We-Fi’s roll-out continues to ignore long-standing feminist concerns

27 September 2018

In August, Priya Basu, head of the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), hosted by the World Bank, claimed the new facility had already overshot its goal of getting $1 billion into the hands of women-led businesses by 2020. Basu noted that We-Fi had mobilised $1.6 billion from the private sector, in addition to an already allocated $120 million from institutional donors. Launched at the 2017 G20 Summit in Hamburg, the facility is designed to provide financing for women-led businesses in developing countries, with its largest donors including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (see Observer Autumn 2017).

Using a financial intermediary model that has long raised transparency concerns amongst civil society, We-Fi announced its first funding allocations in April to the Islamic Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank Group (WBG). The WBG’s proposal to We-Fi outlined a project aimed at the “promotion of high-growth women” and women-owned enterprises, meaning primarily businesses that have either annual sales or assets of $100,000 at a minimum.

Basu’s announcement comes alongside a barrage of other recently announced financing initiatives dedicated to women entrepreneurs and women-led businesses, including the so-called Goldman Sachs ‘mega fund’ of $500 million launched in June, a $4 million Microsoft competition started in July, a $1 million Bumble fund announced in August, and the Canadian government pledging close to $2 billion in its latest budget. Marion Sharples with the UK-based Gender and Development Network commented that, “There is a very real danger that this focuses resources into a small group of relatively wealthy women entrepreneurs and the private sector, ignoring the structures which exacerbate women’s economic insecurity globally and so failing to reach the world’s most marginalised women.”

In April, development news agency Devex published five recommendations by gender experts to We-Fi, including for it to focus on the care economy, market structures, property rights and social protection, not just supply and input solutions. These recommendations built on long-standing feminist critiques of the focus on female entrepreneurship within neoliberal development frameworks, characterised by instrumentalising the language of women’s economic empowerment and actually relying on gendered inequalities in order to sustain and strengthen processes of global capital accumulation (see At Issue Autumn 2018).