Catalyzing Financial Innovation for Women Entrepreneurs

Catalyzing Financial Innovation for Women Entrepreneurs

Here at Kiva, we see the advancement of women’s economic empowerment as a crucial building block of gender equity. More than 80% of Kiva loans go to women, enabling them to start and grow businesses and invest in building better livelihoods for themselves and their families.

Investing in economic empowerment allows women to pursue their dreams, but microfinance alone is not enough to close the gap. Loan products must be designed for women’s needs, and tailored to account for contextual factors — everything from cultural norms around who makes household financial decisions to gender-specific barriers to successful entrepreneurship.

Understanding financial innovations that best meet women’s needs was the central focus of Kiva and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s (ESCAP) work in Southeast Asia and the Pacific over the past year. In partnership with Chamroeun Microfinance Plc., a financial service provider in Cambodia, and South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) a microfinance provider in the Pacific, we undertook research — interviews with 320+ women customers across Cambodia, Fiji, and Samoa — to gain insight into the challenges women entrepreneurs face and how financial service providers (FSPs) can alter their products and services to meet those challenges.

“Hearing directly from women clients is critical to appropriately adapting products and services to meet their needs. This is especially important in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic as women face novel and compounded barriers to financial resiliency,” noted Kelly Flanagan, Senior Manager of Impact at Kiva.

All four organizations participated in a webinar for shared audiences on May 11, 2021 to discuss and share the findings of the research project, which will soon be released in a full report. The webinar gave a preview of the following key learnings:

1. Gender-based barriers compound on existing poverty challenges, vulnerability, and shocks for women entrepreneurs.

Due to gender-specific barriers and vulnerabilities, women entrepreneurs have experienced poverty, negative household and business shocks, and the effects of Covid-19 in distinct ways.

Between taking care of dependents and managing household relationship dynamics, many women felt household responsibilities influenced how they operated their business and made decisions. Moreover, most women entrepreneurs reported experiencing substantial business shocks such as damages to their storefront or drastic changes in market pricing.

The pandemic further added to these constraints. Most saw their financial situation worsen, and in turn, decreased their food consumption, drew from savings, or borrowed money from friends to get by during tough times.

2. Women entrepreneurs operate in an extremely challenging business environment.

On top of household and social barriers, women-owned enterprises are facing business challenges in starting, maintaining, and growing their businesses — which risks limiting their earning potential and overall well being.

Women entrepreneurs cited excessive business competition as one of the top challenges they faced, followed by not enough demand for their products, low repayments on services they provide on credit, and disruptions due to natural disasters. As we dug into the research, we found the women’s ability to invest in diverse business types and gain a competitive advantage was restricted by limited business management practices, low-level skills, limited entrepreneurial capacity, and lack of market knowledge. This was further compounded by barriers to formal finance, such as being unable to meet ID documentation requirements when attempting to access loans.

Together, these challenges mean women entrepreneurs face struggles at every turn to build their businesses and provide for their families.

3. Clients with access to microloans report improvement in their livelihoods, and call for further innovation to improve outcomes.

In discussions with women entrepreneurs, those who took out microloans had clearly improved livelihoods. Commonly noted benefits of access to these financial services included being able to use the loan to start a new business or expand an existing business and using the additional income to support their families or home improvements. A strong majority of women said the loans positively impacted their business confidence and their ability to drive decision making within the household.

We also found that many women wanted continued innovation and tailoring of loan products to provide further support. Most were interested in access to business training opportunities and better understanding the skills needed to efficiently operate their business. Others suggested flexibility in loan terms to account for the unique sectors and situations within which women operated. In any case, women entrepreneurs demonstrated their enthusiasm and readiness to seize new opportunities to help grow their businesses.

You can watch the webinar here to learn more about the research and how alignment both with strategic partners like UNESCAP and microfinance lending partners like Chamroeun and SPBD is enabling Kiva to learn directly from our clients and improve our products to better serve women.

The full report from Kiva and UNESCAP will be published later this summer. If you’re interested in learning more about how Kiva supports women, visit us at If you would like to partner with us to further gender-equity research please reach out to Bojana Stoparic at