Women + Opportunities = Latin America’s Formula for Economic Growth
By Jessica Bedoya, Chief of Staff and Executive Advisor to the President, Inter-American Development Bank
Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) has a not-so-secret
weapon to accelerate development: women. The question really should be: what is
the formula to maximize their potential and leverage this great human capital? The
solution, in part, lies in investing in women, increasing their financial
inclusion, and empowering them across all sectors. These are precisely the
activities we seek to support at the Inter-American Development Bank, at IDB
Invest by working with the private sector, and at IDB Lab by testing innovative
solutions and ideas.
We know that closing the economic gender gap could increase
global GDP by $28 trillion by the year 2025. Yet LAC has one of the most
troubling gender gaps in labor market participation, with only 58 percent of
women working compared to 82 percent of men, and a wage disparity where women
earn 13 percent less than men. We
continue to lag in business ownership: women make up 42 percent of the region’s
economically active population, however, we only own only 22 percent of the
micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) that comprise 99 percent of all
firms in the region.
When women in our region are in charge, they struggle
to attain resources that are critical to success. Up to 73 percent of LAC’s
women entrepreneurs report being financially unserved or underserved, and they have
less access to capacity building opportunities, face greater time and mobility
constraints, and are victims of the world’s largest credit gap for women-owned
SMEs. As a result, the average woman-owned or led business is three times
smaller than ones owned and led by a man, has less hiring power, and lower
levels of human capital. So, what can we do?
Part of our work to empower women prioritizes improved
access to education and training activities for young girls and women, collaboration
with governments to improve access to justice for women, the creation of
regulations and norms to increase financial inclusion, and cooperation with the
private sector to increase access to credit and business opportunities for
women-owned and led enterprises. At the IDB Group, we want to put women at the
front and center both in the region and in our very own institution.
As a proud first generation American with Colombian and
Ecuadorean roots, I have long supported women, especially Hispanic women, and worked
to ensure that they are heard. And as the first female Chief of Staff in IDB
history, I appreciate firsthand this Administration’s commitment to empowering women
in the workplace. Soon, the IDB will welcome its first Latin American woman as
Executive Vice President, Reina Irene Mejia, and we are taking steps to promote
professional mobility for women across our organization.
Our commitment to women at the IDB will translate to a
commitment to execute activities in LAC that set women up for success. Because
COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting women, we are hard at work creating a
short-term gender strategy to address the pandemic. We are close to reaching
our goal of ensuring 60 percent of sovereign guaranteed loans this year support
gender equality. And because we believe job creation is the best way to
stimulate a post-pandemic recovery, we are working through diverse avenues to
ensure we are empowering women entrepreneurs and business leaders.
For example, to help women-owned and led SMEs flourish, we
are collaborating with private sector partners including Airbnb, Coca-Cola,
Danper, DHL, Facebook, Google, IBM, Mastercard, Microsoft, and PepsiCo. One such
initiative has reached more than 70,000 female entrepreneurs to date through
innovative trainings and business fora. With more than $38 million dollars from
the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, we are enhancing access to finance,
markets, skills, and networks for women entrepreneurs. And with the U.S.
International Development Finance Corporation, we are narrowing the gender
financing gap by supporting investment strategies targeting female
entrepreneurs, companies with women leaders, and firms that generate jobs or
products for women.
In these initiatives and beyond, we hope you
will join us in unlocking the powerful force for development that lies in our
region’s women. I am convinced that, together, we can ensure the next decade is
not a lost one for Latin America and the Caribbean, but rather one defined by opportunity,
risk-taking, and success for women and the region. I am proud to be a part of
the IDB Group family and to work for the improvement of LAC and its women.