Shining the spotlight on the barriers preventing access to finance
Our Programme Officer Annika Hagel highlights an important panel discussion which was part of the Women Entrepreneurs Mean Business Summit: Driving Equal Access to Finance for Young Women Entrepreneurs.
Last November, as part of the Women Entrepreneurs Mean Business Summit, we held a panel session called “Driving Equal Access to Finance for Young Women Entrepreneurs”. The discussion provided a fascinating glimpse into the many barriers facing women entrepreneurs in low and middle income countries looking to access finance for their businesses.
Countless young women entrepreneurs have promising ideas they want to realise – but how do they get the money they need in a world characterised by male-centred investment practices?
In a discussion moderated by Mallika Kapur, Deputy Global Editor at Bloomberg Live, four panellists explored the issue: Adenike Adeyemi, Executive Director of Fate Foundation, Sofía Benjumea, Head of Google for Startups—EMEA at Google, Wendy Teleki, Head of the We-Fi Secretariat at World Bank, and Anita Tiessen, CEO of Youth Business International.
As Anita emphasised, young women entrepreneurs face unique challenges due to both gender and age: “It’s all the perception and structuring issues to do with being a woman and then the experience and collateral issues to do with being young. ”
An important factor which is a significant disadvantage is the lack of diversity in the funding industry. This exacerbates the harmful influence of gender stereotypes. Sofia gave an eye-opening example: “A female founder [I know] from a fintech company said she still has to bring her co-founder to raise funds, it’s easier for him to make this connection.” Wendy agreed, highlighting that more women investors are an essential part of the solution: “When women make investment decisions, they invest more in women.”
At the same time, there are issues with the design of financial services products themselves that mean funding is less accessible to young women. Drawing on her own experience working with women entrepreneurs in Nigeria, Adenike explained that “the funding that is available is still very structured to [favour] male-led businesses; [financial institutions] are asking for collateral that only men are able to provide.”
According to Wendy, change thus has to be backed by financial institutions, who must reinvent the way they design their products. She told the panel: “Banks need to think about their products and services and whether they really meet the needs of women who have smaller businesses, less assets, and youth.” Sofia agreed that funding structures and institutions needed to change. A particularly effective way to ensure funding is going to those who need it the most is to create funds targeted specifically for them: “Focusing on funds for specific underrepresented groups has an impact on the whole ecosystem”, she argued.
Banks need to think about their products and services and whether they really meet the needs of women who have smaller businesses, less assets, and youth.
Lack of financial knowledge and business skills constitutes another barrier for women entrepreneurs: “We need to give them financial literacy that allows them to properly invest or build a financial trail”, Adenike noted.
Looking into the future, the panellists agreed that digitalisation is a vital part of empowering young women entrepreneurs. As Wendy pointed out: “The future path for women entrepreneurs has to be tied to technology. Getting their sales and payments online creates a financing data stream that helps them to get access to finance down the road.”
Adenike also emphasised the need for women entrepreneurs to advocate for themselves in the business world: “We have to encourage young women to be active participants in their Chambers of Commerce. You need to start positioning young women entrepreneurs in the policy spaces that are relevant to their businesses.” As well as pledging to increase support targeted at young women in business, Anita highlighted the importance of role models: “The more you see people like yourself doing the thing you’d like to do, the more you feel you can do it.”
The more you see people like yourself doing the thing you'd like to do, the more you feel you can do it.
For me, this panel clearly showed that the challenges women entrepreneurs face are often heightened by their intersectional identities. They are not a homogeneous group but young women facing specific barriers like sexism, ageism and racism, specific to the country individuals live and work in. Women entrepreneurs need support tailored to their particular circumstances, which is something to keep in mind not only in regard to access to finance but in all areas of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Women Entrepreneurs Mean Business: the global Summit
For the Women Entrepreneurs Mean Business Summit in November 2021, we explored and challenged the gender stereotypes holding women entrepreneurs back from success and equality.Find out more
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