Investing in women-owned small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is one of the best ways to simultaneously achieve economic, financial, and social impact. Launched at the Summit of the Americas in April 2012, the Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas (WEAmericas) initiative leverages public-private partnerships to increase women’s economic participation and address three barriers women confront in starting and growing SMEs: access to training and networks, access to markets, and access to finance. Through these collaborations, the United States and its partners have made a number of key advances.
In addition to the U.S. government, WEAmericas founding partners included the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, ExxonMobil Foundation, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Kauffman FastTrac, Thunderbird School of Global Management, Vital Voices, Walmart Foundation, and WEConnect International. Since the launch of WEAmericas, additional organizations have made contributions to the development and support of regional women-owned SMEs.
1. Access to Training and Networks
Walmart Foundation and the U.S. Department of State partnered to provide training to women entrepreneurs at the SME level throughout the region. In May 2012, a cohort of women entrepreneurs participated in an International Visitors’ Leadership Program, during which they had the opportunity to attend an intensive business skills workshop by Kauffman FastTrac. In September 2012, the cohort of women, as well as women entrepreneurs from related U.S. Department of State women’s networks, participated in a follow-on capacity building program carried out by Vital Voices, with a special emphasis on export and sourcing as strategies for enterprise growth. The cohort of women, now called the “WEAmericas Network,” elected its first nine-member board and country representatives for each of the 20 countries represented within the network.
Through Secretary Clinton’s International Fund for Women and Girls, the Walmart Foundation provided $1.5 million for the WEAmericas Small Grants Initiative to support broader economic empowerment and development for women-owned businesses in the region, particularly for indigenous and rural women. More than 100 applications were received for small grants ranging from $20,000 to $60,000; grant recipients will be notified in fall 2012.
As part of their 10,000 Women Entrepreneurship Partnership, in June 2012, Goldman Sachs and the U.S. Department of State brought a cohort of 25 women from the region to the United States for intensive business and management training at the Thunderbird School of Global Management. In October 2012, an additional cohort of 27 women from Haiti will participate.
The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women matched approximately 20 women from the WEAmericas Network with businesswomen and men across the world for a unique mentoring program through its Mentoring Women in Business initiative.
From August through October 2012, Google in Colombia worked with the U.S. Department of State to implement a series of workshops for approximately 200 women entrepreneurs on overcoming barriers to entry to technology, e-marketing, and website development.
In October 2012, the Secretary launched the FINPYME Mujer Empresaria Trust Fund at the Inter-American Investment Corporation, a member of the IDB Group. With an initial contribution of $900,000 from the U.S. Department of State, this Trust Fund will provide an easy way for government and private sector donors to support training for women entrepreneurs throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. When possible, the training will be provided at local small business development centers so women entrepreneurs can access these important resources right in their local communities. The pilot countries are El Salvador and Peru. This builds on successful efforts under another Summit-launched initiative, the Small Business Network of the Americas.
2. Access to Finance
The IDB’s Structured and Corporate Finance Department (SCF) and Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) partnered to launch women entrepreneurshipBanking (weB), an initiative to help financial institutions deploy innovative lending models that support growth in women’s small and medium-sized businesses. The MIF is providing up to $5 million in technical assistance grants to transfer knowledge of effective lending models for women-owned SMEs and to train loan officers and credit managers in these products and services. SCF, through its financial markets strategy’s beyondBanking program, is offering up to $50 million in loans, risk-sharing facilities, and partial credit guarantees. By doing so, SCF will share some of the risk of testing these models and generate opportunities for more inclusive finance with these institutions.
Since the launch at the Summit of the Americas, SCF has disbursed $5.1 million of a $12.8 million loan to Banco Pichincha in Ecuador—the first transaction under the weB initiative, while the MIF is currently analyzing the needs of Banco Pichincha for technical assistance funding to expand its women-owned SME portfolio. Through the MIF, $550,000 in technical assistance have been approved for Scotiabank Jamaica to further expand its SME loan portfolio with specific emphasis on women-owned SMEs. The MIF is also currently analyzing a possible facility with Itaú Unibanco, Brazil. One of the project objectives will be to connect 1,500 women-led SMEs, including graduates of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program, with access to finance.
3. Access to Markets
The ExxonMobil Foundation and the U.S. Department of Sta
te have provided grants to WEConnect International to support their work registering and certifying women-owned businesses in Mexico. Through its work with the Subcommittee on Access to Markets on the Secretary’s International Council of Women Business Leaders, WEConnect has also worked to provide women-owned businesses in Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Peru with market-access knowledge, resources, and opportunities. During these events, participating women will meet buyers and senior executives of large corporations and promote their brands to a network of international businesses.
For more information about the founding partners or about the launch of WEAmericas, please see the WEAmericas fact sheet.