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> Posted by Daniel Balson, Lead Specialist for Eurasia and MENA, the Smart Campaign

Outside the Tosh Hovli Stone Palace of Khiva, an Uzbek lady practices her craft, knitting.

At the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI), we spend a lot of time thinking of ways economically marginalized people can gain access to the capital they need to lift themselves out of poverty. Through our work, we’ve repeatedly seen that, while talent is universal, opportunity is not. Large swathes of the population across the developing world have limited access to the formal financial system and are stuck managing money in ways that are often inconvenient, inefficient, and sometimes even involve humiliation and abuse.

Focusing on places where economically vulnerable people are at risk, however instructive, risks obscuring the fact that great divides exist across gender in many diverse geographies. In developed countries as in the developing nations, women lag behind men in indicators that measure entrepreneurship and economic empowerment. Their societies are poorer for it. In the U.K., women-led businesses are far less likely to secure financing; 91 percent of investment was directed to companies without even one female founder. In the U.S., women make up half the labor force but own just a third of all companies.

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> Posted by Bobbi Gray, Research Director, Grameen Foundation

We need to ensure products and services help family units, not just individuals, thrive.

Writing in 1982, about Fred Astaire, Robert Thaves wrote “Sure he was great, but don’t forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did, backwards…and in high heels.” Since then, this quote about two legendary dancers has been used to celebrate the skills and talents of women and to demonstrate their ability to juggle complexity and pull it off gracefully.

At Grameen Foundation, we celebrate women for the potential they carry for ending poverty and hunger. In fact, some statistics suggest that if women farmers had the same resources as their male counterparts, the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced by 150 million. Beyond access to quality farm inputs, credit, and land, we also know that when women have equal access to education, health services, and business services they can thrive economically. Helping mothers be healthy before and during pregnancy also results in healthier children and more productive societies. Women are a key driving force against poverty.

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> Posted by Gina Harman, CEO, Accion’s U.S. Network

Accion is constantly inspired by small business owners we work with in the U.S., who have transformed their lives by starting, sustaining or growing a business. At the same time, we are increasingly aware of the importance of demonstrating through research the value of our investments in small business success (and the investments of government agencies, philanthropic organizations and corporations that make our work possible). In assessing this impact, we are confronted with the challenge of understanding the value of our services in helping entrepreneurs achieve a diversity of business and personal goals. Our research finds that while many small business owners in the U.S. are looking for growth, financial security and family financial health is sometimes just as important. These findings resonate with conclusions from recent research on Latin American small businesses by CFI Fellow Christy Stickney.

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> Posted by Christy Stickney, Independent Consultant and CFI Fellow

Say the words ‘women’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ together and donors and philanthropists will rush to give you money. It’s one of the hot topics in development today.

But where are the women in small and medium enterprises (SMEs)? In my study with the Center for Financial Inclusion, Emerging SMEs: Secrets to Growth from Micro to Small Enterprise, I asked this question, both directly and indirectly, as I met with entrepreneurs who had started microenterprises that grew to be SMEs, with the help of finance from microfinance banks in Peru, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. I called these growth-oriented businesses emerging SMEs. These are my observations about women’s involvement with emerging SMEs.

Only a very small proportion of emerging SMEs are led by women. In my research only one of fourteen of the high growth enterprises identified in the study was led by a woman. Although the access-to-credit hurdle had been largely addressed within the study group, as evidenced by their extensive business borrowing, women were highly underrepresented as leaders of emerging SMEs.

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> Posted by Christy Stickney, Independent Consultant and CFI Fellow

After decades of directing financial services to micro-enterprise owners, many microfinance institutions are finding that some of these enterprises have grown and that they’re now serving an expanding number of small business owners. With increasing global attention being directed to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), it is fitting to look more deeply at what can be learned from entrepreneurs whose businesses started as microenterprises, grew, and can now be classified as SMEs – with a substantial number of employees. More specifically: Who are these entrepreneurs? What kinds of businesses do they operate? What have been their growth patterns and hurdles? And how have they utilized financial services to further their growth aspirations?

These are the questions that guided my research fellowship for the Center for Financial Inclusion. As part of my study I gathered institutional data and conducted in-depth interviews with clients of three leading microfinance institutions in Latin America: MiBanco, Banco ADOPEM, and Banco Solidario. The clients I focused on had all experienced significant loan size growth over several years.

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> Posted by Christy Stickney, Independent Consultant and CFI Fellow

After decades of directing financial services to owners of micro-enterprises, many microfinance institutions are now finding themselves serving a growing population of small business owners.  Thus, with increasing global attention directed to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and their potential contribution to economic growth, it seems fitting to look more deeply into microfinance portfolios, and discover what can be learned from entrepreneurs whose businesses have arisen out of poverty and marginalization into what can be classified as emerging SMEs. My recent research as a CFI Research Fellow led me to delve deeply into the stories of entrepreneurs who have grown their businesses from micro-enterprises into SMEs.

As someone who has focused much of her career on pushing microfinance downward, towards smaller enterprises and those earning lower incomes, this focus on emerging SMEs both inspired and taught me a great deal. While the analysis of these stories is the focus of my report coming out next month, I’d like to share here two stories that inform our understanding of the nature, growth trajectories, and financial service usage of SMEs arising from within microfinance portfolios. They describe the experiences of two clients of Banco ADOPEM in the Dominican Republic – one of three microfinance banks I visited as part of this study. (All names have been changed to protect identities.) While these two stories may resemble the classic “client story” in that they show how people have moved up the economic ladder, pay attention to the markers of success – both financial and non-financial – that distinguish these clients from those that may have not grown.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.