Enhancing the productivity
of women-owned enterprises
The evidence on what works,
and a research agenda
Arjan de Haan
Enhancing the productivity of women-owned enterprises:
The evidence on what works, and a research agenda
Arjan de Haan
This paper brings together the evidence on how the productivity of women-owned enterprises
can be enhanced. It describes the economic benets to women’s economic empowerment,
the economic gender gaps, the social and institutional barriers, and what we know about
solutions. It was originally prepared as background paper for the United Nations High-level
Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment.
This work was carried out with nancial support under the Growth and Economic Opportunities
for Women (GrOW) initiative. GrOW is a multi-funder partnership with the UK Government’s
Department for International Development, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and
Canada’s International Development Research Centre.
About the author
Arjan de Haan has been the Program Leader for IDRC’s Employment and Growth program
for the past ve years, during which he initiated the multi-funder program GrOW. Before that,
he was Senior Lecture at the Institute for Social Studies in The Hague, and Social Development
Adviser at the UK Department for International Development.
The program Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) was launched in 2013.
It aims to inform social and economic policies to improve poor women’s lives, while promoting
economic growth. It funds 14 research projects in 50 countries.
International Development Research Centre
PO Box 8500, Ottawa, ON
Canada K1G 3H9
Tel: (+1) 613-236-6163; Email: email@example.com
COVER PH OTO: IDRC
Executive Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
1. Introduction: women-owned businesses and gender equality . . . 3
2. Opportunities and challenges for female entrepreneurship . . . 5
2.1 Dening women-owned businesses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
2.2 Rise of female entrepreneurship, regional diﬀerences . . . . . . . 6
2.3 Continued, inter-linked constraints . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
2.4 Can women-owned businesses grow? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
3. Changing the macro-environment to support
women’s economic empowerment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
3.1 Laws and regulation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
3.2 Trade, trade facilitation, aid for trade . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
3.3 Public procurement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
4. Training and services . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
4.1 Financial services . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
4.2 Business training and services . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
4.3 Networking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
4.4 New technologies and data . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
5. Building market connections . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
5.1 Impact investment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
5.2 Empowering women in value chains . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
5.3 Micro-franchising . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
5.4 Supplier diversity and inclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
6. Conclusion: what works and what we need
to know more about . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Globally, one-in-three formally registered businesses are owned
by women (IFC estimate). Small and medium-sized enterprises
(SMEs) account for 80 per cent of jobs world-wide, and women
tend to be over-represented in, and own, smaller (and informal)
enterprises. Rates of female entrepreneurship have been
increasing, and gender gaps decreasing, but regional variations
in levels of female entrepreneurship are very large.
Women entrepreneurs lack access to the resources needed
to reach their economic potential. This paper, originally prepared
for the United Nations High Level Panel on Women’s Economic
Empowerment, takes stock of what we know about women
entrepreneurs, the barriers they face, the role of economic and
social-cultural factors, what works in supporting women-owned
businesses, and where the knowledge gaps are.
Growth-potential of women-owned businesses
The potential additional economic contribution of equal
participation of female entrepreneurs is large. 50 per cent
of women’s productive potential is underused, compared to
22 per cent of men’s (ILO 2016). While women’s borrowing
behaviour tends to be similar to men’s, women’s access to
nancial services globally is only 77 per cent of the access
men have (McKinsey Global Institute 2015).
Research consistently shows that women entrepreneurs
lack access to the resources needed to reach their economic
potential. Disparities exist in all sectors and for all types of
enterprises, and are amplied in the context of international
markets. Seventy per cent of women-owned SMEs in develop-
ing countries are not served or underserved by nancial insti-
tutions. Women-owned enterprises have on average lower
sales and assets, and female entrepreneurs tend to be over-
represented in the smallest and informal enterprises. They are
often crowded in sectors and markets that appear saturated
and oﬀer low-prot potential. Access to nance is critical. The
credit gap for formal women-owned SMEs across all regions
is 30 per cent of the estimated total credit gap for SMEs,
roughly $280 billion (IFC 2013).
There is strong evidence of ‘bundled constraints’ for women –
that is, they face constraints along numerous and intersecting
dimensions. This has important implications for the measure-
ment of women’s economic empowerment, and for support to
women-owned businesses. Expansion of entrepreneurial activity
for women – and potentials for success of support programs –
cannot be seen in isolation of broader gender inequalities,
including the responsibilities women have in the care economy.
Very few small enterprises, men- or women-owned, become
big enterprises. There is limited understanding of which types
of businesses grow, and why, even in developed countries. Even
less is known about why some informal businesses become
formal, while others remain in the informal sector. These issues
are even more urgent for women entrepreneurs, and – the
literature suggests – more challenging.
Evidence on what works in supporting women-owned busi-
nesses is growing. The body of rigorous evidence on the impact
of credit, training, and business services programs is relative
strong. This shows:
• Training programs can work, and has positive impacts in
business behavior, but longer-term and growth impacts are
not easily found. In-depth and longer training and mentor-
ship are likely to have larger impacts. Training for larger
enterprises may have better chance of success than for
• While addressing constraints to nancing is a key priority,
nance on its own may not have a large impact on most
• Access to mobile phones and other technologies, similarly,
is a necessary but not suﬃcient condition. Gender-specic
applications can be critical; for example, to allow women to
better manage the needs of both business and household
• Women need the legal protection that business registration
oﬀers. Entrepreneurs may resist registration to avoid taxation
or because they fear harassment by government oﬃcials.
There is emphasis on the need to combine micro-interventions,
like training and mentoring, with addressing the broader
entrepreneurial ecosystem and macro-level constraints:
• World Bank research indicates correlations between legal
constraints and women’s economic roles. There are strong
gender norms including around the need to ‘protect
women’ and ‘appropriate occupations’.
• Diﬀerent trade regimes have diﬀerent impacts on women,
and complementary measures are deemed necessary to
enhance the benets of trade liberalisation.
• Public procurement makes up a signicant proportion of a
country’s GDP, and initiatives exist to help women obtain
access. Politically, targeted interventions in this area are not
popular. The literature also suggests the need for comple-
There is growing evidence that building market connections is
a critical path for promoting women-owned businesses. Value
chain approaches have shown positive results, particularly for
small rural producers who are provided with the opportunity
to commercialize production. Also, a growing number of global
companies are committing themselves to engage with
women-owned businesses and promote supplier diversity and
inclusion. Finally, impact investment also provides new avenues
to promote women-owned businesses, but good evidence on
how market connections can be built to facilitate growth is not
2EN HA NC IN G T HE P RO DU CT IV IT Y OF WOME N-OW NE D EN TE RP RI SE S
There is growing evidence that building market connections
is a critical path for promoting women-owned businesses.
While there has been global progress in gender equality,
disparities remain in key indicators of primary health and
education. The World Economic Forum’s (2015) comparison of
inequalities in diﬀerent domains indicates that political and
economic inequalities continue to be large. In the economic
domain, disparities are manifold: women tend to have more
responsibility in the care economy, have lower labour force
participation rates and lower wages in the same jobs, tend
to be concentrated in least remunerative occupations, and
encounter more diﬃculties in starting and growing their own
businesses. There is a concern that economic gender disparities
may widen as part of economic transformation (Fox 2016),
including with commercialization of production (Njuki et al. 2011).
The advocacy for women’s economic empowerment has
been growing over the last decade. The number of private
actors promoting this has expanded signicantly. The ‘business
case’ for gender equality has been articulated through, for
example, the World Development Report 2013. The World Eco-
nomic Forum (2015) indicates that reduced gender inequality
can go hand-in-hand with enhanced competitiveness.
Similarly, the McKinsey Global Institute (2015a, b) estimates
that gender equality can help grow the global economy by
$12 trillion by 2025, and for example, the Indian economy
by as much as $700 billion.
This paper brings together the evidence on one aspect of
women’s economic empowerment: women-owned enterprises,
and how their productivity can be enhanced.1We look at
trends, diversity, and the economic benets of women’s entre-
preneurship in developing countries. What are the economic
gender gaps? What are the social and institutional barriers?
What do we know about solutions?2
We focus our attention on smaller enterprises. While gender-
based constraints also matter for larger women-owned busi-
nesses, we suggest that priority development questions, and
potential for gains, are with respect to the smaller enterprises
that employ the majority of the working population in devel-
oping countries, and in which women are over-represented.
There is also evidence that gender-based constraints are
stronger in smaller enterprises.
Much of the available information focuses on formally
registered enterprises. Databases like that of the International
Finance Corporation (IFC) are restricted to businesses with a
formal registration. Supplier diversity and inclusion programs
of large multi-national companies typically work only with
formally registered businesses. But the paper also refers to
informal enterprises. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor
(GEM) data is not necessarily restricted to formal enterprises.
Evaluation of training programs do not always specify whether
these are formally registered businesses; indeed, some of the
work focuses on how businesses can formalize. Finally, it is
important not to equate being formal with having the potential
Introduction: women-owned businesses and gender equality
1This paper was initially prepared for the UN High Level Panel on Women’s Economic
Empowerment, which is tasked to provide recommendations on how to improve
economic outcomes for women, and to promote their leadership in driving sustain-
able and inclusive, environmentally sensitive economic growth. The paper was pre-
pared through a review of the literature, and an expert consultation organized by
IDRC, WEConnect International and Urban Institute at the Urban Institute’s oﬃce
in Washington DC on May 17, 2016.
2Progress on business growth prospects is likely to be linked to progress on other
aspects of women’s empowerment – including human capabilities, voice and
organization – but these receive less attention here.
4EN HA NC IN G T HE P RO DU CT IV IT Y OF WOME N-OW NE D EN TE RP RI SE S
The paper is structured as follows. Section 2 describes what
we know about female entrepreneurship, the global trend of
rising female entrepreneurship, the continued regional and
cross-country diﬀerences, the concentration of women in
‘informal’ enterprises where growth potentials are more limited,
and the importance of ‘bundled constraints’.
