Investing In Caribbean Women Entrepreneurs

In recent years, there has been a significant rise in the number of women entrepreneurs globally. As proof of this, the World Bank highlights that in the United States women-owned firms are growing at more than double the rate of all other firms, and that in developing countries, there are about 8- 10 million formal small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with at least one female owner.

While this growth is promising, women still encounter numerous challenges in starting and scaling their businesses, including limited access to funding, mentorship, and networking opportunities. In fact, a consortium of 14 donor countries and 6 multilateral development banks called the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), notes in a 2022 publication that there is a global USD $1.7 trillion gender financing gap. Moreover, if this financing and other obstacles for women entrepreneurs could be eliminated, USD $5-6 trillion in net value addition could be generated around the world.

The case for investing in women entrepreneurs isn’t merely compelling, it is staggering in its appeal. If given an equitable opportunity, if included, women are capable of massively expanding innovation and wealth creation for communities and countries.

It is for this reason that the theme for International Women’s Day 2024, “Inspire Inclusion” is so relevant and urgent. The faster we achieve gender parity for women entrepreneurs, the faster we can accelerate progress for all. When women thrive, we all thrive as well.

Recognising the immense potential of women entrepreneurs, we at Republic Bank are doing our part to encourage greater diversity, equity and inclusion in entrepreneurship as a fundamental element of our commitment to the Principles for Responsible Banking and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. I’m proud to be one of leaders of an organisation that is taking substantial strides to support and empower Caribbean female business owners by providing:
• Dedicated financial support;
• Mentorship and networking programmes;
• Educational workshops and training;
• Advocacy for women entrepreneurs

Dedicated Financial Support
Access to financing is one of the most critical difficulties faced by Caribbean women entrepreneurs as cited by the July 2022 edition of Caribbean Economics Quarterly titled ‘Finance for Firms: Options for Improving Access and Inclusion’ from the Inter-American Development Bank. To help the women entrepreneurs of our region to overcome this challenge, we at Republic Bank have developed specific loan products tailored to meet the unique needs of women-owned businesses. These loans have concessions including attractive interest rates, flexible repayment schedules, and higher approval rates, enabling women entrepreneurs to access the capital required to launch or expand their ventures. We’re striving to ensure that financial barriers are minimized, promoting equal opportunities for all entrepreneurs.

Mentorship and Networking Programmes
Running a successful business involves making the right strategic choices and forming the necessary connections with key stakeholders such as investors or suppliers to be able to implement those choices. Mentorship and networking are essential to achieving both. In partnership with BPD & Associates and under Republic Bank’s Power to Make a Difference corporate responsibility programme, we actively support women entrepreneurs through our signature business development and mentoring initiative known as the Entrepreneurs Business Builder (EBB) programme. Now in its third cohort, this initiative allows Caribbean women entrepreneurs to join a powerful community of like-minded professionals to build future-proof, profitable and sustainable businesses. The programme addresses the real-life, everyday struggles women business owners face, giving participants the blueprint for building a successful venture. This programme also connects experienced business leaders across various industries with budding female entrepreneurs, providing invaluable guidance, advice, and support.

Educational Workshops and Training
For women entrepreneurs, having the requisite skills and knowledge to thrive in today's competitive business landscape, is just as important as forging the right connections to strengthening your value chain. To this end, the Bank organises a range of educational workshops and training programmes for entrepreneurs in general as well as exclusively for women entrepreneurs.

As mentioned previously, the Entrepreneurs Business Builder is our capacity-building programme created exclusively for women business owners across several of our Caribbean territories. Here, participants cover a wide range of topics, including financial management, marketing strategies, technology adoption, and leadership development.

However, we also offer a variety of training opportunities for entrepreneurs in general in which women can participate. At the Caribbean Investment Forum in the Bahamas in October 2023, I participated in the renewal of our Memorandum of Understanding with the Caribbean Export Development Agency to continue our shared goal to build the export capacity of Caribbean businesses. In addition, we’re also collaborating with MarVista Institute for Agriculture Training and Development to equip agripreneurs with the knowledge and tools necessary to succeed. Such initiatives aim to bridge the gap in entrepreneurial expertise and also ensure that women have access to knowledge and resources.

Advocacy for Women in Business
We also believe that celebrating the accomplishments of women entrepreneurs is crucial for inspiring others and nurturing a supportive ecosystem. We regularly feature success stories and profiles of exceptional women entrepreneurs on our social media platforms, showcasing their achievements, challenges overcome, and lessons learned. We’ve also hosted pop-up markets to give our business-owners additional promotional exposure. This celebration inspires aspiring entrepreneurs, builds a sense of community, and encourages more women to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.

In the Caribbean, our communities and our economies only stand to benefit from creating an enabling environment where women entrepreneurs can thrive. Through financial support, mentorship programmes, educational initiatives and advocacy, Republic Bank is championing gender equality in entrepreneurship and actively working to empower women to succeed in the business world.

We do this because investing in women entrepreneurs is a high-yield investment worth making.

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