We are awash in data, but sometimes a single data point can stop me cold. This is one: during the pandemic, loan applications from women-led businesses have been rejected at twice the rate of those from male-led businesses. This shocking statistic validates our worst fears that the pandemic would reverse the modest gains we had been making towards gender equity in entrepreneurship, as institutions that should be serving women revert to their more traditional, more male clientele. To me, this is a call to action.
The research, based on recent World Bank Enterprise Survey data, also shows women-led businesses faring worse than male-led businesses across the board: more supply disruptions, more prolonged stoppages, and higher layoffs that disproportionately affect female employees.
We all lose when women cannot get financing or survive as entrepreneurs and employers. Women entrepreneurs are powerful catalysts for change. Millions of them around the world are building solutions that we need to address the challenges of climate mitigation, human development, the fight against COVID-19, and other significant issues affecting our world. So many women entrepreneurs We-Fi works within emerging markets have developed intelligent solutions to help solve problems in their communities. From coding and IT classes for women and girls in West Africa, accessible online tutoring to boost mathematics skills of schoolgirls and boys in Pakistan, to smart water treatment technologies for households in Bangladesh, they are building the future.
Nadia Ali is that kind of change catalyst. She owns a sewing workshop in Yemen, one of the most fragile countries on the planet. Early in the COVID-19 crisis, she saw an opportunity to adapt her facilities to meet the demand for medical clothing and PPE for health workers, products that were nearly impossible to obtain in her war-torn country. With some help from We-Fi and the Islamic Development Bank, her resilience and ingenuity helped protect healthcare workers in Yemen to be more prepared to face the pandemic. Yet women like Nadia, who already faced an uneven playing field compared to male counterparts, have seen gaps widen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Empirical evidence over the years has shown that communities and families benefit more from the returns of investment in women. In addition, women business owners employ more women than male-led firms. Moreover, successful female entrepreneurs are a source of inspiration for other women and girls, strengthening their ambition, agency, and financial independence.
We-Fi’s upcoming financing round aims to help address these challenges, supporting female entrepreneurs to access more finance and technologies that can help them solve the worlds’ problems. But there is more – much more – to be done. As Nadia has inspired us, we look forward to working with our stakeholders worldwide to ensure women entrepreneurs have the resources and level playing field to overcome their challenges and build the solutions the world needs.