The analysis of constraints leads us to highlight that solutions
need to be considered across a range of spheres. Macro-eco-
nomic and political factors are key in determining economic
opportunities for women. There is clear evidence of the impor-
tance of such factors that discriminate against or constrain
women in setting up and growing businesses. Section 3 there-
fore describes constraints and potentials for improvements in
the legal sphere, trade, and public procurement.
Section 4 focuses on what we know about direct support
to women-owned businesses. This is an area where rigorous
evidence (impact evaluation with a comparator) is increasingly
available. Studies indicate that provision of business services
can have a positive impact, but that the impacts are small, and
there is less evidence on how business growth can be supported.
There is growing evidence that for businesses to grow,
building individual/enterprise capabilities must be combined
with connecting these businesses to market opportunities.
Section 5 discusses the growing interest and experience by
large private companies to include women-owned businesses
in their value chains.
Section 6 concludes, highlighting the areas which are generally
well known or documented, and areas of information and
Data is available globally to provide a picture of the potential
and challenges of supporting women-owned businesses, par-
ticularly through sources from IFC, GEM and ILO. With the data
they provide, we can estimate the number and sizes of busi-
nesses owned by women. As one would expect, large data
gaps remain, particularly in developing countries.3This not
only hinders analysis, but also the potential for public and
private sector policies to target women’s empowerment. This
section summarizes global trends of female entrepreneurship
and the large regional diﬀerences. It discusses the disadvantages
women face, almost universally, and where the largest potentials
for growth seem to exist.
2.1. Defining women-owned businesses
Denitions of what constitutes a women-owned business
matter. Though they vary across countries, it is important that
denitions emphasize ownership and control by women, to
avoid tokenism and fronting. As the International Trade Centre
(ITC) highlights in a discussion on public procurement, it is
critical for these businesses to establish eﬀective certication
and registration (ITC, 2014).
According to the IFC, a denition commonly used by banks
for women-owned rms is 51 per cent or more women’s owner-
ship (IFC, 2013). The IFC broadens this denition:
IFC denes women-owned enterprises as a rm with
(a) 51.0 percent ownership/stake by a woman/women; or
(b) 20.0 percent owned by a woman/women AND
1 woman as CEO/COO (President/Vice-President) as well as
≥ 30.0 percent of the board of directors being women
where a board exists (IFC undated).
The denition used by WEConnect International is more
extensive and is considered the universal standard by govern-
ment and corporations committed to supplier diversity and
inclusion. To be certied as a ‘women’s business enterprise,’
companies must meet the following qualications:
• have 51% ownership by one or more women;
• day-to-day and long-term control and management of
the business by one or more women;
• contribution of capital and/or expertise by women;
• operate independently from other non-certied businesses
(ie. pass-through companies or sales representatives are
Much of our knowledge on women-owned businesses is
from data of the GEM. The GEM Adult Population Survey meas-
ures the level and nature of entrepreneurial activity around the
world, i.e. by individuals, which makes gender diﬀerentiation
straightforward. It measures this at diﬀerent stages, from seeing
an opportunity, making the rst steps towards starting a busi-
ness, nurturing a small business, and scaling it up. Second, the
GEM National Expert Survey monitors the factors that are
believed to have a signicant impact on entrepreneurship, and
is administered to chosen 'experts' in each country. This pro-
vides a useful complement to business environment surveys.
Opportunities and challenges for female entrepreneurship
WORLD BANK/A. HOEL
3Aidis et al. (2015) highlight that in only 6 out of 31 countries that appear on the
Scorecard are annual gendered business censuses available (two of these countries
have a gender procurement policy, the USA and South Africa).
4WEConnect International Certication (2016); https://weconnectinternational.org/
6EN HA NC IN G T HE P RO DU CT IV IT Y OF WOME N-OW NE D EN TE RP RI SE S
“More than 200 million women entrepreneurs are starting
or running new businesses in 83 economies across the
globe. An additional 128 million are running established
businesses.” (GEM 2015).
While GEM emphasizes individual entrepreneurs, with
growing information at a global level on motivations and aspi-
rations of women, there is also growing data at the rm level.
The IFC SME and Women-Owned SME Baseline Survey carried
out in 2011 shows the share of female-owned SMEs nanced
by IFC’s client banks, allowing analysis of operational and
nancial characteristics of rms. This shows, for example, that
women-owned enterprises employ similar numbers of employ-
ees as men-owned enterprises, but that their sales and assets
are lower than those of men.
The ILO provides data on a wider set of enterprises, includ-
ing in the informal sector. This shows that women tend to be
heavily over-represented in the smallest and informal enter-
prises (ILO 2015, 2016). Globally, about half of men and women
workers are self-employed, and this rate is higher in developing
countries, and growing. The self-employed category is hetero-
geneous, and includes employers, own account operators
(self-employed), and unpaid family workers – with women over-
represented in the last two (UN 2015). Most of these women
work in petty trade, light manufacturing and services, and work
in public spaces and out of their home. Informal women-owned
enterprises tend to face more severe constraints – including
legal – than formal ones. While informality is sometimes
regarded as avoiding legislation and taxation, most women in
the informal sector tend to be subject to disadvantages as a
result of being ‘informal’. 5
As women’s businesses tend to be smaller than men’s, and
more often informal, data collection remains biased and
knowledge about women-owned businesses limited. With
perhaps 80 per cent of the jobs worldwide being in micro-,
small-and medium enterprises (MSMEs), the need for better
information is signicant. It also seems important to nd ways
to compare ndings from diﬀerent databases, across the (formal)
business focus of World Bank/IFC, the self-employed workers
focus of ILO and WIEGO, and the entrepreneurship focus
2.2. Rise of female entrepreneurship,
Globally, a growing number of women have started and are
running businesses. According to GEM data for 61 economies,
entrepreneurial activity – Total Early-Stage Entrepreneurial
Activity (TEA) – among women increased by 7 seven percent
between 2012 and 2014 (GEM 2015). This narrowed the gender
gap by 6 per cent, though the gender gap in early stage entre-
preneurship activity remains 7 to 10 per cent. Levels of entre-
preneurship seem to be higher when labour force participation
is higher. Women entrepreneurs are increasingly educated,
with rates of secondary degrees similar to men, and are driven
by opportunity as much as men. Women show high levels of
innovativeness (particularly younger women), and develop
According to IFC data, one in three (formal) businesses
(SMEs) are formally owned by women, with no diﬀerence
between men- and women-owned businesses in terms of
number of employees, but diﬀerences in terms of sales and
assets. Among the smallest and informal enterprises, as men-
tioned, women are over-represented. According to the ITC data
(2015), 1 in 5 trading companies are women-owned or managed.
Despite the growing women entrepreneurship activity
globally, large cross-country diﬀerences in gender gaps remain.
In 83 economies examined by GEM, there are substantial diﬀer-
ences in women’s TEA: from a high of 41 per cent in Nigeria and
Zambia to a low of 2 per cent in Suriname and Japan. World
Bank Enterprise Survey data shows that 25 per cent of over
3,000 rms sampled have a female owner, varying from 13 per
cent in Bangladesh to 56 per cent in Zimbabwe (Amin 2014).
In low-income economies high rates of entrepreneurship
are driven by subsistence needs rather than growth orienta-
tion. In developing countries, where entrepreneurship is high,
few of the companies grow, and fewer women-owned enter-
prises grow. Gender gaps in start-up activities are larger in mid-
dle-income countries, and narrower in lower-income countries
(Naudé and Minniti (2011). Figure 1 (below) shows decreasing
TEA as economies move from factor-driven to innovation-
driven economies (with more large companies and employ-
ment opportunities), and growing gender gaps.
Figure 2 (below) provides a partial explanation for this.
Women develop entrepreneurial activity out of necessity more
often than men, including in innovation-driven economies.
GEM (2015) reports very high rates of innovation by women
entrepreneurs in innovation-driven economies.
Most women in the informal sector tend to be subject to
disadvantages as a result of their informality.
5Marty Chen, at expert meeting at The Urban Institute, 17 May 2016.
Gaps between men and women entrepreneurial activity
vary considerably across regions. These seem to correlate with
regional variations in labor force participation – suggesting
that broader environmental factors are to a large extent
responsible for these diﬀerences. The constraints women face
in starting and growing businesses can be constraints to
women’s empowerment more broadly. There is some evidence
that in countries where relatively few women start a busi-
nesses, the rate of labour force participation is also low. Both
may be related to constraints on women’s mobility and norms
around women working outside the household.6
The smallest gender gaps in entrepreneurial activities are
found in Asian, Latin American, and African countries. In Africa,
female participation in entrepreneurial activities is higher than
in any other region, with women representing half of non‐farm
business ownership (Hallward‐Driemeier 2011). This may be
partly the result of the large number of survival-oriented enter-
prises; however, some studies (Campos et al. 2015b, Demirguc
and Klapper 2012) do indicate gender gaps in (parts of ) Africa
in access to nancial services tend to be low. GEM data high-
lights high rates of TEA are driven by large number of women
intending to start a business.
Gender gaps are large in the (richer) economies of Europe
(though with decreasing gender gap between 2012-14), and in
the Middle East (notably, in Turkey). The latter is not for lack of
eﬀort: despite strong intentions to start a business, relatively
few women in the Middle East actually start a business, even
out of necessity.
