IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, signed an agreement with the government of Switzerland to boost access to financial services for women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), to help close the economic gender gap and support growth and jobs, according to press statement on Tuesday.
The statement said that the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) will provide up to $5m to support the IFC Advisory’s Women Banking Champions initiative in Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia.
The statement noted that women own over 300,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) the in MENA region—about a third of more than 1 million SMEs of the region. Women entrepreneurs, however, often struggle to obtain financing, with the average female-owned SME in the region needing an extra $270,000 in credit.
Head of Economic Cooperation and Development at SECO Raymund Furrer said that female labour force participation in MENA remains lower than anywhere else in the world.
Furrer added that economies across the region can gain tremendously from closing this gender inclusion gap, noting that the cooperation with the IFC would change this.
IFC’s vice president of blended finance and partnerships, Nena Stoiljkovic, said that the IFC has a strong track record of providing investment and advisory services to banks in order to build profitable business lines in the women’s customer segment—something the IFC is likely to do more of across the MENA region.
“Our partnership with SECO is instrumental in helping to unleash the potential of women entrepreneurs and set off a wave of innovation and job creation,” added Stoiljkovic. “It is also pivotal to highlight the fact that lending to women makes good business sense, and the programme will help lenders tailor their products and services for female borrowers.”
She noted that the partnership will also provide customised training for women in business planning, management, and financial literacy. Furthermore, it will offer networking and mentoring opportunities to spur business growth. The programme also supports thought leadership and knowledge management activities.
Switzerland is one of the largest donors to IFC’s advisory services, mainly through SECO.
SECO is Switzerland’s competence centre for all core issues relating to economic policy. Cooperation between SECO and the IFC Advisory Services dates back to 1989.
The IFC is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets and works with more than 2,000 businesses worldwide. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, IFC delivered a record $19.3bn in long-term financing for developing countries, leveraging the power of the private sector to help end poverty and boost shared prosperity.