USAID Initiative Promotes Private Investment in Women-owned/led Enterprises and Funds

June 5, 2021

A new capital grant mechanism will allow the USAID CATALYZE Women’s Empowerment (WE) initiative, implemented by Palladium, to promote private sector investment to close the gender financing gap at scale in the near term. The grant mechanism is designed to influence the behavior of investors to invest in women-owned and women-led funds and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), including first-time women fund managers and women investors. It will also provide critical insight into key learning questions about the gender financing gap. 

After an extensive evaluation process, two grant winners were selected on June 1, 2021, among 94 applicants in the CATALYZE WE Competition—a call for innovative ideas to close the financing gap for women:

  • Sarona Asset Management, headquartered in Canada, has $300 million in assets under management in private equity and private debt across emerging markets, both through local funds and directly in growth-stage companies. Sarona is committed to strong financial returns while creating deep and lasting impact. Sarona’s forthcoming private equity fund, supported by a $4.3 million USAID grant, will add a special focus on empowering women in business through provision of impact services to business leaders and investment sector leaders in emerging markets, including adding gender-lens investing expertise to address investment committee biases against women-led business opportunities.
  • Lendahand is a crowdfunding company based in the Netherlands that brings together retail investors to lend operating capital directly to SMEs in emerging and frontier markets. About 70% of the SMEs in its portfolio are situated in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 35% of its portfolio has been invested in women-led SMEs. That share of the portfolio will increase with a USAID capital grant of $1.2 million, which allows for upgrades to the company’s digital platform. Lendahand will invest in women-led SMEs both directly and through its partners, offering such SMEs loans of $10,000 to $300,000. Lendahand expects to lend $120 million to over 2,000 women-led SMEs by September 30, 2024.

“Every year the gender financing gap increases, and we fail to correct this market failure, which exists not because investing in women is riskier, but because of bias within our global financial system, all the way down to the local level,” says Dr. Emily Brearley, Gender-Smart Investing Specialist, CATALYZE. “It is time to posit women as dynamic economic agents globally. With these capital grants, we are mainstreaming the investment needs of women business owners and women fund managers in the financial system. We are providing a glide path for women to have an important seat at the investment and business table!”

For more information about CATALYZE, visit the USAID website or contact Nadia Afrin (