OP PO RT UN IT IE S AN D CHALENG ES F OR F EM AL E EN TR EP RE NE UR SH IP 7
% of Adult Population for Each Gender
Female TEA Rate Male TEA Rate
Africa Asia & Oceania Latin America Europe North America Middle East Europe Asia & Oceania GEM Average
(Factor- and & Caribbean (Efficiency- (Innovation- (Innovation- (Innovation-
efficiency-driven) driven) driven) driven) driven)
% of Adult Population
Stage of Economic Development
Factor-driven Efficiency-driven Innovation-driven
Male TEA Necessity (% of TEA Males)
Female TEA (% of TEA Females)
FIGURE 2. Development Phase Averages for Necessity
Proporation of TEA in 60 economies
% of Adult Population
Stage of Economic Development
Factor-driven Efficiency-driven Innovation-driven
Male TEA (% of Adult Male Pop)
Female TEA (% of Adult Female Pop)
6Hanmer and Klugman (2016) analyzed DHS data for 29 countries, showing that
women’s empowerment indicators generally are better in higher-income countries,
and in better-oﬀ households, but that this is not the case for the indicator on
restriction of movements.
FIGURE 1. Development Phase Averages for Total
Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) in 60 countries
FIGURE 3. Average Total Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) Rates
by Region and Gender
Source: GEM (2015)
Source: GEM (2015)
Source: GEM (2015)
8EN HA NC IN G T HE P RO DU CT IV IT Y OF WOME N-OW NE D EN TE RP RI SE S
2.3. Continued, inter-linked constraints
Despite growing rates of female entrepreneurship and increas-
ing education levels, women-owned enterprises are almost
uniformly disadvantaged. There is a growing body of literature
explaining gender diﬀerences in entrepreneurship, and why
and how these vary across countries and regions, for starting
and growing business.7The following illustrates the main
Size: Women tend to own relatively small rms. Bardasi et al.
(2011) show large gaps in rm size in Europe and Central Asia,
Latin America, and Sub‐Saharan Africa. Bardasi, Sabarwal
and Terrell (2011) show that female-owned enterprises in
Sub‐Saharan Africa have sales that are 31 per cent lower than
male‐owned rms. Bruhn (2009) found that female‐owned
rms throughout Latin America tend to be smaller than
male‐owned rms in terms of sales and number of
employees, and have lower prots.
Sector: Women tend to concentrate in certain sectors, often
less rewarding, without registration, and with the least growth
opportunities (Bardasi et al. 2011, ILO 2015). Nearly 4 out of 5
women engaged in oﬀ-farm enterprise in Zimbabwe were
brewing beer while men were smiths, brick-makers, and
builders. Men’s annual income was at least 7 times that of
women (Scott 1995). The number of women-owned businesses
in high-technology sectors – and their access to necessary
nancing – tend to be low.
The sector in which a rm operates is a major determinant
of gender‐observed diﬀerences in performance and growth.8
Hundley (2001) shows that concentration in the personal serv-
ices sector explains as much as 14 per cent of the gender‐
based self‐employment earnings diﬀerential. The reasons for
this concentration are complex, and can relate to a combina-
tion of lack of information, skills (often not key), longer-term
involvement, and social norms.
Productivity and growth: Women-owned businesses tend to
perform worse than men’s, and gaps in productivity and
growth remain large even in richer countries.9Value added per
worker is 6 to 35 per cent lower in female-owned than male-
owned rms (World Bank, in Buvinic and Furst-Nichols 2014).
Research in Latin America and Asia found that only one in ten
rms with at least 15 employees is women‐owned (Kantis,
Angelelli, and Koenig, 2005). Hallward‐Driemeier (2011) esti-
mates the gender gaps in labor productivity in Africa to be 6 to
8 per cent. Rijkers and Costa (2012) found that male-owned
rural non-farm rms in Ethiopia are three times more produc-
tive than female‐owned ones.
Trade: As the discussion later in this paper refers to how
women producers are integrated into global markets, it is
worth highlighting what the literature tells us about the barri-
ers women face in trade.10 The evidence suggest an amplica-
tion of constraints. Sociocultural norms and legal barriers are
reected in economic regulations. Women have inadequate
access to education, assets, nance, information on trade regu-
lations and procedures, market linkages, etc. Women’s care
responsibility and time burden create a fundamental barrier to
engagement in global trade activities.
Lack of access exists in a wide range of factors and spheres:
• While gender gaps in education have been closing, they still
remain in large parts of the world; moreover, skills and busi-
ness specic training tends to be targeted towards men
• Access to productive resources, such as land, nance and
credit. Types and technologies of access to nancial prod-
ucts may be critical from a gender perspective, as use of
savings may diﬀer between men and women (O’Sullivan
2016: 24 ﬀ.).
• Lack of formal rights and access to justice (also discussed
later). Gender-based violence also can pose constraints for
entrepreneurship,11 highlighting the critical role of broader
• Customs that restrict women's ability to manage property,
conduct business, or travel without their husbands' consent.
• Women’s networks tend to diﬀer from men’s. Women less
often than men are member of business networks and
7Overviews include Naudė and Minniti (2011), Klapper and Parker (2011),
World Bank (2012), Vossenberg (2016), Campos and Gassier (2016).
8Hallward‐Driemeier (2011), Bardasi, Sabarwal and Terrell (2011), Rijkers and Costa
(2012), Mel, McKenzie and Woodruﬀ (2009).
9Klapper and Parker (2011), Nagler and Naudė (2014), UN Foundation and
10 This draws on a literature review by GSDRC (Pozarny 2016). Also ITC (2015: 8-9):
in 8 countries of research, women owned or managed between 6 and 23 per cent
of the trading companies. Mary Hallward-Driemeier (at The Urban Institute,
17 May 2016) emphasizes how uneven the playing eld is in trade regulation and
11 Chakravarty et al. (2016) highlight the importance of constraints including risks of
sexual violence for young women in particular.
Women tend to own small ﬁrms and concentrate in sectors
without registration, and with little growth opportunities.
• Business registration can be an enabling factor, for estab-
lishing basic business practices, though evidence on
enhancing productivity is limited (Campos et al. 2015c).
•Of the US entrepreneurs that raise venture capital, only 8
per cent are female and they receive less than 2 per cent of
Motives and aspirations: A growing body of literature focuses
on whether women’s intentions, risk taking and motivations
with respect to entrepreneurship are diﬀerent. It is not always
possible to distinguish personality and subjective characteris-
tics from questions of access.13
• There is evidence that women tend to have lower growth
expectations (Naudė and Minnitti 2011).
• GEM data indicates that women tend to have higher rates
of fear of failure, but to a lesser extent in African and South-
east Asian countries.
• Female entrepreneurs in developing countries are found to
be portfolio rather than serial entrepreneurs, as they attempt
to diversify income sources and survival chances.
• Women use cash diﬀerently than men, a point that has
come out strongly from the literature on micro-nance
(Buvinic and Furst-Nichols 2014).
• There is growing evidence that women take risks in more
balanced ways (Kauﬀman Foundation 2015; Dalborg et al.
• While trust is important for successful entrepreneurship,
there may also be gender diﬀerences in this respect
(Orser and Elliot (2015).
• GEM (2015) data shows high female TEA rates in an econ-
omy are associated with the likelihood women in society
know an entrepreneur.
Women’s broader care roles: diﬀerent motives and choices
by women are in part driven by their wider role in family and
• Women tend to rely more on personal networks, which can
impact access to resources and savings decisions.14 They
rely more than men on extended families, which often is
their major social network. This is often constraining, since
women’s marriage status, and assets and incomes brought
to their marriages, can determine their entrepreneurial
•Women who are married and have young children tend to
enter entrepreneurship rather than waged labour, are more
likely to be entrepreneurs than non-married women, but
also often quit their businesses.
• Women tend to increase their participation in self-employ-
ment after the birth of a child. Self-employment, thus, can
be a strategy to reduce the conict between formal paid
work and family, if the self-employment allows a woman to
choose the number and timing of hours of work.16
• Research in Ghana showed that women business owners
channeled a lower share of the capital they have access to
into their activity than men (Fafchamps, in Campos and
Gassier 2016: 3).
• Constraints to female‐owned rms, their concentration in
sectors, and location have shown to be inuenced by
responsibilities for their households (Kevane and Wydick
The constraints women face in entering and promoting
businesses reect constraints they faced in other areas. While
higher rates of female entrepreneurship have been attributed
to higher barriers women face to enter in the formal labour
market (Naudé and Minniti 2011), diﬀerences in levels of entre-
preneurship seem to mirror diﬀerences in labor force participa-
tion more generally. They are likely associated with a range of
other aspects of gender inequality, though there are excep-
tions, such as relatively high rates of entrepreneurship in
MENA. Social norms can limit mobility and independence –
probably a key factor behind low women economic and entre-
preneurial activity in South Asia. While household responsibili-
ties can make it more likely that (poorer) women start a small
business, as it is the only option, they are also likely to reduce
OP PO RT UN IT IE S AN D CHALENG ES F OR F EM AL E EN TR EP RE NE UR SH IP 9
12 Kaufman (2014), TechCrunch (2016), Miller (2016).
13 Croson and Gneezy (2009), Eckstein and Lifshitz (2011) describe the role of prefer-
ences, and van de Walle (2011: 5) highlights diﬃculty of disentangling choice and
preferences from constraints.
14 O’Sullivan (2016) quotes research in Africa by Karlan et al. on savings decisions,
and Njuki and Mburo on livestock.
15 Grim et al. (2013) on constraints imposed by extended families.
16 Elizabeth Peters, The Urban Institute, 17 May, with evidence from North America,
Mexico and Ethiopia. She also noted that husbands may be less opposed to self-
employment than formal sector jobs.
While household responsibilities drive poor women to start
small businesses, lacking other options, these responsibilities
likely reduce their growth potential.
10 EN HA NC IN G T HE P RO DU CT IV IT Y OF WOME N-OW NE D EN TE RP RI SE S
Social-cultural factors are commonly highlighted as constraints
for women-owned businesses and female entrepreneurs –
such as the common attitudes about women’s roles as revealed
through World Survey data for example (see Figure 4). These
are often not well analysed or dened. Empirical studies do
show gender diﬀerences in expectation and perceptions. While
on the one hand social-cultural constraints are clear, they also
need to be interpreted carefully. Cultural explanations of low
female entrepreneurship typically fail to account for successes;
within the same culture, large diﬀerences exist. Policies also
need to be designed on the basis of good understanding of
‘cultural’ constraints, at the risk of reinforcing negative images.
