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2023 Annual Report: Mobilizing for Systemic Change | View Report

Starting and growing a business empowers women to overcome poverty and build a better future for themselves and their communities. We-Fi addresses the systemic barriers to women entrepreneurs in developing countries by linking policy, legal, and regulatory reforms with public and private investments. We-Fi also takes a broad eco-systems approach, focuses on access to finance, markets, networks, technology and tackles laws and business practices that keep women from thriving in business.

To date, We-Fi has allocated $300 million in three rounds of funding to programs supporting women’s entrepreneurship in over 60 countries.

First round of funding

In April 2018, the Governing Committee made its first funding allocation to the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and the World Bank Group for the initial set of programs and projects approved. The $120 million allocation mobilized additional resources of $1.6 billion, surpassing We-Fi’s five-year target. 58% of funds allocated under the first round funded women-owned small and medium enterprises (WSMEs) in low-income (IDA) countries and fragile and conflicted-affected situations.

The approved programs and projects spanned across all regions. 43% of the funding was allocated to countries in Sub-Saharan Africa including: Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, and Zambia. Around 26% of the funding was invested in South Asia, including Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Some 20% of funds were distributed in the Middle East and North Africa region, and the remaining amount supported engagements in East Asia and Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

The initial programs and projects are helped close to 46,000 women entrepreneurs in developing countries take their businesses to the next level.

Key elements of these programs and projects include:

  • Providing comprehensive, ecosystem solutions to improve women’s entrepreneurship;
  • Activities in several fragile and conflict-affected situations, including in Cote d’Ivoire, Kosovo, Mali, Mozambique, and Yemen;
  • Leveraging global knowledge, data and evidence; and
  • Leveraging partnerships
  • Current We-Fi programs and projects

Second round of funding

In May 2019, the Governing Committee made its second funding allocations. The projects are expected to benefit 70,000 women- led businesses and mobilize nearly a billion dollars of additional public and private sector resources. The second round allocates $129 million for programs to boost women’s entrepreneurship that will be implemented by four multilateral development banks, the African Development Bank; the Asian Development; the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development and the Inter-American Development Bank. Seventy percent of the current We-Fi funding allocation will benefit women entrepreneurs in low-income (IDA) countries and countries affected by fragility and conflict.

Third round of funding

In August 2020 the Governing Committee made its third funding allocation comprising $49.3 Million – expected to benefit over 15,000 women-led businesses and mobilize about $350 million of additional public and private sector resources. Over 65 percent of the most recent allocations will benefit women entrepreneurs in low-income (IDA-eligible) countries and countries affected by fragility and conflict. This latest round of allocations addresses the needs of women entrepreneurs created by the COVID-19 crisis, and encourages innovation and digital development, partnership development and the use of results-based mechanisms to facilitate greater access to financing for women entrepreneurs.

The following programs will be implemented by four multilateral development banks:

  • The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) was granted $7.36 million for its “Stepping Up for Women” Women in Business Program which aims to rapidly respond to the disproportionate pressures WSMEs face in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 related crisis. The program will deploy innovative solutions for WSMEs that will contribute to (a) improving access to markets through more inclusive supply chains; (b) enhancing competitiveness, growth potential, and access to finance by strengthening their ability to leverage digital technologies and (c) leveraging sex-disaggregated data to inform more effective public and private sector interventions. Program activities will be implemented in Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Egypt, and Morocco.
  • The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) received $14.71 million for its program to support access to finance, markets, skills and networks for women-led businesses primarily in technology and science-supported sectors. The program will prioritize helping women entrepreneurs navigate the ongoing economic crisis, and also to identify new business opportunities that may arise as a result of the pandemic. The program will provide acceleration support as well as seed and venture capital to high-potential STEM women entrepreneurs.  The program focuses on countries in Central America, Ecuador and Guyana.
  • The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) received $11.25 million for its program which supports women in West Africa engaging in entrepreneurial activities in the rice value chain. While women are heavily engaged in the rice industry, the prohibitively high cost of borrowing, and the non-financial constraints which hinder access to resources, assets, and markets, prevent women entrepreneurs from improving their livelihoods.  Accordingly, the program will aim to support upgrading and advancing women-owned SMEs within the rice value chain in West Africa though capacity development and grant matching, as well as increased access local and regional markets. Activities for this program will be carried out in Guinea, Niger, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
  • The World Bank Group (World Bank and IFC) received $16.01 million for a digitally enabled access to finance and markets program for women-led business in the Sahel region and globally, and an early-stage finance program supporting women entrepreneurs in several regions. The first program will foster market linkages between suppliers and buyers across the Sahel. It will provide services and training to women-led shea butter cooperatives on know-how, managerial capacity, networks, and marketing tools as well as support the digitization of payment systems. The second program seeks to create an inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem, addresses financing gaps, and assists with skills-building and mentoring of women entrepreneurs. Activities for these programs will be implemented in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Jordan, Iraq, and globally.