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By Wendy Teleki, Head of the We-Fi Secretariat

Events of the past few weeks have driven home how far we still have to go to build a safe and equitable world where all have the opportunity to thrive.  There is no more important or urgent task.  While We-Fi focuses on lifting up women entrepreneurs, we know that women’s challenges are intersectional.  Women’s economic opportunities are constrained when they are discriminated against due to their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or social position.  Their dreams can be thwarted due to poverty, environmental degradation, health and human capital deficiencies, cultural norms and inequitable legal systems.  We cannot separate out our work at We-Fi to elevate women entrepreneurs from the broader challenges they face around the world.

As we absorb the first wave of COVID-19 around the world, we need to consider how our actions today can position us to build back better. It has been inspiring to see the speed with which our Implementing Partners have mobilized billions of dollars of funding for emerging markets to tackle the healthcare and economic implications of COVID-19.  Now we must redouble our efforts to ensure that that funding is reaching those most in need and help to eliminate rather than reinforce fault lines that are deeply embedded in our societies.  Insisting on gender components and gender lens analysis of large economic relief programs, requiring gender-disaggregated data where funds are going to businesses, and propelling specific programs that address the needs of women entrepreneurs is essential.

We are already seeing green-shoots in our own programs, as our Implementing Partners pivot to address the crisis.

  • IFC recently invested in a private equity fund in Latin America which will provide much-needed financing to women-led SMEs in hard-hit sectors in several South American economies.
  • The World Bank is launching a series of deep-dive e-commerce webinars in English, French and Arabic to support women-led businesses in the Middle East and North Africa with expert content provided by the International Trade Center and UPS.
  • EBRD in our last webinar spoke of how they are adapting their WSME capacity-building programs to a digital format and delivering five times more training over the past three months than usual.
  • A new guidance note from IFC highlights best practices from insurance companies on how they can support female employees, customers, and agents during the pandemic.

It has been heartening to engage with a broad community of like-minded actors committed to action through our WE Talks webinar series.  As more disconcerting data are coming in about the effects of the pandemic, it is encouraging to see that members of the wider ‘We-Fi family’ are spurring into action and coming up with innovative ways to deliver support programs to women-led SMEs under challenging circumstances.

Recently, each month seems to hold a new and unexpected twist.  We sincerely hope that June will bring more stability, more solutions and more opportunities to build back better, together.