia Lehmann, who will chair the Governing Committee on behalf of Germany in 2021.
The pandemic is still far from over. In December, the US economy lost 140,000 jobs – where women accounted for all the net job losses. Globally, data suggest that in most countries, women are more likely to stop working than men due to COVID-19. Many women are shuttering their businesses, while others may turn to entrepreneurship as they rethink their jobs and look for more fulfilling work. This means we still have much work to do. Capitalizing on the accomplishments of Implementing Partners, the Secretariat is developing a new call for proposals – looking to focus on addressing the impact of COVID-19 on women-led businesses, as well as tracking, aggregating, and analyzing data that may be leveraged to encourage lending and investment to WSMEs. With the concerted efforts of governments, financial institutions, and the corporate sector, we have an opportunity to develop a more robust entrepreneurship ecosystem – one that may provide a viable pathway out of the current crisis for millions of women around the world.