A crowdfunding platform for women farmers, online marketplaces for women-produced goods and services, and e-wallet enabled lending were among ten of the winning business models which will be co-funded by the United Nations to improve access to finance for women-owned, managed or led micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the region.
Launched by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) in March 2019, the Women Fintech MSME Innovation Fund will support the implementation of the winning private sector FinTech and digital business solutions for women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Myanmar, Nepal, Samoa and Viet Nam.
“We received over 100 innovative proposals from businesses registered in more than 20 countries around the region. The breadth of proposals received was impressive. It is encouraging to see how digital finance and digital solutions can be used to address some of the barriers women-led MSMEs face in accessing finance and advancing their business. ESCAP is grateful to the Government of Canada for their support to this initiative,” shared ESCAP Deputy Executive Secretary Hongjoo Hahm.
MSMEs are a vital source of employment and a significant contributor to the GDP. However, more than 45 per cent of MSMEs in Asia and the Pacific experience financial access constraints. Socio-cultural norms mean women-led enterprises have to overcome gender-specific barriers to access institutional credit and other financial services.
“To address the issues that female business owners face, we need entrepreneur-centric solutions that will allow her to grow her business and reach her full potential,” said Andrew Shaw, Senior Advisor, Fintech and Financial Inclusion at the Dutch development Bank (FMO).
The Women MSME Fintech Innovation Fund provides risk capital and technical assistance to pilot technology enabled financial service solutions for women-led enterprises. Out of the 110 applications received, the top 30 proposals were asked to pitch their ideas to an independent investment committee made up of industry experts and regulators.
Over the next year, ESCAP and UNCDF will provide financial and technical support to the ten winning companies as they develop and pilot their business initiatives. In the short-term, the initiatives aim to support more than 9,000 women led MSMEs in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Myanmar, Nepal, Samoa and Viet Nam. The winning companies include the following:
- iFarmer (Bangladesh)
- Romoni Services (Bangladesh)
- BanhJi FinTech (Cambodia)
- SHE Investments (Cambodia)
- HFC Bank (Fiji)
- InfoCorp (Myanmar)
- Aeloi Technologies (Nepal)
- SparrowPay (Nepal)
- SkyEye (Samoa)
- Tinh Thuong Microfinance Institution (Viet Nam)
“Transforming towards digital economy requires inclusive partnerships and concerted effort towards enhancing MSMEs competitiveness. We thank ESCAP, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Government of Canada, FMO and Visa for their collaboration and support for bringing in the much-needed synergy on advancing women MSMEs through use of the UNCDF SHIFT Innovation Fund mechanism,” said Rajeev Kumar Gupta, SHIFT ASEAN and SAARC Programme Manager, UNCDF.
Similarly, Mr. Arif Qayyum, Senior Director of Social Impact in Asia Pacific, Visa, stated: “We believe that given the right opportunities and support, women owned-business and entrepreneurs can have a significant impact on economic growth. Partnerships such as the Women Fintech MSME Innovation Fund will give FinTechs the support they need to implement locally-relevant solutions to help more women-owned MSMEs thrive with access to formal financial services.”
The Women MSME FinTech Innovation Fund is part of a regional programme ‘Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship: Creating a Gender-Responsive Entrepreneurial Ecosystem’ funded by the Government of Canada and implemented by ESCAP in partnership with UNCDF. The programme aims to support the growth of women entrepreneurs in the Asia-Pacific region through addressing the challenges faced at three levels: enabling policy environment, access to finance and use of ICT for entrepreneurship. Funding support is also provided by FMO and Visa Inc.
For more information about the winning business models and how they plan to support women entrepreneurs, please visit: https://adobe.ly/2X6jWb5.