Empowering women entrepreneurs in developing countries – Why current programs fall short

Current women’s economic empowerment interventions are not enough to overcome all obstacles facing female entrepreneurs. The emerging evidence from psychology and experimental economics on agency; mindset, and leadership show that for successful interventions to be transformative, they need to move beyond basic access to financial and human capital and also tackle central psychological, social, and skills constraints on women entrepreneurs. Emerging evidence from recent studies on different capital-based, training-based, and gender-based interventions, using randomized control trials, present promising interventions to support women entrepreneurs.

An experimental study in Uganda found that providing financial capital (i.e., subsidized microcredit coupled with Start and Improve Your Business training1 module), while effective for men, does not have any impact on female-owned enterprise profits.2 Similarly, a randomized control trial on Tanzania’s Business Women Connect3 program found that while the mobile savings program substantially increased savings, it did not have an effect on female-owned enterprise profits or sales even when combined with hard business skills, such as business management, basic profitability concepts, and record-keeping. Both studies, however, show that loans paired with business trainings as well as improved access to mobile savings accounts paired with business trainings had a positive impact on male-owned microenterprise profits or sales. Thus, a successful women’s economic empowerment intervention needs more than only access to financial capital and hard business skills.

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