2.4 Can women-owned businesses grow?
The gaps in access to opportunities indicates that the potential
(additional) economic contribution of equal participation of
female entrepreneurs is large. The IFC estimates there is a
credit gap of $285 billion,17 and the ILO (2016) estimates that
50 per cent of women’s productive potential is underused,
compared to 22 per cent of men’s. Walmart (2016) highlights
that despite high rates of women entrepreneurship, less than
5 per cent of the supply base is formed by women-owned
businesses. If women started growth-oriented businesses at
the same rate as men, there would be 15 million more jobs in
the US, 74 million in China, and 2 million in Ghana, for example
(Aidis et al. 2015).
The potentials of women-owned small businesses, including
but not only in the informal sector, are constrained. Women
entrepreneurs face additional barriers, including discriminatory
legal systems, inheritance laws, property law and customary
laws, and social attitudes and norms that prevent them from
starting new businesses or consolidating or expanding existing
ones, and moving outside the informal economy. Women
entrepreneurs also have diﬀerent ‘preferences’, or personal
(gendered) experiences that impact the ways in which they run
businesses, including ones that have a survival orientation.
The knowledge on rm dynamics is still limited.18 Less is
known about how female entrepreneurs succeed.19 There is
some research that suggests that among successful entrepre-
neurs diﬀerences between men and women are not very large
(though diﬀerences in use of networks and forms of support
exist). However, particularly for small businesses that focus on
survival, the possibilities for women to grow their rms may be
most limited; the various constraints interact and reinforce
each other, and growing businesses may be diﬃcult unless
constraints, particularly in household responsibilities, are being
addressed (Taylor and Pereznieto 2014).
While constraints for women are common, there are also
large diﬀerences in the way these are expressed. There are
diﬀerences across regions, and diﬀerences across social and
economic groups. Cultural norms are fairly consistent, but can
also change over time: gendered norms can weaken, but also
be reinforced, and new ones emerge (in new sectors in OECD
countries, with new technology or nancing models,20 strong
gender diﬀerences have again emerged). Understanding the
specic constraints women face – their time burden, availability
of infrastructure, access to care for elderly, leave – is critical to
understand their roles as entrepreneurs, and to inform inter-
ventions that can support women entrepreneurs, to which
we turn next.
Source: World Value Survey 2010-2014
17 10,000 Women (2016); http://www.goldmansachs.com/citizenship/
18 Woodruﬀ (2015); Chris Harris, Kauﬀman Foundation, at The Urban Institute,
17 May 2016.
19 Kauﬀman Foundation (2010), Buvinic and Furst-Nichols (2014: 24), Ruth Aidis at
The Urban Institute 17 May 2016.
20 Center for an Urban Future (2012). See Boudet et al. (2012) for a discussion on
norms based on participatory research.
FIGURE 4. ‘Men make better business executives than women do’
Women entrepreneurs face additional barriers, like discrimina-
tory legal systems and restrictive social norms, that prevent
them from starting new businesses, growing existing ones, or
leaving the informal economy.
Economic and policy environments impact the opportunities
for women-owned businesses. The Global Entrepreneurship
and Development Index (GEDI, 2014) analysis shows large
cross country diﬀerences for conditions of female entrepre-
neurship development, in business environment, access to
resources, rights, and the presence of women leaders. This
section focuses on laws and regulation, trade, procurement,
and the opportunities these policy areas provide to enhance
opportunities for women’s businesses.
3.1 Laws and regulation
Women face inequitable laws and regulations in almost all
countries. A key source on this is the World Bank (2015) work
on business and law. Of 173 economies, in 2015, 155 had at
least one barrier for women preventing gender equality. In 100
of these, gender based restrictions on jobs exist; husbands can
legally prevent their wives from working in 18 countries. The
most common restrictions involve applying for a passport,
being heads of households, and choosing where to live; restric-
tions on registering a business, opening a bank account and
signing contracts are less common (World Bank 2015: 9).21
The question of legal rights is pertinent for informal busi-
nesses, in which women are over-represented. Denitions of
informality may vary, and may include aspects of absence of
provision of social protection for workers, not paying taxes, not
being registered, etc. As highlighted in the work of WIEGO,22 a
key constraint is the application of criminal law and the way
the informal sector is seen as operating outside of the law.
Small businesses can thus be subjected to multiple constraints.
Not being registered makes it more diﬃcult to obtain licenses,
support, etc. (though training programs discussed in the next
chapter do not necessarily exclude informal businesses), creates
vulnerability to lose means of production through conscation,
and makes women workers more vulnerable to extortion.
Evidence on impacts of legal and regulatory reforms is
limited, and most evidence found in this review impinge on
broader gender equality concerns rather than women busi-
• The World Bank (2015) notes signicant improvements in
the legal and regulatory framework that women operate in
– in two years, 65 economies carried out 94 reforms increasing
women’s economic opportunities – and suggests a positive
association with growth.
• Ethiopia’s Family Code reform in 2000 was associated with
an expansion in women’s work outside the home
(in: O’Sullivan 2016).
Changing the macro-environment to support
women’s economic empowerment
LUZ ADRIANA VILLA
21 The World Bank Gender Innovation Lab’s ‘Thematic White Paper on Gender & Prop-
erty Rights’ highlights the limited knowledge, and mixed results of interventions
22 Marlese van Broembsen, at The Urban Institute, 17 May 2016.
23 The following is based on World Bank (2015), O’Sullivan (2016) Taylor and
Pereznieto (2014: section 5.6); see also DCED 2015; and DCED websites on Business
Environment Reform and Women’s Economic Empowerment.
Evidence on the impact of regulatory reforms on women’s
businesses is limited. Most evidence found focuses on
broader gender equality concerns.
12 EN HA NC IN G T HE P RO DU CT IV IT Y OF WOME N-OW NE D EN TE RP RI SE S
• Kenya’s 1981 Law of Succession had been associated with
higher human capital investment for women (in: O’Sullivan
•Ghana’s Intestate Succession law with changes in invest-
ment in schooling (depending on whether households
were matrilineal) (in: O’Sullivan 2016).
• Joint land tenure in Rwanda had relatively large positive
impacts for female-headed households (in: O’Sullivan
• A study of new property and inheritance rights in Rwanda
(Uwayezu and Mugiraneza, 2011; in Taylor and Pereznieto
2014) demonstrated that widows and children were begin-
ning to obtain access to land that had previously been
• The World Bank and the IFC (2011; in ODI 2014) analyzes
how legal and regulatory frameworks for Special Economic
Zones aﬀect women’s employment and rights in the work-
place, in eight countries. This showed benets, for example
in Kenyan companies providing access to credit and facili-
tating workers’ representation through gender committees.
Frequently, changes to legal frameworks are not carried out in
practice, or remain ineﬀective – in part due to the persistence
of cultural norms and expectations. “Legal reforms appear to
be a necessary but insuﬃcient step towards closing the gender
gap in women’s ownership, use, and control of productive
assets” (O’Sullivan 2016: 19). The study on Special Economic
Zones quoted above showed that the (positive) impacts on
women remained limited due to legal and cultural constraints,
and women still experienced high levels of harassment in the
Evidence presented below on limitations of micro-interven-
tions in contexts of broader-policy constraints indicate that
reforms of policies are a priority. Despite progress there are still
many explicit and more implicit constraints specic to women.
From the brief review here it appears that more work on policy
constraints specic to women-owned businesses, and how
reforms are formulated and implemented is warranted.
3.2 Trade, trade facilitation, aid for trade
There has been much debate on the impacts of trade on
various aspects of well-being and inequality. Concrete impacts
vary, of course, but are not gender neutral.24 Trade, and trade
regulations can impact growth and employment opportunities,
competitive pressures may reduce or encourage gender
discrimination and wage diﬀerentials, and facilitate or raise
women’s barriers to access to resources and services. Multilat-
eral trading rules can facilitate or constrain governments in
applying policies or regulations that impact gender inequality.
A number of agencies have developed entry points to
promote opportunities alongside trade,25and the literature
shows various approaches and entry points. The research and
evidence on what works is fairly limited, but the literature
shows the importance of both enhancing businesses’ and
entrepreneurs’ capacity, and changes in processes of and
institutions involved in trade to enhance opportunities for
women-owned and less-established businesses.
Literature on trade reforms highlight the need for ex-ante
assessment of impact on trade agreements, and of opportuni-
ties to enhance measures to promote women’s empowerment
(UNCTAD 2009). Policy guidance on gender in climate invest-
ment reform highlights both mapping trade processes and
logistics with a gender lens, and obtaining views on gender-
specic constraints in consultations with public and private
sector, identifying partnerships addressing constraints.26
Gender-disaggregated data, to understand potential impacts
and opportunities in reform, and to monitor the gender
impacts of reform implementation are a priority.
The implementation of reforms and trade agreements has
various entry points. There is a need to address potential gen-
der discrimination in organizations responsible for trade logis-
tics, risk management systems for inspections (Simavi et al.
2010). Simplifying regulation, procedures and transparency are
likely to enhance opportunities for smaller and women-owned
businesses. Reforms need to be accompanied with a commu-
nications strategy for women entrepreneurs. Priorities include
enhancing the capacity of trade and investment institutions
and trade networks on women’s empowerment, and of advo-
cates of women entrepreneurs to engage in discussions about
trade are priorities. Examples of support to women-owned
businesses are presented in the Box below.
24 UNCTAD (2004), Klugman and Gamberoni (2012).
25 The following draws to a large extent on the recent GSDRC review (Pozarny 2016),
and comments by Mary Hallward-Driemeier and Vanessa Erogbogo at the expert
meeting at The Urban Institute, 17 May 2016. Main agencies active in this area
include ITC (2015), CIDA (2003; now GAC), USAID (2015), World Bank (see Higgins
2012, Simavi et al 201), Gamberoni and Guilherme (2011).
