The Role of Women Entrepreneurs in Development

20-11-16-004_fotorThe last two posts in our current series on best practices for international development, which you can read here and here, have examined at the innate creativity that exists in all people and argued that development models need to access this part of human nature by providing the entrepreneurial opportunities and training. Today, we’re going to look at a segment of the population that is brimming with talents, passion, and ideas that have the power to transform their communities, but is so often tragically excluded from the business sector: women.

While women were largely overlooked by development agencies for the better part of the twentieth century, the international community has adapted its approach over the past couple decades to increasingly give attention to the particular challenges and opportunities that affect women. The reason behind this shift? Studies now show that “Poverty reduction and shared prosperity can only be achieved with the full economic participation of both men and women” (World Bank Group, 2014). Indeed, experts overwhelmingly agree that women are vital to a country’s development because they have the potential to not only contribute directly through enterprise and consumption, but also secure future economic productivity by managing household resources in such a way that benefit the health and education of their children (Niethammer, 2013). It should be unsurprising, then, why there has been such interest in cultivating women’s entrepreneurial skills and providing them with opportunities to put them to use.

Unfortunately, the World Bank estimates that nearly one billion women worldwide are unable to fulfill this potential due to the variety of unique challenges that they face, as compared to their male counterparts. Research shows that women experience significantly greater difficulty in accessing credit than men, particularly from formal banking institutions. In fact, this issue is the second most reported reason among women as to why they are unable to develop their businesses. In addition to starting on average with less credit than men, women are also less likely to take on additional debt to expand their business, which further hinders their entrepreneurial endeavors (World Bank Group, 2014).

Knowing that entrepreneurial models of development represent one of the most promising means of empowering households and broader communities, it’s critical, then, that organizations intentionally incorporate strategies that help women in overcoming the barriers that inhibit their business success. These strategies vary depending on context, but for self-employed women working at the subsistence level, such as those with whom CLI works, the United Nations Foundation (2013) recommends partnering with women over a period of time. In this duration, an organization should take a number of steps to counteract the typical issues that affect women. For example, creating ways for women to access credit, such as capital transfer loans, should be paired with training and ongoing monitoring and assistance. In this way, the women receive not only the investments that they have so often been denied, but also the additional support that will help to compensate for other inequalities that they may face in terms of education, technical knowledge, and professional networks.

There is still much to be done before gender equality and global poverty alleviation can be achieved. However, investing in the entrepreneurship dreams of individuals– both men and women– represents one of the most effective means by which we can make this a reality.


Niethammer, C. (2013). Women, entrepreneurship and the opportunity to promote development and business. Women, Entrepreneurship and the Opportunity to Promote Development and Business, 31-39. Retrieved from

Richards, W. (2016, March 29). 5 must-reads on women’s entrepreneurship. Retrieved from

United Nations Foundation. (2013). A roadmap for promoting women’s economic empowerment. 1-146. Retrieved from

World Bank Group. (2014). Supporting growth-oriented women entrepreneurs: A review of the evidence and key challenges. (5), 1-20. Retrieved from

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