Beyond Funding: Bridging the Gender Finance Gap through Non-Financial Services
Charlene Rodenas examines the lack of access to finance for women entrepreneurs and talks about how the investment landscape has changed to become more inclusive
The gender gap remains a prevalent issue across the globe in many facets of society — at home, the workplace, in education, and beyond. While there has been progress, it is undeniable that there is much more to do, one of which is financial inclusion.
Today, this continues to be a challenge for women, especially for women entrepreneurs who have limited access to financial services and products, sometimes not even aware that these are available to them. Studies show that 66% of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in Southeast Asia are women-led. However, despite this large economic driving force, the UN notes that 80% of women-led businesses are inadequately receiving credit support from formal financial support globally. Whether in accessing loans or equity investments, women are more disadvantaged compared to men. Capital is key in scaling up, but when women entrepreneurs face a roadblock of multiple barriers, they remain held back in accelerating their potential.
Why is access to financing still a challenge for women entrepreneurs?
In an era when society is at its most progressive specifically in terms of gender equality and women empowerment, one might think the gender gap doesn’t exist. However, the reality is that women entrepreneurs are continuing to face financial constraints in one way or another.
In support of women entrepreneurs braving through this, Villgro Philippines in partnership with the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and Investing in Women, recently conducted a study on the gender finance gap to learn more about the landscape and help stakeholders to create a better space for women entrepreneurs seeking access for formal funding.
Over 100 women entrepreneurs leading or owning businesses in the Philippines participated in the study as interviewees and survey respondents. The research defined women entrepreneurs to be those who associated themselves with the following terms or not: cisgender, transgender, non-binary or binary, genderqueer, intersex, gender fluid, and transsexual.
Initial learnings from the research show that the need for accessing capital is magnified by the significant 64% of women entrepreneurs who mentioned they saw the opportunity for funding to scale their operations, needing up to PHP 5 million. The same study indicates however that half of the 64% noted that PHP 1 million would only be needed to close the gap between their current business needs.
Other findings of the research also include the following challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in order to achieve raising capital:
- Information asymmetry and lack of knowledge on products and services available
- A high barrier to compliance with requirements needed to access formal funding
- Explicit and implicit gender-related biases
- Lack of available products and services catered to women entrepreneurs.
Information Asymmetry and Lack of Knowledge
Despite a growing number of institutions providing funding opportunities to women-led businesses, many women entrepreneurs are still unaware that these products and services are available to them. The research found that 30% of women entrepreneurs are still unaware of where to access funding.
Upon asking the respondents how they were able to obtain initial capital, 77% said they were self-reliant on bootstrapping. This is also coupled with borrowing from friends and family. What this highlights is that even if there were available resources such as competitions, grants, equity investment, and personal and business loans, these were less preferred by women entrepreneurs, leading to the next point of high barriers. This also shows that social capital is key — women entrepreneurs prioritized accessing capital from people they knew over financial institutions or investors they have never heard of. Moreover, this means that by accessing networks that provide exposure to such information, women entrepreneurs can expect to have a better awareness of where to find capital and how they can access it.
High Barrier to Compliance
The women entrepreneurs who are knowledgeable about the financial products and services available to them expressed having encountered the challenge of meeting the stringent requirements of compliance. This includes tedious paperwork, lengthy processes, collaterals, and high-interest rates.
There is a negative perception of women entrepreneurs when it comes to investors and financial institutions. Certain stereotypes led by women entrepreneurs in male-dominated industries make it difficult for them to access funding. Some funders may also implicitly show skepticism toward women through targeted questioning and requesting more paperwork compared to their male counterparts. According to the initial findings of the study, 29% said they experienced gender-related challenges when accessing funding. An example is investors or financial institutions requiring husbands to be co-signatories for loan applications when the same facilities would not require them the other way around. A respondent shared that “if a man applies for a loan, they apply on their own. If you’re a married woman in this country, you need your husband as the co-maker or co-signatory of the loan.”
Lack of available products and services
Most often government and development agencies are active providers of programs to support women entrepreneurs, compared to mainstream financial institutions such as banks. Unfortunately, government agencies and non-governmental organizations limit this support to high-impact and advocacy-driven businesses focused on community impact, leaving the rest of the women entrepreneurs who are rather scaled toward economic growth at a disadvantage. It shouldn’t be an either-or situation — financial institutions, government, and other organizations should equally strive to provide opportunities for both high-impact and economic-driven businesses by women entrepreneurs.
While these remain obstacles for women entrepreneurs to access external financing, there are many initiatives in the ecosystem that support said entrepreneurs to navigate the current landscape.
Entrepreneur support organizations (ESOs) such as Villgro Philippines understand this plight, which is why Villgro Philippines in particular has made it its mission to help women entrepreneurs succeed the best way they can through a multifaceted approach. This means going beyond funding, yet still inclining support toward investment readiness, including:
Incubator and Accelerator Programs
The WE Rise Accelerator and the InLife Negosyo Challenge are just some of the programs by Villgro Philippines designed specifically to scale women-led enterprises. These programs have provided access to mentorship, unrestricted funding, and other cutting-edge resources for women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.
Every month, Villgro Philippines, through its community arm the Nüshu Network, facilitates closed-door sessions with women entrepreneurs and investors so the former can sharpen their pitching skills. Here, they receive targeted feedback that could help them ace their next pitch and even foster connections with the investors in the community.
Recognizing the importance of networking and building connections, the Nüshu Network hosts virtual and in-person events throughout the year to connect women entrepreneurs with investors, collaborators, and peers.
Peer-led discussions and masterclasses are some initiatives Villgro Philippines takes to foster an environment for women entrepreneurs to learn together and from each other. This helps build confidence through upskilling within their entrepreneurial journeys.
The Nüshu Network also hosts a one-stop digital platform where women entrepreneurs can access self-paced learning modules to educate themselves on business, gender, and leadership themes.
Gender Lens and Impact Investment Council
This is a member-based organization that seeks to promote gender lens and impact investment across the Philippines’ startup ecosystem. The council is composed of Villgro Philippines, Impact Pioneers Network, xchange, ARQCapital Partners, inBest Ventures, Gobi Partners, and Ignite Impact Fund.
Gender Financing Gap Research
Through ongoing research, Villgro Philippines aims to articulate the needs of women entrepreneurs, understand the current landscape, and encourage stakeholders to create accessible and curated strategies that uplift women entrepreneurs. If you’re interested to know more about this, make sure to follow Villgro Philippines for the latest updates.
Funding future forward!
If you’re a woman entrepreneur experiencing the same challenges in accessing funding, know that you are not alone. This just goes to show that the ecosystem, despite its impactful work in supporting women entrepreneurs, has a long way to go. Despite these hurdles, there is hope — organizations who are dedicated to building a level playing field and continue to promote safe spaces exist. It’s a matter of finding which one aligns with you and your business the most!
While accessing finance is key to scaled growth, paralleling non-financial services helps in contributing to success. Leveraging the available resources not only strengthens how you manage your business but also encourages your growth as an entrepreneur.
Are you a woman entrepreneur seeking capital or other non-financial services to scale your business? Look no further — Villgro Philippines has carefully curated programs and services to support you and your impact enterprise! Let us know what type of support you’re seeking in the comments or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Charlene is a Gender and Inclusion Program Associate at Villgro Philippines, she supports the team’s gender-smart programs. She also builds and strengthens the community of women entrepreneurs at Nüshu Network, an access-to-finance platform that empowers women entrepreneurs in South and Southeast Asia.
Connect with Charlene at email@example.com