Women's Entrepreneurship Development

Around the world, one in five women have the intention to start a business – and many are successful entrepreneurs.

Women run successful enterprises, yet persistent gendered inequalities continue to create major disparities in opportunities to start and grow a business. In general, their businesses tend to be smaller than those run by men, are concentrated in sectors with limited potential for value addition and are over-represented in the informal economy. These challenges are compounded by women’s care responsibilities, which create additional pressure on women entrepreneurs’ time, workload and wellbeing, as well as by unfavourable institutional environments that can result in uneven access to land and decision-making roles, and inadequate social protection coverage.

Women and men entrepreneurs can encounter similar challenges in their economic activities; however, women are faced with an additional set of gender-based barriers that limit their access to resources and opportunities.

In light of these challenges, the International Labour Organization through its Women’s Entrepreneurship Development Programme (ILO-WED) seeks to redress existing gender imbalances in enterprise development through approaches aimed specifically at women, while simultaneously working with constituents to ensure that enterprise initiatives consider gender dynamics and inequalities in their formulation and roll-out. The programme applies a set of tested tools and approaches to support and create the conditions to enable budding and existing women entrepreneurs to start, manage and grow their business.

The ILO strategy on promoting women’s entrepreneurship development, adopted in Geneva on March 2008 by the ILO’s Governing Body, provides the foundations of the ILO-WED Programme, as well as the ILO’s commitments to fostering women’s entrepreneurship across the world.

Main areas of focus

The ILO-WED programme promotes and applies tested tools and approaches to develop holistic interventions to support women’s entrepreneurship across three key areas:
  • Enabling Environment for Women’s Entrepreneurship Development: ILO-WED works to address some of the systemic constraints that women entrepreneurs encounter by understanding and creating the conditions for their improved access to resources and opportunities.
  • Financial and Business Development Services: ILO-WED seeks to make service provision for entrepreneurs more gender-sensitive, accessible, and relevant for women clients, while supporting service providers to adopt more sustainable business models.
  • Training and Post-Training Support for Women Entrepreneurs: ILO-WED facilitates the delivery of tailored trainings and post-training programmes that improve women’s business management, interpersonal and financial skills. The trainings have been developed by ILO over the years, and tried, tested and adapted to specific country contexts while building and maintaining a network of highly committed trainers.

Partnerships and Networks

In order to make significant strides in favour of women’s entrepreneurship development, collaboration and joining forces with different actors is key. Each actor contributes with their unique expertise, competencies and resources. ILO-WED over the years, and guided by the WED strategy, has had the opportunity to build connections and bridges with a range of organizations and agencies at both national and international level. ILO-WED continues to seek and forge new partnerships within the broader network of women’s entrepreneurship advocates and promoters. At the international level we recognize to date the contributions and support from: