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Lifting womens’ participation in global supply chains

A third of the world’s small businesses are women-owned. We’re launching a new financing facility with WEConnect to help them compete in new markets.

20 May 2024

4 mins


Natalie Marko Nietsch Managing Director, Head of Social Sustainability

A woman works on her small business. She's wearing an apron and smiling while using an iPad to explore financing solutions.

Here’s a compelling reason for lifting women’s participation in the global economy: promoting women’s financial inclusion by closing the gender financing gap could add USD1.1 trillion to the global economy by 2030. That’s an amount greater than the size of an economy like Kenya today.

Globally, we are making progress: today, 34 per cent of the world’s small businesses are owned by women. Yet they remain underbanked.

Our partners at WEConnect International – with whom we are collaborating to help build and develop our own diverse and talented supplier pool – hear it every day. They tell us many of their women-owned business members struggle to expand their businesses and compete for large-scale contracts because they simply don’t have the reliable, long-term relationships with banks that are a precondition to ensuring reliable access to financing and a steady cash flow.

34 per cent of the world’s small businesses are owned by women. Yet they remain underbanked.

We see it first hand at Standard Chartered too. Our data shows that despite running a third of the world’s small businesses, women only account for less than 20 per cent of the Bank’s global SME customer base. The numbers are smaller still in Asia and Africa.

Through programmes like Standard Chartered Women’s International Network, SC WIN, we are working to bridge the financing gap for women, with an aspiration to lend USD1 billion to women-led SMEs across Asia and Africa by 2028. The network gives women SME customers across Asia and Africa access to holistic financing solutions and digital beyondbanking services, all in support of our wider ambition to lift economic participation in the communities we serve by improving access to finance for women entrepreneurs in emerging markets.

But how do we bring our commercial expertise to bear in support of women SMEs outside of our customer base?

Closing the gender financing gap could add USD1.1 trillion to the global economy by 2030.

I’m delighted to announce Standard Chartered’s intention to launch a financing facility for WEConnect International’s women-owned business members in our emerging market footprint.

WEConnect International empowers certified women business owners worldwide with the network and resources needed to compete in new markets. Its community of over 180 member buyers represent over USD4 trillion in annual purchasing power and are seeking to do business with women-owned suppliers. However, with many women-owned businesses struggling to scale enough to meet contractual obligations, the full potential of the network isn’t yet being realised.

The new Facility aims to overcome this, by offering WEConnect’s women-owned business members who operate in our markets with affordable and accessible financing, alongside other non-financial services. This will enable them to expand their businesses and compete for large-scale contracts. This is the first time WEConnect has been able to provide financing to its women SME members and the organisation’s first time working with any bank. The commitment forms part of a wider partnership with WEConnect, as part of which we will also offer supply chain finance solutions to support WEConnect’s member buyers’ commitments to diversity in their own supply chains.

By bringing our commercial expertise together with the reach and network of our long-standing partners, we aspire to offer a holistic solution for promoting gender-inclusive entrepreneurship – contributing not only to individual businesses’ success, but also to broader economic development. This supports our commitment, as the first global signatory of the WE Finance Code, to help drive more financing to women-led SMEs around the world.