By Judith Pryor, Vice President, OPIC Office of External Affairs
Since 1987, the United States has recognized March as Women’s History Month, and since the early 1900s, International Women’s Day has been observed all over the world. This year’s theme, “The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum,” recognizes that equality is an essential part of a modern progressive world. The theme is particularly relevant to OPIC’s work supporting projects that empower both men and women in the developing world. OPIC recognizes the critical role women play in building stable societies and achieving economic growth. Much of the agency’s work in microfinance and small and medium-sized enterprise lending have supported female entrepreneurs and women-owned small businesses.
Here are six of the ways OPIC is supporting women in business:
- This year, OPIC partnered with General Electric to bring clean cookstoves to East Africa. This project addresses one of the world’s most underreported health challenges. Exposure to smoke from traditional cookstoves is one of the World Health Organization’s top five threats to public health in developing countries. This results in approximately four million premature deaths each year. Women and children are particularly at risk.
- As part of OPIC’s commitment to supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) throughout the MENA region, OPIC has committed up to $250 million to establish a Jordan Loan Guaranty Facility (“LGF”), which will significantly expand access to credit through local banks. In providing credit to Jordanian SMEs, and specifically targeting the traditionally underserved women and rural business owners, the project is expected to catalyze growth, expand employment, and support the region’s economic progress.
- OPIC has committed hundreds of millions in financing to support microfinance lending and much of that has directly benefited women. For example, in 2007 OPIC provided more than $15 million in financing to BRAC, formerly Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, in Bangladesh, which uses a holistic approach to poverty alleviation by combining microfinance with health, education and other social development programs. Ninety-five percent of BRAC’s new loans were to low-income women living in rural areas of the country.
- In 2012, OPIC approved an investment guaranty of up to $400 million for Garanti, a
Turkish bank, to expand its lending to local small-to-medium sized enterprises with a special focus on supporting female entrepreneurs. A previous OPIC loan to Garanti helped the bank support 9,300 small- to medium-sized enterprise borrowers, of which 76 percent were women-owned small businesses.
- In monitoring its projects, OPIC works to ensure that project sponsors have Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) policies in place, to protect against discrimination in the workplace.
- Several of OPIC’s domestic Expanding Horizons workshops, which enable U.S. small businesses to utilize their competitive advantages in emerging markets, have been geared specifically towards minority and women-owned businesses.