26 Simavi et al. (2010: Module 4); the DCED is developing further guidance on gender
in investment climate reform.
CH AN GI NG TH E MAC RO-E NV IR ON ME NT TO S UP PORT WO ME N’ S ECO NO MI C EM PO WE RM EN T 13
At the business level, areas for support to access value
chains mirror those of support in general:
• Businesses need access to nance, and responsive and
exible measures to access loans (the IFC also encourages
higher risk-taking ventures).
• Business training (e.g. nancial literacy, planning, manage-
ment, ICTs), tailored coaching support, and support to
ensure compliance with market procedures have shown
• Access to information and compliance with registration,
certication and international administrative procedures
are critical areas.
Enhancing networks is a key component of such support
programs. Promoting female entrepreneurs’ membership of
associations may be important, and cooperatives may be criti-
cal intermediaries. Organizations can provide services to its
members, on production, market linkages and trade partner-
ships. New technologies can help much to enhance networks,
and reduce the time needed to invest in them and access
Since 2005, the Malaysia External Trade Development Corpora-
tion (MATRADE) has promoted women exporters in non-tradi-
tional sectors. Its 42 oﬃces promote personalised coaching,
product and service marketing support, skills enhancement,
and other export readiness services. It connects exporters with
nancial institutions and other intermediaries. Business coach-
ing is complemented with trade nance, market and commer-
cial information. MATRADE addresses cultural barriers and
gender bias, through training for trade oﬃcials.
In Peru, the ITC supported project “Empowering Peruvian
Women Business Enterprises” connects women-owned busi-
nesses in alpaca garments to the USA market. This involves
Peru’s export promotion authority, external trade authorities,
and the American Chamber of Commerce in Peru. Its main
activity is training of women regarding market requirements,
and it organized an export promotion event for women-owned
businesses to connect to buyers.
ITC also has supported the ACCESS! Export Training Programme
for women entrepreneurs. This has supported over 2,600 women
entrepreneurs across 19 sub-Saharan countries since 2007.
Over 70 expert trainers now are able to provide advisory serv-
ices and mentoring to women entrepreneurs in export trade.
ACCESS! provided capacity development to 20 national trade
institutions. The regional Programme for Building African
Capacity for Trade also targets regional economic communities
(RECs) to support SMEs and women-owned enterprises, includ-
ing advocacy and development services, public-private dialogue,
and supporting networks.
Trade organizations supporting female entrepreneurs
Source: Pozny (2016: 6, 9).
Simplifying regulation, procedures and transparency
are likely to enhance opportunities for smaller and
14 EN HA NC IN G T HE P RO DU CT IV IT Y OF WOME N-OW NE D EN TE RP RI SE S
3.3 Public procurement
Public procurement forms signicant proportions of country’s
GDP.27 An estimate for Latin America put total procurement at
$750 billion, with perhaps just 1 to 5 per cent going to women-
owned businesses.28Work by ITC (2014) and others demon-
strate the range of changes that can help women have greater
access to it, and how this can be promoted. In 2014, ITC
launched an initiative to increase the proportion of contracts
awarded to women, emphasizing that procedural changes
can make a diﬀerence.
Most experience to enhance access to public procurement
has been in North America and South Africa.29 The US Small
Business Administration facilitates SMEs’ access to federal con-
tracts, and monitors the Federal government’s implementation
of its statutory obligation to aside 23 per cent of all prime con-
tract dollars to SMEs. Socially and economically disadvantaged
groups of SMEs, such as minority-owned and women-owned
have special allocations.30 The South African competition
authority has special consideration for SMEs and Black Eco-
nomic Empowerment written into its charter. Performance has
not been properly evaluated.31
The literature suggests that procurement policies need to
combine approaches to enhance access. These include:
• Preferential methods, such as women-owned businesses as
an additional supplier evaluation criteria, ‘set-asides’ for cer-
tain categories of suppliers, or minimize the requirement of
‘past experience’ in supplying contracts to provide more
opportunities for new entrants;
• Enhancing transparency, issuing public notices to tender
(the percentage of public procurement posted on the
internet has gone up from 20 to 70 in Latin America), and
explanations of procedures and give equal opportunity for
companies to bid (certication, registration, contractor
registration, standardized templates, suﬃcient preparation
time, prequalication); and
• Targeted assistance to overcome disadvantages, enhancing
companies’ capabilities, for example providing information
on the success of these measures, especially in a developing
Procurement oﬃcials in developing countries do see
opportunities to develop measures to enhance access of
women-owned businesses (Kirton 2013). However, the use of
public procurement for promoting equality may be contested
and resisted. Capacity for managing procurement is often lim-
ited, with small and decentralized teams, and introducing any
measures can be complex and costly. Finally, it is likely that
there is a need for targeted and supportive measures along-
side changes in procurement practices.
27 According to ITC (2014) public procurement accounts for 10-15% of GDP in devel-
oped countries, and 30% in developing countries (which appears high).
28 Maria Villanueva, at the expert meeting at The Urban Institute, 17 May 2016.
29 Aidis et al (2015: 18) only two countries (out of 31 in the Scorecard) with a gender
procurement policy. Kirton (2013) describes examples of gender in trade and pro-
curement measures in Kenya, India, Australia and Jamaica.
30 ChatterFji et al. (2013) show positive impact on participation at city level.
31 An 'eﬃciency' test that the authorities also had to apply usually precluded judge-
ments in favour of SMEs (Kim Kampel in Cook et al.; information provided by Susan
There is a long tradition of direct support to small enterprises
in developing countries, and a substantial part of this is
directed at women-owned businesses. This section focuses on
the existing evidence of success of these forms of support. In
many interventions, diﬀerent forms of support are combined.
There is therefore a degree of overlap between the descrip-
tions below, of the nancial services, training, and business
development services tailored for women.
4.1 Financial services
Women are often severely disadvantaged, compared to men in
accessing facilities for saving or borrowing money. Globally,
women have only 77 per cent of men’s access to bank accounts,
credit and mobile banking (McKinsey Global Institute, 2015).
Limited access to credit aﬀects both the start-up and the
growth of women’s businesses.
Financial services have long been seen as a key instrument
to support women. Target groups of nancial services include
low-income women, provided with untargeted loans (in the
classic Grameen model). They include low-income and self-
employed women, for whom lack of collateral tends to be a
key constraint (accessing micro loans from formal institutions
also provides women with independence for their business
activities, as they do not have to borrow from relatives or
money lenders). And nally, some of the evidence on programs
for nancial services refers to women entrepreneurs in the
Improving access to credit has aided women-led enter-
prises in developing countries.32 In Malawi, access to credit for
women had a strong positive impact on female involvement in
cash crops (Dimova and Gang, using household survey data; in
DCED 2015). In Latin America, eﬀorts to promote nancial serv-
ices alongside cash transfers have shown to help expand small
businesses (Proyecto Capital33). Loans can be particularly eﬀec-
tive when combined with savings opportunities for women.
Savings can enhance a sense of personal ownership amongst
women, and can benet more risk-averse women who may not
be comfortable with the repayment and interest requirements
of a loan (Doss et al., in: DCED 2015).
However, most of the literature suggests that impacts are
varied, and often small.34 Buvinic and Furst-Nichols (2014)
describes programs that had positive eﬀects on male but not
female small entrepreneurs. They nd that evidence on saving
programs is scarce, but that impact of savings programs tends
Training and services
32 DCED (2015); Buvinic and Furst-Nichols (2014: Table 1) summarizes thirteen programs
providing access to capital.
33 Scaling Up Financial Inclusion for Vulnerable Women and Youth: Proyecto Capital
34 Campos et al (2015b); Demirguc-Kunt et al (2013); Stewart et al. (2012); Banerjee,
et al., quoted in Taylor and Pereznieto (2014) who emphasize micronance for
women increases access to credit for businesses but has no eﬀect on social
outcomes, health, female bargaining power, and women’s economic
empowerment in a broader sense.
Globally, women have only 77 per cent of men’s access
to bank accounts, credit and mobile banking
(McKinsey Global Institute, 2015).
16 EN HA NC IN G T HE P RO DU CT IV IT Y OF WOME N-OW NE D EN TE RP RI SE S
to be more benecial that loans and grants. Chakravarty et al
(2016: 22) shows the diversity of impact of capital interventions
for young women, who despite increasing education levels in
the developing world lack many of the essential skills, and
suﬀer from access to resources including nance. Gaiha and
Kulkarni (in: DCED 2015) nd that the impacts of micro-nance
depend on the social norms of the environments in which they
De Mel et al. (2009) nd that many micro-entrepreneurs
earn negative returns to capital, especially women. The group
of poor, high-ability, female micro-entrepreneurs that could
benet from expanded access to credit is rather small. De Mel
et al. (2014) emphasise that the positive eﬀects of cash grants
was of short duration, and increased protability vanished in
the second year after the treatment.
Campos et al. (2015b) highlights that in the African context
gender diﬀerences in access to nance are not that large.
Blattman et al. (2013) however suggest that for women in
Uganda credit constraints are large (and large cash transfers
had a positive and sustained impact). Context thus clearly is a
critical factor in the likelihood nancial inclusion will enhance
the growth potential of women-owned businesses.
The literature on nancial services is growing (the above
summarizes evidence mostly on programs for smaller busi-
nesses), and suggests that impacts can and often are positive.
However, eﬀects tend to be small, often more so for women
and for smaller business than for men and larger businesses,
and of course varied across contexts. Further, many interven-
tions combine provision of nancial services with business
training and services, to which we turn next.
