There are only about 60 funds worldwide with a specific focus on investing in women entrepreneurs, based on her research, said Suzanne Biegel, senior gender lens investing adviser at the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, part of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. They have a combined $1.3 billion. An additional $500 million to $600 million is sought collectively by the funds. Against this universe, “for women entrepreneurs, $1 billion is a huge number,” she said.
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A report from the World Bank, financial services giant Axa and consultancy Accenture found the market for insurance for women, including women entrepreneurs, in 10 emerging markets that it studied would be $1.7 trillion by 2030, up from $800 billion in 2013. Money from We-Fi, which will be distributed through development banks that likely will award the money based on project applications, could conceivably be used in projects like developing insurance products aimed at women entrepreneurs, or to loan money to women-led brokerages. The first calls for proposals will be out in October, according to the World Bank.
“I’m sitting in Tanzania talking to 19 entrepreneurs about scaling up,” said Biegel. “Insurance is a huge need. They can’t get crop insurance or greenhouse insurance. Without insurance, you are vulnerable.”
We-Fi will make the $325 million pledged by donor countries available for equity deals where partners include venture capitalists and private equity funds. That means the World Bank could be an investor in funds that invest in women-led start-ups, or the start-ups themselves, in emerging tech hubs, like Dubai or Nairobi’s “Silicon Savannah.”
The presence of World Bank money in a deal often reassures co-investors from the United States or Europe and gives funds working in geographies or with populations that investors see as risky a longer time frame. World Bank investments in funds in the Middle East and North Africa has helped launch several venture capital funds there.
The We-Fi money may push more funds to focus on women. For instance, a $150 million Cairo-based fund, Ripples Impact, aims to launch in the second quarter of 2018 to invest in growth-stage companies in the Middle East and North Africa working in health and food security, with women’s empowerment one of its guiding investment principles.
If women participated equally with men around the world, $12 trillion would be added to the global economy, consulting firm McKinsey estimated in 2015. Funding women entrepreneurs, especially in traditionally male-dominated industries, is seen as one of the best ways to spur greater equality.
The White House did not respond to questions about Ivanka’s continuing role in the We-Fi initiative, though she was involved over the summer, meeting with investment and entrepreneurship experts and hosting meetings at the White House. She is leading the U.S. delegation to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, India. The annual summit is an Obama initiative.
Saudi Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, an advocate for women and a philanthropist, investor and the founder of several luxury lifestyle companies, will become an advisor to the fund.
Part of the vitriol directed against Ivanka came from her lack of experience in global entrepreneurship, as well as her father’s stated intention to dismantle global financial infrastructure. Her clothing line has come under fire for not monitoring the treatment of factory workers to which it outsources.
“She has got zero credibility when it comes to global women’s entrepreneurship, much less financing entrepreneurship,” said one expert.
It is a deeply complicated issue, one that has so far defied most solutions. “If we are trying to change patterns of capital distribution, we should be bold and purposeful and choose areas that will demonstrate what’s possible,” said Laurie Spengler, CEO of Washington, D.C.-based Enclude, which advises businesses and financial institutions on how they can serve underserved entrepreneurs. “With $1 billion, you’re trying to lead others.”