Why we need to tell more stories about women entrepreneurs

More than ever we need stories of resilience, leadership and inspiration. Maria Shaw-Barragan, Head of Global Partners at EIB (sponsors of our Women Entrepreneurs Reporting Award), highlights the positive impact of shining a light on women entrepreneurs: the unsung heroes of community and economic development.


We all love stories. I told them to my kids, and I loved them as a child. I still do. The ones that really grip me are about young women and girls taking on the world and winning. As head of the European Investment Bank’s Global Partners Department –  that supports projects in the Global South,  I think we need more of these stories – to inspire and to inform, especially at a time of lockdowns and pandemics when our lives are literally contracting.

A key part of our mission as the public development bank of the EU is to create opportunity and invest where we can achieve the most impact and where that impact can spread.

A couple of years ago, we were in Ethiopia to meet and film the stories of some of the women benefitting from our partnerships with regional banks there. Life is tough in Ethiopia right now but I’m reminded of the words of one young woman called Sarah Mohammed, a former fashion model who set up her own school and fashion company called Next Fashion backed by EIB regional partners. She said, “If I empower a woman, that woman will empower another woman. We build a chain and grow up together.

She sums up one of the less obvious benefits of investing in female entrepreneurship and gender equity: namely the empowerment of women and girls. Of course, such investment can be in the form of microfinance or equity or good advice and mentoring. And those benefits are felt by individuals, whole families, communities – even economies! Even tiny loans to women-owned businesses help many families weather difficult times or a sudden loss in revenue, such as during the current coronavirus pandemic. For every euro lent to a woman, the impact on the community is multiplied manyfold.

Sharing stories of leadership and success, like Sarah’s, can in turn inspire other women to do the same.


Simply put, investing in women makes economic sense.


Let me share a couple of facts and stats that illustrate why spotlighting these stories is so important:

Women-owned businesses account for almost a third of businesses worldwide, according to the International Finance Corporation. And yet an estimated 68% of businesses owned or led by women have unmet credit needs.

This kind of gender credit gap shouldn’t exist. There’s plenty of evidence that women are reliable and prudent borrowers.  For bigger enterprises with women in at least half of leadership positions,  we see higher sales growth, earnings per share and return on assets – and during times of crisis, their company share price performs better.

Our partner Jessica Espinoza Trujano, Chair of the 2X Challenge which we actively support because they are dedicated to addressing the gender credit gap, says “Globally the odds are still stacked against women entrepreneurs. Companies founded by women receive less than half as much funding as those founded by men, although they deliver twice as much revenue per dollar invested.”

Djélika Kone, the Founder of N’golonina Textile Dyeing company in Bamako, Mali is testament to that. She and her sister started the company 20 years ago. They have grown from an initial workforce of 15 to 100 people today. They have received multiple loans from Kafo Jiginew, a microfinance institution the EIB is working with through our She Invest Initiative to support female entrepreneurs.

Djélika told us, “We have been able to work, grow and build up together. We have workers who live here with us. We have constructed housing for the textile beaters and for the woman dyers. Many have got married here. They live here with us. If anyone is ill, we care and feed them. We do everything together. We have become one family.”


Lack of access to credit limits women’s ability to contribute economically and socially – and politically.


It also hobbles a society’s ability to face challenges like poverty, climate change, and health crises like the current pandemic. Support for women’s economic empowerment is key to helping countries develop and create wealth and as Sara and Djélika’s stories show, it is key in creating community cohesion too.

Engaging, creative storytelling and reporting helps us raise awareness of these issues, and the solutions that exist to address them. We need to make sure we keep looking outward, and more than ever we need stories of resilience, leadership and inspiration. We need such role models to inspire us.

That’s why we are delighted to be supporting the One World Media Women Entrepreneurs Reporting Award, to encourage a focus by filmmakers and journalists on this vitally important topic.


By Maria Shaw-Barragan, Head of Global Partners, European Investment Bank