4.2 Business training and services
Around the world, there are many programs of business-train-
ing for smaller enterprises, showing a large diversity, in times
of content, target groups, content, duration, etc. Some training
design has been made specic to circumstances, of social-cul-
tural barriers as well as gendered economic constraints. Over
the last decade, there has been a growing number of studies
providing rigorous evidence of the impact of training, includ-
ing with experimental methods.35
Program monitoring data shows that many training pro-
grams work. For example, vocational courses – teaching spe-
cic skills usually for self-employment – tend to have positive
impacts, but this is partly because women typically make the
eﬀort to become self-employed.36 Karlan and Valdivia (2011)
analyzed a program that transferred business practices
(intended to lead to survival and growth) for female micro-
nance clients in Peru, which led to many adjustments in busi-
ness practices consistent with the training content, and
reduced loan defaults and increased retention.37 Research on
SEWA training in India highlights the importance of peer
eﬀects and ‘horizontal’ networks: training with like-minded
friends can have better impacts (Field et al. 2015).
More rigorous evidence shows a mixed picture, however.
Many trainings have low rates of uptake and retention (McKenzie
and Woodruﬀ, 2012), and high drop-out possibly because of
the time investments needed. Karlan and Valdivia’s (2011)
found that the training that led to improved business practices
on average had no eﬀects on business performance. An evalu-
ation of business training for men and women in rural Pakistan
(Giné and Mansuri 2014) found the training led to increased
business knowledge and better business practices, but did not
improve business sales or prots – the positive results in this
study were found for men only, though women’s business
knowledge increase as well. Some studies show that the impact
of business training is larger for larger than for smaller rms
(Buvinic and Furst-Nicols 2014: 13; Karlan and Valdivia 2012).
35 McKenzie and Woodruﬀ 2014; Bandiera et al. (2014), Buvinic and Furst Nichols
(2014: 11 ﬀ), Cirerar et al. (2014), UNFoundation and ExxonMobil (2014; Table 3 pro-
vides a comparison of cost eﬀectiveness of programs), Cho and Honorati (2013),
Piza et al. (2016; which has little evidence on women). Self-selection into these pro-
grams has been a factor complicating these studies; but in a way this evaluation
problem highlights a key concern for training and services.
36 Taylor and Pereznieto (2014). Combining these specic skills training with broader
life skills tend to enhance the potential impact on empowerment.
37 Giné and Mansuri (2014) found the intervention to be protable to the lender as
they increased the number of larger loans issued to the beneciaries without an
increase in default rates or oﬃcer’s workload; in the training analyzed by Karlan
and Valdivia (2011) benets to the lender came from reduced default and
Moreover, research suggests the potential importance of
longer-term and more continuous support and technical assis-
tance to both female and male entrepreneurs. Bruhn, Karlan
and Schoar (2012) report positive run results of management
consultancy services for SMEs in Puebla, Mexico, nding
improved productivity 1-4 months after the end of the inter-
vention and increases in employment and payroll up to three
years after the end of the intervention. Such interventions are
also likely to be more expensive (the absence of data of costs
in studies and review makes it diﬃcult to assess this).
Thus, we still know little about impacts of training and serv-
ices, if impact is understood in a rigorous way. The impacts vary
signicantly, are positive but relatively small, and with little evi-
dence of growth of businesses. More intensive and expensive
programs are likely to have a bigger impact.
Networks are critical for all businesses and success more
broadly. ‘Vertical’ networks can be critical for accessing markets
to share information and resources in a cost-eﬀective manner.
There is evidence that engagement with informal networks
benet both men’s and women’s businesses (Asia Foundation,
2013, USAID, 2015). Women’s networks tend to be smaller, and
more personal (O’Sullivan 2016: 14): women’s informal net-
works are strong, but as discussed above also can be limited.
An Asia Foundation study (2013) in Southeast Asia found
that participation in business associations was signicantly
correlated with positive gains (24 per cent increase expansion
plans) for women-run businesses. However, a relatively high
percentage of women business owners never interact with
business associations. For women, participation in business
associations also was correlated with increased rm size for
Supporting networks may therefore be an important priority,
even though for many organisations it is part of what they do
and promote already. USAID (2015) highlights the potentials
for formal and informal network support, to: share information,
including on opportunities, take advantage of mentoring
opportunities,38 pool resources and capitalize on shared assets
and jointly identify opportunities; advocate shared interests to
policy makers and other authority gures; and form cross-border
trade partnerships. An OXFAM study (Baden 2013) emphasises
the importance of women’s collective action, in the context of
small-scale farmers, and shows the benets (income, access to
and use of credit, access to market information) of being mem-
bers of a group. Cooperatives and trade groups emphasize the
need for professional support to link to market opportunities.39
With the growth in philanthropies, and the engagement of
advocates for women entrepreneurship, a relatively new set of
mentoring programs have developed. The Cherie Blair Founda-
tion for example strongly emphasizes the importance of men-
toring, as part of broad support of tools, skills and technologies
to women entrepreneurs.40 Women on Wings is a Dutch social
enterprise that advises Indian social entrepreneurs that employ
women in rural India and have opportunities for growth, with
an objective of creating 1 million jobs for women in rural India
As with the programs on supplier diversity and inclusion
discussed below, these programs are creating additional value
compared to traditional training programs. They are document-
ing cases of success, but as far as our literature review has been
able to discover, there is a need for information and project data
to allow lesson learning beyond a case-by-case basis.
TR AI NI NG A ND S ER VI CE S 17
38 For example She Inspires Her (http://sheinspiresher.com) and Going for Growth
(http://www.goingforgrowth.com) among others.
39 Marty Chen, at The Urban Institute, 17 May 2016.
40 See the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women
(http://www.cherieblairfoundation.org/programmes/mentoring), the Dell Women
f) and an example of the Exxon program (http://corporate.exxonmobil.com.qa/en-
work-emraa/emraa). Other initiatives by corporates are listed on the Fortune
Conferences website (http://www.fortuneconferences.com/most-powerful-
41 See the Global Sourcing Council website (http://gscouncil.org/new-beginnings-
and-prosperity-women-on-wings/). Examples of how corporates like Unilever
promote groups of women to become small entrepreneurs (‘micro-franchising’,
e.g. project Shakti) are discussed below.
18 EN HA NC IN G T HE P RO DU CT IV IT Y OF WOME N-OW NE D EN TE RP RI SE S
4.4 New technologies and data
Gender gaps in access to new technologies continue to keep
women disadvantaged. Globally, women have only 84 per cent
of men’s average access to Information and Communication
Technologies (McKinsey Global Institute, 2015).42In 2010 there
were 300 million fewer women than men that own cell phones.
Despite these gaps in access, new technologies have
oﬀered opportunities for both women and men. E-commerce,
for example, may provide a whole new set of opportunities
for businesses that otherwise are unable to reach markets
(Walmart, ITC and DHL are actively supporting the extension
of this opportunity).
New technologies have proven potential for opportunities
to improve livelihoods of remote populations including
women (DCED 2015). Women who were previously unable to
access paid work due to the constraints of family responsibili-
ties, geographical remoteness or limitations on mobility are
now able to run home-based businesses. Mobile phones are
important to provide market information to women producers,
with the potential to increase their earnings by reducing trans-
action costs and price variability (see next Box). When businesses
integrate into global value chains, with enhanced demands on
timing, product quality, etc., using new technologies and data
become increasingly important.
New digital credit services can help ease credit constraints
through automated loan services that could help these con-
straints (Klapper 2011). Automated algorithms can assess
applicant's digital data history of mobile money transactions,
data top-ups, and use of mobile airtime to inform decisions on
loans. This allows denominations to be small. Relatively small
innovations in credit services can provide important advan-
tages for women, including with small businesses. An app that
allowed accounts to be separated allowed women to hide their
own account in a context where family members usually have
access to that information.
The number of countries where such innovations have
been introduced has remained small, and have been described
for Africa and particular Kenya. Many of these innovations have
focused on personal spending, and interest rates can still be
high (Klapper 2011). While these will expand, including with
support of international organizations, it remains to be seen if
digital services can narrow the gender gap in credit access, as
women are less likely than men to have the digital tools
needed to use them.
New technologies, of course, can work in diﬀerent directions.
New obstacles can arise as old ones are overcome, as shown
for example in the evidence on women’s access to capital for
innovation at the higher end of the entrepreneur spectrum
(Kauﬀman Foundation 2009). With respect to technologies for
smaller women entrepreneurs, for example, access to mobile
phones is likely to be a necessary but not suﬃcient condition
for achieving business growth (Chew, Ilavarasan and Levy, in:
DCED 2015). Among urban female micro entrepreneurs who
own mobile phones in Chennai, India, business use of mobile
phones amplied the impact of entrepreneurial expectations
and was associated with greater microenterprise growth;
‘necessity’ entrepreneurs with low levels of entrepreneurial
expectations did not seem to benet from the business use
of mobile phones.
A case study in India looked at how the introduction of
mobile phone coverage helped overcome price variation in
sh markets – from 60-70 per cent to 15 per cent across
whole markets. A study in Niger similarly found that mobile
phone coverage reduced price variability by between
10 and 16 per cent in agricultural grain markets, especially
in dispersed markets with poor road connections.
Through peer-to-peer platforms women can seek credit
from for-prot online lenders. In India, Faircent lends to
women so they can invest in businesses or pay for personal
expenses such as weddings; other examples include Auento
in Latin America and Kubo Financiero in Mexico.
Source: UNCTAD (2014), Klapper (2011); also UN Foundation and
ExxonMobil (2014: 31).
New technologies help small business
42 According to a study from GMSA Development Fund (in: DCED 2015). In Pakistan,
80 per cent of men owned a mobile phone, while only 38 per cent of women did;
and in India, 68 per cemt of men owned a mobile phone, while only 31 per cent
of women did (Scharwatt and Minishetti, in DCED 2015).
