Economic Empowerment

Research from the World Bank, Ernst & Young and other institutions indicates that the real drivers of the global economy are women. As business leaders, employees, consumers and entrepreneurs, women are accelerating economic growth and improving conditions in their communities. Despite the proven benefits of women’s economic engagement, women business owners face disproportionate barriers in growing their businesses: they have difficulty accessing business networks, technology, training, financing, markets, and equal protection under the law.

Vital Voices addresses these barriers through targeted interventions that cultivate women’s business leadership by providing deep investments through business skills training, building their confidence and integrating them into networks that can expand their businesses.

We identify women owners of small and medium-sized businesses, the “missing middle” — businesses that are either too large to receive support from programs that help micro or start-up businesses or too small to have access to the resources a large company does. We are committed to realizing their vast potential and that of the women who lead them through three key mechanisms:

1. Direct services: Business growth, leadership and mentoring, and growth services

2. Informing and influencing stakeholders: Advocacy and research

3. Access to networks: Connections to networks and peers

The body of knowledge on women’s economic inclusion is limited, albeit growing. Vital Voices leveraged its partnership with a global network of businesswomen, and other partners to collect data, conduct research and publish findings to contribute to this body of knowledge and ultimately promote women as drivers of economic growth. The findings from these studies inform and enhance the way we design and implement economic development programs in effort to better serve the women business owners.

Among these publications are:

  • Ready for Growth: Solutions to Increase Access to Finance for Women-Owned Businesses in MENA: In partnership with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Middle East & North Africa Businesswomen’s Network (MENA BWN), Vital Voices examines MENA businesswomen’s challenges in accessing finance.
  • Engendering Growth: Cultivating the Ecosystem of Support for Women Business Owners: Stakeholders that influence the growth of women business owners include government, universities, private sector, investors, commercial banks and other actors. In mapping these actors and the services and opportunities they provide from the perspective of local businesswomen’s associations, Vital Voices assesses the SME support space for women entrepreneurs to support local partners in strengthening their own services and forging new partnerships that deliver value to their members locally and regionally.
  • The Value of Businesswomen’s Networks: In collaboration with the United Nations Foundation (UNF) and ExxonMobil Foundation, Vital Voices conducted an exploratory study of Argentina and Nigeria businesswomen associations to determine the value of networks for businesswomen – why businesswomen in developing countries join networks, how they benefit, and what unique advantages they derive from women-focused business networks.
  • A Roadmap for Promoting Women's Economic Empowerment: Eighteen research studies were commissioned by the United Nations Foundation and the ExxonMobil Foundation to help identify the most effective interventions to empower women economically across four categories of employment – entrepreneurship, farming, wage employment and young women's employment. The report identifies interventions that are proven, promising or have a high potential to increase productivity and earnings for different groups of women in diverse country contexts.