Organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Feminist Finance Forum closed in Bangkok today with a rallying call to accelerate efforts and enhance multistakeholder cooperation to close this gender gap in access to finance for entrepreneurs across the region. The Forum provided an opportunity for key regional stakeholders to strategize on collaborative efforts to alleviate the constraints faced by women entrepreneurs across Asia and the Pacific.
Approximately 70 per cent of women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises globally lack adequate access to financial services. Compounding this, only 7 per cent of private equity and venture capital is invested in female-led businesses. Across Asia and the Pacific, the gender-finance gap is a prevalent issue, with an estimated US$300 billion gap in financing for formal women-owned small businesses, and more than 1 billion women excluded from formal financial systems.
This gap results from and drives prevailing social norms and entrenched gender discriminatory practices, which continue to constrain uptake and usage of financial services among women. In her opening remarks, Rupa Chanda, Director of the Trade, Investment and Innovation Division of ESCAP stressed the need to accelerate action and promote innovative solutions. “More action is needed to ensure that the financial ecosystem in the region is able to respond to the needs of women and underserved populations. This will require channeling investment capital into transformative gender-responsive solutions to climate change and economic disparities; encouraging capital allocators to move capital to first-time gender lens funds; creating financial products that support the safety, stability, and success of women; building private-public partnerships to strengthen blended finance solutions, as well as a regulatory environment that facilitates women’s financial inclusion and success”.
Cam Do, Director General of the Innovative and Climate Finance Bureau, Global Affairs Canada shared, “Feminist finance goes well beyond providing access to services and opportunities. It also involves transforming social norms, power dynamics that exist, and structural barriers that hinder equality. When women can fully participate in the economy, whether as entrepreneurs, agricultural producers, managers, employees, or business leaders, economies thrive, and more people benefit from growth.”
The two-day interactive Forum convened over 200 participants, including policymakers, women entrepreneurs, investors, financial service providers, academics, civil society and women’s grassroots organisations, and development partners.
During the event, participants explored the climate finance and gender equality nexus, the need to drive investments into the regional care economy, women’s financial inclusion and resilience, tools to overcome gender bias in funding processes, support services for women entrepreneurs, and actionable insights on gender lens investing and gender responsive financial products and services.
At the Forum, ESCAP launched its report: Policy Approaches for Financial Inclusion: An Examination of Approaches across Asia and the Pacific and Latin America, developed in partnership with the Government of Colombia. A Community of Practice on Women’s Financial Inclusion was also initiated, with a goal to bring policymakers in Asia and the Pacific and Latin America together to engage in mutually beneficial exchange on key priority areas identified during the Forum.
On the sidelines of the event, regional thought leaders and practitioners of Feminist Finance unveiled innovative new tools and initiatives to close the gender-finance gap. Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) launched its Orange Bond, set to unlock US$ 10 billion to empower 100 million women, building on the success of the Women’s Livelihood Bond Series, implemented in partnership with the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and ESCAP.
Women-led Southeast Asia-based impact investment firm, SWEEF Capital, which was established with support from ESCAP, introduced participants to its recently launched Gender ROI™ tool, demonstrating the positive impact of adopting a gendered approach within organisations.
She Loves Tech, the world’s largest acceleration platform for women and technology, hosted a competition for women led start-ups from the Mekong region to pitch in front of the region’s top investors and funding institutions. The winning pitch was awarded to Vietnamese entrepreneur, Dung Claire Tran, Founder and CEO of Rayo- an AI-powered browser to make websites accessible for people with disabilities
During the Forum’s closing, a partnership agreement between ESCAP and 2X Global was signed ahead of the launch of two introductory and acceleration training programmes for female led or gender balanced fund managers from across Asia and the Pacific, which will run from September 2023 to March 2024. ESCAP also announced its intention to forge a joint initiative for Women investing for Women, in collaboration with 2X Global and other partners, to unlock gender smart capital at scale in Asia-Pacific, in addition to plans to commission a study on the FemTech Industry in South East Asia.
The Feminist Finance Forum was organised in the context of ESCAP’s Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship Programme, funded by Global Affairs Canada. Through the Programme, ESCAP is working to foster women’s economic empowerment, reduce poverty and increase gender equality by supporting women’s entrepreneurship in the Asia-Pacific region.
To date, a total of 176,000 women entrepreneurs have gained access to finance through the project, and the programme has unlocked over US$89.7 million in capital. The Forum sought to build on these achievements, with a goal to drive tangible action for a feminist entrepreneurial ecosystem in Asia and the Pacific, and beyond.
For further information: https://www.unescap.org/events/2023/feminist-finance-forum