Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Supporting Growth-Oriented Women Entrepreneurs: A Review of the Evidence and Key Challenges

In recent years, support programs for women entrepreneurs have gained traction and prominence as a means to create jobs and boost productivity at the national and regional levels. However, disparities in initial resource endowments of men- and women-led firms, sector sorting into low productivity activities, social norms, and institutional arrangements, constrain the growth of women-led enterprises.

This note reviews the outcomes of programs supporting growth of women entrepreneurs and draws lessons from available evidence to inform the design of more effective programs. The review shows that most programs are primarily geared toward microenterprises, making it difficult to draw conclusions about program design for growth-oriented entrepreneurs, but some early findings point the way forward.

Management practices appear to improve as a result of business education, but there is little robust evidence to prove that support programs lead to significant improvements in business performance outcomes. Furthermore, in programs with both men and women participants, firm performance improves in some cases for men-led firms only, not for women-led firms. The note concludes by suggesting the need for more experimentation in the design and delivery of services and a new focus on strengthening the engendering of support programs to more specifically address gender-specific constraints such as social norms, entrepreneurial preferences, and institutional arrangements, changing public discourse, and paying more attention to factors that induce women entrepreneurs to diversify into higher value-added activities. Offering mentoring, networking, and other consulting services, in addition to education on basic business practices, and strengthening critical areas such as gender-specific content, can potentially increase the effectiveness of these programs.