A growing number of private actors have joined the advocacy
for women’s economic empowerment in international devel-
opment, which 20 years ago was predominantly a eld for gov-
ernment and civil society. Actors like Goldman-Sachs, EY, Dell
and many others now play key roles in the eld of women’s
economic empowerment.43 Some of the world’s leading busi-
ness leaders signed the Women’s Empowerment Principles,
which provide guidance on how to empower women in the
workplace, market and community.
A DFID survey “showed that a small number of businesses
are looking closely at their value chains through a gendered
lens: while a third of respondents collect data on the num-
ber of women-owned enterprises in their value chains, only
15% look into supplier’s gender awareness or equality poli-
cies, and only 13% have policies requiring suppliers to
improve outcomes for women employees.” 44
What distinguishes the following examples is that the initia-
tives are primarily private sector driven, often with ‘market
facilitators’ helping to connect people and businesses that tra-
ditionally have not had access to investment and value chains.
5.1 Impact investment
Impact investment combines the objective of nancial return
with social and/or environmental benets. Impact investments,
according to the Global Impact Investment Network (GIIN),45
are investments made into companies, organizations, and
funds with the intention to generate measurable social and
environmental impact alongside a nancial return. This com-
bines philanthropy and mainstream nancial investing, which
have historically been deemed incompatible. The practice is
expected to have enormous growth potential. There is evi-
dence that the new generation of young people is more likely
to integrate social and environmental concerns into their ways
of doing business and investing, and that generation is
expected to be inheriting large sums, some of which is
expected to become available for impact investment.46
There is now a wide range of nancial intermediaries,
including ‘pay-for-success’ projects like ‘social investment
bonds’ (used in the UK in particular, with the Peterborough
Prison Social Impact Bond as most quoted example), and
‘development impact bonds’. These instruments are designed
to leverage private capital for public goods in health, education,
housing, security, etc. (the largest number of bonds is in green
investments). Alongside this, there has been a growing num-
ber of donor-led and government mechanisms to support
Evidence of impact investment for women’s economic
empowerment is limited. This is partly because the eld of
practice is new. Few lessons have emerged, few practices have
been studied, and metrics of success remain, to a large extent,
unclear and not comparable. A recent ADB study (2016) shows
that the proportion of impact investment initiatives that had
an explicit women’s economic empowerment objective was
not very large.47 The constraints companies faced when
Building market conditions
ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK
43 ICRW and BSR (2016); http://www.goldmansachs.com/citizenship/10000women/
44 Hester le Roux at a recent electronic consultation with Business Fights Poverty.
45 The Global Impact Investing Network (2016); https://thegiin.org/
46 In the US, assets with ‘sustainable, responsible and impact investing’ (SRI) strate-
gies have grown from $3.7 trillion in 2012 to $6.6 trillion in 2014, and now form
one out of every six dollars under professional management.
47 Reviews by GIIN (2015) of the state of impact investment in Africa do not make
much reference to women owned enterprises.
20 EN HA NC IN G T HE P RO DU CT IV IT Y OF WOME N-OW NE D EN TE RP RI SE S
engaging low-income women inlcude: women’s multiple com-
mitments, gender-based expectations, lack of protected rights,
and lack of skills including illiteracy. The case studies suggest
that companies can succeed when they take into account
gender-based constraints, ensure they do not burden women
with tasks considered socially unacceptable, and create practi-
cal opportunities where women can increase their capacity.
5.2 Empowering women in value chains
Value chains have been dened as the full sequence of eco-
nomic activities required to bring a product or service from
conception, through the intermediary of production, transfor-
mation, marketing, and delivery to its consumption and dis-
posal. As production and consumption have globalized, small
producers across the world have become integrated into
these.48 Women contribute greatly to these chains, dispropor-
tionally as small producers, often with low returns, and the
potential they become marginalized in the upgrading of
Particularly in agriculture, there is growing evidence on
how value chain development can help increased net income
of small producers, when farmers join experienced commercial
partners, supported by market facilitators49 and public organi-
zations. An evaluation by the Ministry of Foreign Aﬀairs of the
Netherlands (2011) describes how this can help farmers, partic-
ularly when gradual improvements are well planned and in
simple bulk products. Local organizations, particularly of
women, often play an important role. Other evaluations also
showed positive results (in: Taylor and Pereznieto 2014): Fair-
trade cotton projects showed a positive impact on women’s
economic empowerment, including an increase in control over
cotton income, more women’s representation in producer
organisations, and more cotton produced by women farmers.
For the Nicaraguan Fair Trade coﬀee cooperatives, sales prices
were higher than those of conventional co-ops, and coopera-
tives had a ‘stronger sense of empowerment’.
There are a growing number of initiatives in and studies on
how smaller business can be promoted in value chains, and
the ‘micro-franchising’ model described below is another illus-
tration. These have proven to provide much promise. However,
the studies also stress the limitations.50 The number of farmers
– including women – that participate in export of perishable
products remains limited. Value chain development seemed to
provide the least amount of opportunities for most vulnerable
farmers (and therefore women, in many cases), and some
authors stress the tendency of international organizations to
focus on the high value export markets.51
Particularly in agriculture, projects and evaluation focus on
households, and there is a risk gender disparities within these
household are neglected; in practice engagement in and ben-
et from value chains are gendered.52 The following Box
describes the example of promotion of smallholder farmers’
income in a sustainable dairy value chain, showing diﬀerent
results for men and women within agricultural households.
Thus, women’s constraints in participating in higher value
(and upgrading) production tend to be amplied in the context
of value chains. To enable women to succeed, according to
Agnes Quisumbing,53 a range of measures are needed: legal
frameworks, protective savings accounts (that limit men taking
over income from women as production increases), transporta-
tion, infrastructure to reduce time burden, and women’s
organization. Mayoux (2012) suggests how community-led
methodologies can reduce gender inequalities in value chain
approaches, through addressing sensitive issues of violence
and ownership, and through involvement of men.
The Manica Smallholder Dairy Development Program in central
Mozambique provided beneciaries with cows and training.
It helped with the creation of a producer cooperative and milk-
collection centres. Household were left to choose which member
was to participate in the training: two-thirds of the household
chose a women as one of the two trainees.
A study conducted by ILRI showed that the program helped
enhance the increased in assets. Milk production and sales
increased, but with higher input costs and labor hours. The project
did not change the distribution of assets between men and women.
Mostly, women had use rights to assets, and men tended to have
control including over (increased) milk products. Men and women
also used income in diﬀerent ways, with women spending more
on immediate household needs.
Gender in value chains: example from dairy production
48 There is also an important strand of work on enhancing working conditions of
female employees in corporates global value chain, reinforced by disasters such
as Rana Plaza in Bangladesh.
49 See for example CARE (2015), BSR (2015).
50 Wiggins and Keats (2013), who emphasize there is little attention to gender in value
chain approaches; Endian and Suominen (2014) on aid for trade, USAID (2009);
Rubin and Manfre (2014).
51 A CARE project to support small dairy farmers in Bangladesh failed because the
commercial company it worked with was unable to work with small farmers; the
project continued in collaboration with BRAC (CARE 2015).
52 See Barrientos (2013) for discussion of the gendered nature of value chains in
Indian and Ghana (cocoa); Tallontire et al (2005) emphasized that social codes of
ethical trading by themselves do not address gender inequalities, unless the
nature of the gendered economy is taken into account.
53 Comments made at The Urban institute, 17 May 2016. She highlighted also that
it is diﬃcult to generate rigorous evidence along the entire value chain.
Source: Johnson et al. (2013).
Micro-franchising, or inclusive distribution networks are busi-
ness models to commercialize products and services (typically
of large companies) with social value (nutrition, hygiene), while
generating stable and protable business opportunities for
low-income people, often women.54 It is a tool designed
specically to assist poor entrepreneurs to reach economic
self-reliance, based on companies’ motivation to expand mar-
kets. Two well-known examples are described in the next Box.
Distinctive to this approach is the involvement of multiple
stakeholders: large and often multinational companies, market
facilitators like CARE (an NGO that has promoted business
approaches for an extended period of time), who directly
engage with women vendors. Projects also provide training for
vendors to succeed, market studies to identify opportunities
and demand for products, and engage micronance institu-
tions to design appropriate nancial services.
A small body of research has begun to evaluate the experi-
ence. The IADB’s Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) has tested
the approach, with encouraging ndings.55 Dolan et al. (2012)
describe the positive impact of CARE’s Bangladesh Rural Sales
Program; but the impacts are small.
5.4 Supplier diversity and inclusion
Business practices to promote supplier diversity and inclusion
have become increasingly popular in the US.57 Since the 1950s,
the Federal government has required its suppliers to have a
supplier diversity program. While this implied many token
initiatives, many large companies now have their own initiatives
and global commitments. Large US companies such as Walmart,
IBM and Sodexo are actively promoting supplier diversity and
inclusion beyond the US.
A main reason for the growth of supplier diversity and
inclusion beyond government requirements, has been compa-
nies’ commercial incentives to anticipate and meet the needs
of customers. It is now often presented as a business case, in
terms of the product innovation and renewal that can derive
from buying from a wider and growing set of suppliers.
Research demonstrates the win-win can be realized: a study by
The Hackett Group found that companies with established
supplier diversity programmes with SMEs and ethnic minority-
controlled businesses generated 133 per cent better return on
their buying operations, and companies working with smaller
and more diverse suppliers spent 20 per cent less on their buy-
BU IL DI NG M AR KE T CON DI TI ON S 21
Project Shakti was launched by Unilever in 2001, to empower rural
women by training them in health and hygiene and allowing them
to undertake income-generation activities. The model spread to
100,000 villages within a decade. Women sell soap, shampoo and
other personal care products, through social forums such as schools
and village meetings. Unilever provides training in sales practices,
commercial knowledge and bookkeeping. The project also pro-
motes public awareness programs focusing on health and hygiene,
and access information through kiosks. Hindustan Lever also built
alliances with telecom and banking companies. Started in India,
Shakti was adapted to other markets where Unilever operated, such
as Sri Lanka, Viet Nam and Bangladesh, and Latin American and
In rural Bangladesh, in 2006 CARE piloted a program to address
women’s lack of income and access to basic products, which later
become known as JITA. 49 women were provided with baskets of
products to sell to other households. The products were supplied
by Bata, Unilever and Danone. The model is based on mutual
advantages: incomes for the saleswomen, access to products for
rural inhabitants, and a growing consumer market for companies.
