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USAID, ANDE and Visa Foundation Launched ANDE Gender Equality Initiative and Advancing Women’s Empowerment Fund

Women-owned businesses continue to be a growth engine in emerging markets, yet a widening financing gap -- estimated at $260-$320 billion a year -- exists for women entrepreneurs compared to their male counterparts. Addressing the unmet financial needs of women-led businesses represents a tremendous opportunity for women entrepreneurs, financial investors, families and communities, and the global economy.
 
A partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE), and the Visa Foundation aims to address barriers that women entrepreneurs face by building supportive entrepreneurial ecosystems in emerging markets that are responsive to the ways in which women have been subject to gender bias and institutional exclusion.
 
The ANDE Gender Equality Initiative, launched Sept. 24 at the ANDE Annual Conference, which brings together incubators, accelerators, funders, donors and financial institutions from around the world, will work to strengthen intermediaries that support women entrepreneurs, such as incubators, accelerators and investment funds, to fund more companies, build their capacity, and connect them with appropriate sources of capital to scale.
 
The new initiative is part of the programming of USAID’s Partnering to Accelerate Entrepreneurship (PACE), an initiative that catalyzes private-sector investment into early-stage enterprises, and the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative, a U.S. whole-of-government effort to advance global women’s economic empowerment.
 
To expand access to finance for women-led businesses, the initiative’s Advancing Women’s Empowerment Fund will provide over US $1 million in funding over two years to entrepreneurial support organizations. The Fund will also identify the best strategies to get investment capital into the hands of women entrepreneurs in emerging markets.
 
Fund activities may include acceleration programs with all-female cohorts, alternative recruitment strategies, and more conversational and informal pairing processes to match investors with women-led businesses. By the end of the initial funding period, the Fund hopes to have identified a set of interventions that can spread across emerging market practitioners, helping them better support the women entrepreneurs who enter their programs.
 
“At USAID, we believe that empowering women through enterprise-driven development will accelerate jobs growth, development progress and economic prosperity in developing economies,” said Whitney Dubinsky, Private Enterprise Officer with USAID’s Private-Sector Engagement Team. “The ANDE Gender Initiative will help fill the financing gap and give women entrepreneurs the support and financing that their businesses need to scale through a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
 
ANDE’s Global Accelerator Learning Initiative (GALI), launched in 2015 with support from USAID, has been tracking the performance of more than 20,000 firms around the world that applied to 350+ accelerator programs.

GALI compared the performance of accepted and rejected firms and identified the accelerator programming features that correspond with increased firm performance in employment, revenue growth and access to finance. Research findings showed that women-led firms do not achieve increased access to finance, and in fact, lose ground to mixed-gender and all-male teams after acceleration. Beginning with South and Southeast Asia, the Fund aims to gain greater insight into this issue and solve it.
 
“We have long known that women entrepreneurs in emerging markets face barriers to accessing the same resources as men in growing their businesses,” said Randall Kempner, Executive Director, ANDE. “Our research has shown that business acceleration practiced traditionally is not sufficient to overcome this entrenched gender inequity—so we’re hoping to catalyze new and improved approaches.”
 
Bill Sheedy, Chair of the Board, Visa Foundation and Executive Vice President, Visa Inc. said: “Unlocking the full potential of women in the entrepreneurial ecosystem requires intentional structural changes, including women as central decision-makers in policy, access to capital, and management of their businesses.” This is the first step in larger partnership between USAID, Visa Inc. and Visa Foundation.
 
USAID was a sponsor of the ANDE Annual Conference and the USAID Private-Sector Engagement (PSE) team participated in panel discussions on blended financing for development.