How the Women's Entrepreneurship Fund Can Help Change the Entire Entrepreneur Ecosystem

Women at the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya [U.S. Embassy Nairobi Photo]

I met Julie Hanna at last year's Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya. As the Executive Chair of the Board for Kiva, she was there as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship. I was there as the U.S. Ambassador for Global Women's Issues.

Considering that the total unmet financing needs for women-owned businesses around the world are an estimated $260 billion to $320 billion, it seemed only logical when we started to look at how we can partner to empower women entrepreneurs like the ones we met in Kenya.

Last week our efforts came to fruition and we launched the Women's Entrepreneurship Fund, a new initiative that will help expand access to finance for women in the 84 countries where Kiva operates.

The fund works like this: posts loan requests from women entrepreneurs. When Kiva lenders respond, their contributions will be matched dollar for dollar by the Fund, which will accept contributions from large donors who can give $250,000 or more.

As part of the Fund, the State Department will support data collection and analysis to measure how effective the initiative is in expanding women's access to finance. The data will help illustrate the financial needs and activity of women entrepreneurs around the world by measuring several indicators, including the size of loans women are taking on, in which industry, and for what purpose.

This is a critical part of our broader efforts to empower women entrepreneurs. Right now we don't have enough data to fully understand the experiences of women entrepreneurs. For diplomats, that limits our ability to work with countries to reform policies to promote women's entrepreneurship. It also limits the ability of banks to find new, innovative ways to finance women entrepreneurs.

With data from the Fund that shows not only the size and purpose of each loan, but also whether the lendee returns for additional funding, we'll be able to make the business argument to countries about why women entrepreneurs are worth the investment, and why laws and policies need to empower them, not restrain them.

The Fund is one of many ways the United States is working to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. A key part of the global development agenda includes expanding women's access to financial resources--an important recognition that women's economic empowerment is a key part of our overall efforts to address other challenges--including gender-based violence, women's political participation, and the education and empowerment of adolescent girls.

But the global goals can't be achieved by governments alone. We need to work with the private sector to empower women, including entrepreneurs.
This Fund offers a clear, direct way for the private sector to advance the Sustainable Development Goals by helping women entrepreneurs access finance. And it will allow them to double the impact of their investment.

Because the Fund will be used to match, dollar-for-dollar, what Kiva's lenders provide to women entrepreneurs, donors know that they are part of a global community of support for this effort. And thanks to the data collection, investors will have hard data and evidence to track the impact of their contributions.

The Women's Entrepreneurship Fund can make a difference on so many levels in the entrepreneurship ecosystem. It can help make a positive difference for women and their communities, microfinance institutions and commercial banks, donors and investors, and regulators and policymakers. And that impact is going to start almost immediately.

By the time President Obama travels to Silicon Valley to host the Global Entrepreneurship Summit this summer, we hope to be well on our way to empowering women entrepreneurs through this Fund.