JITA now operates as a social enterprise, employing 3,500 women
whose income has tripled, serving two million customers with
essential products with sustained private sector interest. CARE is
exploring extending the model in Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya
Micro franchising example: Project Shakti in India
54 See NextBillion initiative (http://nextbillion.net/micro-franchising-business-in-
a-box/), targeted at a higher business segment than examples here.
55 Read about the SCALA project (https://www.idrc.ca/en/project/scala-linking-
56 According to Parvez Mohammad Asheque at the consultation on Business Fights
for Poverty consultation, this also triggered other positive changes: investment in
children’s education, health and nutrition, ownership of small productive
resources, self-reliance, and voice within family and wider society.
57 DiversityBusiness.com describes it has 48,000 members and 500,000 businesses
using its services. It estimates that the top 500 ‘Diverse Owned Companies’ have
a revenue of nearly $53 billion (with large concentration in a small proportion of
the largest of these companies).
58 The Hackett Group (http://www.thehackettgroup.com/studies/2016/supplier-diver-
sity/), MSDUK (http://www.msduk.org.uk/ and an article from Supply Management
22 EN HA NC IN G T HE P RO DU CT IV IT Y OF WOME N-OW NE D EN TE RP RI SE S
These eﬀorts may provide billions of dollars in annual busi-
ness opportunity to historically underutilized groups. Commit-
ted corporations spend approximately one per cent of their
total global spend with women-owned businesses, and now
regularly report on how much they spend with underutilized
suppliers. With women making the majority of consumer pur-
chasing decisions and owning one-third of all private busi-
nesses, large corporations – driven by both business and
community impact concerns – are increasingly focused on sup-
plier diversity and inclusion as an economic opportunity to
engage more women-owned companies in both developed
and developing countries.59
According to practitioners at WEConnect International and
Walmart—which committed itself to sourcing US$20 billion in
ve years from women-owned businesses selling into their US
market—the demand for products outstrips known supply,
especially in emerging economies. Corporates nd it challeng-
ing to nd qualied and registered suppliers in relevant sectors
(women’s concentration in low prot potential sectors provides
additional challenges). Identifying and educating potential
women suppliers and introducing them to qualied buyers has
been the focus of the work of WEConnect International (see
Moreover, corporates have found the need to oﬀer addi-
tional supplier development opportunities. Mentoring and
training programs have been developed by corporations such
as Accenture and EY to enhance supplier potential. Practitioners
highlight the need to engage local governments to help create
the enabling environment for women business owners to start
and grow, especially in high growth sectors. The experience
gathered and research commissioned by Walmart, again,
underlines the multiple constraints that women face, include
the double burden, and diﬃculties in scaling businesses.60
Supplier diversity and inclusion is explicitly targeted at
growth-oriented, and formal and registered companies. Informal
workers and enterprises may be connected to this, through
intermediaries. SEWA in India is an example of a well-established
organization with large numbers of members that is making
eﬀorts to connect the products of more marginalized women,
usually working in the informal sector to these markets.
The new market driven approaches, thus, provide great
potential. There is a growing market that wants to source from
women-owned businesses. Despite the resources available,
the novelty of supplier diversity and inclusion outside of the
US means that the scale to date is relatively small. Documenting
and comparing experiences across countries and industry
sectors appears an important priority.
WEConnect International was launched as a global non-prot
in 2009 by many of the world’s largest corporations seeking
women suppliers, now representing over US$1 trillion in
annual purchasing power. It oﬀers women business owners
access to markets and capacity building on how to sell into
global value chains and scale operations. It applies universal
standards to certify women’s business enterprises and includes
them in a searchable database of women suppliers, making
it easier for buyers to nd women suppliers in one place and
also meet their local or national content and supplier diver-
sity and inclusion goals.
According to WEConnet, data is key in promoting supplier
diversity and inclusion approaches in emerging economies.
It set out to develop a platform that eﬃciently connects local
and global supply with demand. A pilot supported by IDRC
suggests that this is likely to produce results. Within a year,
almost 600 women-owned businesses were registered. It
helped establish almost 300 business connections. 57 com-
panies were registered. Case studies show that this can have
transformative eﬀects for the women entrepreneurs, and
Another example is The Clinton Global Initiative, which spent
two years incubating a mega commitment called “Advancing
Women-Owned Businesses in New Markets.” The partners
intended to create a channel to identify, develop, and scale
high-potential women entrepreneurs who could become
strong corporate suppliers. It aimed to track and measure at
least US$1.5 billion in combined total new money spent by
commitment makers with women-owned businesses based
outside the U.S. between 2013 and 2018. The actual total
spend at the end of 2014 exceeded US$3 billion.
Sources : http://weconnectinternational.org/images/WECI_IDRC_
IndiaReport_2015.pdf; https://ww w.idrc.ca/en/article/empowering-
Foundation (2015); US Chamber of Commerce Foundation (2014).
Overcoming the demand supply gap in diversity approaches through strategic partnerships
59 A small percentage of corporate value chains built to be more inclusive can result
in billions of dollars in economic opportunity for women suppliers, the people
they employ, and the communities they serve (Vazquez and Sherman 2013).
60 Walmart (2014). Jenny Grieser, Kara Valikai, Karina Temirbulatova, Tim Wright, at
The Urban Institute, 17 May 2016. Elizabeth Vazquez at the same meeting empha-
sised how hard it is for (women) entrepreneurs to build wealth if they don’t have it
in the rst place.
Despite the growing body of evidence, there is still limited
knowledge of what works in terms of promoting the growth
of women-owned businesses. The broader literature indicates
that we know relatively little about which businesses grow,
very few businesses become big businesses, and there is more
success in helping to start businesses than growing them.
The lack of knowledge is particularly pertinent for women-
There seems to be relatively clear understanding of the
constraints women face. Their constraints tend to be multi-
dimensional, bundled, and often mutually reinforcing for
example through stereotypes about occupations that are
‘suitable’ for women or men – multi-sectoral approaches this
seem important.61 Women’s disproportionate responsibilities
for (unpaid) care work is a critical issue for understanding
women’s entrepreneurship. Growing businesses requires more
extensive support than starting them, and for women-owned
business successful approaches are likely even more extensive.
While there is broad understanding of women’s constraints,
data is insuﬃcient. This is critical for analysis, advocacy, shap-
ing specic interventions in procurement for example, and
even enhancing the pipeline for businesses keen to work with
women owned businesses. Data needs include improvements
in labor force and enterprise surveys. Given that women’s
entrepreneurship is strongly aﬀected by their multiple roles,
longitudinal data and studies on women’s labor market strate-
gies over the life cycle also seem important. Women entrepre-
neurs of course are far from homogeneous, and constraints
and options seem to express themselves diﬀerently across
diﬀerent economic classes of women entrepreneurs. A better
understanding of their context-specic manifestations, and
how these inform ‘preferences’ of women entrepreneurs con-
tinue to be important.
The metrics of success of women entrepreneurs, and
assumptions about rationality are important, to ensure we
measure opportunities and results in the right way. Women’s
responses to opportunities will in many cases diﬀer from men’s
– in fact, there is a small but growing literature on specic
opportunities that diﬀerent ways of doing businesses provide.
The literature shows that women’s business behavior including
lending and investment tends to diﬀer in part because of their
broader household responsibilities.
Much of the rigorous evidence we have focuses on programs
that provide directs services to the poor. These show that there
are no magic bullets: nance, services, technologies all can
benet female entrepreneurs, but by themselves do little to
enhance long-term growth prospects of women owned busi-
nesses. The small and diverse impacts uncovered in rigorous
studies on nance and training are still a positive sign, and the
systematic evidence gathered as helping to ensure support
takes account of specic needs for and motives of women
entrepreneurs in specic contexts. The ndings that ‘other
factors’ matter as well should be no discouragement; moving
Conclusion: what works and what we need to know more about
ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK
61 Chakravarty et al (2016) amongst others, argue that programs that relieve multi-
ple constraints simultaneously are most promising (they refer to a World Bank
project in Liberia, ‘safe space’ programs, and a club-based girls’ programs with
BRAC. Evidence on multi-sectoral approaches is less available, however.
We need more and better data, including labour force
and enterprise surveys
24 EN HA NC IN G T HE P RO DU CT IV IT Y OF WOME N-OW NE D EN TE RP RI SE S
towards transformation eﬀects of gender equality is a long-
term process. The evidence on how small innovations can
make a small diﬀerence (for example privacy for women in
savings accounts, carefully contextualized training programs),
are critical in that respect.
Given the intertwined nature of constraints to women,
advocacy to change policy and institutions takes on an even-
more-than-otherwise important dimension. Recent work by
the World Bank suggests that laws can and do change, and
there are examples of working with procurement agencies to
enhance the capacity to create a more level playing eld. Such
eﬀorts are necessary to reinforce gains made by training small
businesses. Laws and norms do change slowly, but the advocacy
to promote empowerment has signicantly increased.
There has been an expansion of programs by private sector
actors, and foundations supporting gender equality including
the promotion of women owned businesses. There is as yet
relatively little evidence available on what works and what
does not, with interesting exceptions like the work done with
Walmart (2014), which among other things highlights that
women’s multiple constraints are equally important – and per-
haps amplied – in market oriented approaches. As these new
initiatives now seem to be reaching a critical mass, a concerted
eﬀort to learn lessons from experience seems warranted. In
many case, better data and clearer and comparable metrics
would be a necessity.
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