IFC logo- Photo courtesy of IFC website
CAIRO– 17 October 2017: The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, signed an agreement with the government of Switzerland on Tuesday 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.
The Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) will provide up to $5 million to support IFC Advisory’s Women Banking Champions initiative in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.
Women own over 300,000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in MENA – about a third of the more than one million SMEs that form the backbone of the regional economy. But women entrepreneurs often struggle to obtain financing, with the average female-owned SME in the region needing an extra $270,000 in credit to thrive.
“Female labor force participation in MENA remains lower than anywhere else in the world. Economies across the region can gain tremendously from closing this gender inclusion gap,” said Raymund Furrer, Head of Economic Cooperation and Development at SECO.
“Together with IFC, we want to change this and to close the gender inclusion gap. This is good economics and part of our mandate which stresses inclusion by access to economic opportunities for all.”
Nena Stoiljkovic, IFC’s Vice President of Blended Finance and Partnerships, said: “We have a strong track record of providing investment and advisory services to banks to build profitable business lines in the women’s customer segment, which is something we’d like to do more of across the Middle East and North Africa. 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.”
As well as highlighting the fact that lending to women makes good business sense, the program will help lenders tailor their products and services for female borrowers. It will also provide customized training for women in business planning, management and financial literacy, and offer networking and mentoring opportunities to spur business growth. The program also supports thought leadership and knowledge management activities.
Switzerland is one of the largest donors to IFC’s advisory services, mainly through the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). Cooperation between SECO and IFC Advisory Services dates back to 1989.