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SheInvest: Boosting gender equality around the world

Maria Shaw-Barragan

The SheInvest initiative is a powerful one, focusing on boosting investments in women across Africa. To explain how SheInvest encourages gender equality and empowerment, please welcome today’s guest writer, Maria Shaw-Barragan. Maria (pictured above) is the Director for lending in Africa, Pacific, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean at the European Investment Bank (EIB).

Guest post from Maria Shaw-Barragan

Gender equality drives faster economic development and social cohesion and is associated with more stable societies. Acting now to advance gender equality could add $13 trillion to global gross domestic product in 2030, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.

To achieve gender equality, we need to accelerate change through concerted actions and investment, as well as partnerships and initiatives aimed at improving the inclusion and leadership of women in the economy and financial system. Investing in women is profitable for financial institutions, and research suggests that women leaders tend to achieve better results in terms of climate impact as well as higher environmental, social, and governance results.

The European Investment Bank’s Strategy on Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment, is designed to make sure that the Bank’s projects benefit both women and men.

SheInvest: Concerted action

In 2019, the European Investment Bank launched the SheInvest initiative, which aims to boost the economic empowerment of women in Africa. In less than three years, the initiative has supported €2 billion of gender smart investments across the continent.

The investments include credit lines with local banks to improve the access to finance of women-owned and led enterprises, as well as microfinance credit lines to unlock financing for female entrepreneurs. In partnership with institutions such as Uganda Development Bank and Ecobank Malawi, the European Investment Bank supports businesses owned or run by women, including smaller companies in the agri-food sector. In Benin, the bank collaborates with Vital Finance to finance small- and medium-sized enterprises led by women.

The European Investment Bank also invests in funds that promote women’s access to finance and employment in portfolio companies, including tech start-ups founded or co-founded by women entrepreneurs. Women’s World Banking Capital Partners II, for example, makes direct equity investments in women-focused financial institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America. Another fund, Alitheia IDF, is a pioneering gender-lens African investment fund founded and led by two women, which targets small- and medium-sized enterprises.

SheInvest is complemented by a €2 million technical assistance programme, the African Women Rising Initiative, which provides capacity building, financial literacy training and mentoring to women entrepreneurs. The programme also helps intermediaries in designing financial and non-financial services tailored to the specific needs of female entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa.

SheInvest is guided by the 2X Criteria for gender-smart investment, launched by the G7 through the 2X Challenge initiative, which calls on development finance institutions to work together towards the mobilisation of $15 billion in gender lens investments by the end of 2022. The European Investment Bank was the first Multilateral Development Bank to adopt the criteria, which is now accepted as the leading global standard for gender lens investment in low and middle-income countries.

SheInvest is a game-changer

Initiatives like SheInvest appear to be making a difference. Our recent study ‘Finance in Africa 2022”, shows that access to finance is improving for women in Africa, with 70% of the banks surveyed reporting they have a gender strategy in place, up 10 percentage points from 2021.

Given the game-changing success of SheInvest in Africa, the European Investment Bank announced at the Finance in Common Summit 2022 that it would expand the initiative to Asia and Latin America and aim to mobilise additional €2 billion of gender-responsive investment.

About today’s writer

Maria Shaw-Barragan is Director in charge of lending operations in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia & Pacific and Latin America & Caribbean at EIB Global, the European Investment Bank’s branch dedicated to increasing the impact of international partnerships and development finance. In this role she is focused on delivering on EU priorities and making a difference for people on the ground. Maria has a keen interest in the link between climate action, innovation and development, as well as in advancing gender-responsive investment that promotes women’s economic empowerment.


Top photo: Maria Shaw-Barragan. Photo credit: EIB.

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